GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When you read the stories or watch the high school football highlights on the Football Frenzy, players at the skill positions often get most of the spotlight. But ask any coach, and they’ll say those players are only as good as the guys up front.
The offensive and defensive lines are the foundation of any successful program.
“If you can get gritty kids that know how to fight and know how to scrap and have that bite to them,” Mona Shores head coach Matt Koziak said. “That’s what we try to hang our hats on.”
Perhaps no program is more blessed with athleticism and experience on the line than Muskegon. The Big Reds unit averages roughly 300 pounds on its line. Even though head coach Shane Fairfield enjoys spreading out his skill positions, he’s well aware the final score is still largely dependent on winning the battle in the trenches.
“You have to have a mindset that, ‘I do this because I love the difference I can make,'” Fairfield said. “‘If we’re winning, that means I’m doing my job.'”
West Michigan has long been a hotbed for producing elite lineman. There are currently four with roots in our region helping open holes and protect quarterbacks in the NFL.
Joe Staley mans a tackle position for the San Francisco 49ers. He’s from Rockford. Plainwell’s Jack Conklin is expected to return this Sunday for the Tennessee Titans after suffering a season-ending knee injury last year. Forest Hills Northern standout Jared Veldheer is starting for the Denver Broncos. Another Rockford graduate, Parker Ehinger, is with the Dallas Cowboys. He’s out with an injury but could return midseason.
In five or six years, West Michigan could flood the league with quality linemen.
“(Michigan) in general is known as a good place to recruit linemen,” longtime 247 recruiting analyst Allen Trieu said. “But I have not seen the depth of talent we have this year.”
Adam Berghorst, a two-sport standout at Zeeland East, is committed to Michigan State.
Paw Paw’s Karsen Barnhart is taking his 6-foot-5 frame to Michigan next fall.
South Christian’s Spencer Holstege is headed to Purdue.
Muskegon’s Anthony Bradford leads his talented unit with.a commitment to LSU.
East Kentwood has four players with Division I offers. Dallas Fincher isn’t committed, but has Michigan State and Ohio State in his final four.
The multitalented Bryce Mostella (who also plays xylophone in the marching band) has offers from Michigan, Minnesota and Penn State.
Offensive tackle Logan Brown, who stands 6-foot-7, is committed to Wisconsin. Defensive lineman Mazi Smith is committed to Michigan.
“He (Smith) might be the best high school football player I’ve ever seen,” Grandville head coach Eric Stingel said.
They’re all big and they’re all talented, but that alone doesn’t prompt a college coach to offer an athlete a free education. They also all have a certain mentality.
“Your mindset has to be grinding — the old metal mechanic, the grinder in the shop with the mask on, you know, the welders,” Fairfield said. “Guys that are wearing hard hats. You don’t recognize them. You have a mask on. Nobody knows who you are.”
Linemen need to be selfless. At the same time, they need confidence, swagger and belief they do their job better than anyone else.
“I love the completion,” Bradford, from Muskegon, said. “It’s competition. That’s what fires me up.”
“Mentality. You have to be tough,” East Kentwood’s Brown said. “Just think about it. We hit every play. Some skill guys go three plays without hitting.
“I just make sure I stay silent. Batman is one of my favorite superheroes. He scares a lot of villains and does it by being silent. Being silent and being aggressive is how to strike fear.”