Aug. 14, 2014
BEAUMONT, Texas -
The trenches. The game within a game, where football contests are either won or lost. For the offensive line, they play every down with little to no recognition. Unlike every other position on the roster, offensive linemen have no stats - other than the `pancake block.' Much like the position itself, the pancake block generally goes unnoticed by the average fan. But ask coaches or players and they won't hesitate to speak of the O-Line's importance.
The linemen are forced to take pride not in the recognition they receive on the field, but the recognition they help others receive. There was plenty of that recognition to go around last season as the line protected a record-setting quarterback and produced the SLC Freshman of the Year in running back Kade Harrington. The majority of those records Lamar boasted of last season would have never happened had it not been for the hard work of the men in the trenches.
"When you can't protect, you can't hold up and it really doesn't matter how talented you are at the skill positions," said head coach Ray Woodard. "Doesn't matter how well you throw and catch, or how talented your backs are if they don't have talented players blocking for them there isn't much you can do."
With an offense that returns eight starters it is the Cardinals' offense line that took the biggest hit due to attrition. On an offense that is only missing three starters from last season, two of those come from the offensive line. Four-year starter Kyle Gillam and a two-year starter Stephen Babin were durable athletes who exhausted their eligibility.
"We've talked so much about all the players we return on offense but the truth is the offensive line has two very big holes to fill. Both Stephen and Kyle were a very important part of our offense bringing back program and they will be tough to replace."
Despite the losses, the Cardinals return 60 percent of the front line from last season, and that's a number any coach will take heading into a new season.
"We do have three starters back from last season, including a lot of other guys who saw a ton of snaps last year," said Woodard. "In addition to that, these guys have another year under their belt with Coach (Chuck) Langston. So they are familiar with him and know exactly what he expects from them. These guys are further along this season compared to where they were last season. I'm confident in our guys up front."
Lamar's three returning starters are Justin Brock (6-5, 280, Jr.), Bret Treadway (6-3, 290, So.) and John Craven (6-3, 285, So.). Brock and Treadway started every game last season, while Craven worked his way into the starting lineup due to injuries. In addition to the three returning starters, Lamar also returns Tramon Shead for his final season who brings added bulk to the line at 6-4, 285 pounds.
Although Brock is a preseason all-conference selection, the primary focus on the offense has been the battle to see who would lock down the starting role at center. Senior Chance McCormack (6-3, 295) came out of the spring as the leader, but he is being pushed by a freshman who has turned heads in camp.
"We feel really good about McCormack and Greif," said Woodard. "McCormack probably has a little bit of a lead right now, but Greif is extremely talented too. I've been really pleased with how he has progressed. The good thing is they are working with a senior quarterback and you can see the comfort level between those guys improve every day."
"It is always good for a quarterback when the majority of your line from the previous season is coming back," said quarterback Caleb Berry. "Both guys fighting for the starting center spot have done a great job going back to the spring all the way through fall camp. I have a lot of confidence in those guys. I know they will get the job done."
With a talented number of veterans back, it could be easy for the underclassmen to get lost in the shuffle, but the Cardinals are in the fortunate position of having several young guys come in and push the upperclassmen.
"I've been impressed with Greif all along," said Woodard. "He has proven that he can play both center and guard. Chase Woods has come in and done a tremendous job as a freshman. Craven has taken a lot of reps at guard, and Chance Allen is one we haven't talked about a lot but he has come in and played really well for us. I really like this group because we have a solid mix of veterans and young guys."
The offensive line, along with the rest of the Lamar football team will get their first test Saturday, Aug. 30, against Grambling State. The game against the Tigers is slated to begin at 7 p.m. from Provost Umphrey Stadium.