The biggest injustice about this year's Northwestern football team is the lack of recognition for its offensive line.
If not for the men up front, there would be no 11-1 record, no 2,803 yards and 35 touchdown passes for quarterback Will King, no shot at winning two more and going to the state championship. There would be more talk about how the Trojans can't make it back to the top after two lean seasons.
It's sad but true, but when offensive linemen pick up the paper Saturday, seldom do they see their names. Every now and then one ends up in a front-page photo, but the featured player is usually a quarterback, running back or wide receiver.
It's a thankless job somebody has to do. Those who play on the OL work hard, maybe harder than the other players.
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"It's every offensive lineman's dream to pick up a fumble or catch a batted pass and run it in for a touchdown,'' said Steven Powers, a 6-foot-3, 300-pound senior. "That's unusual, so the credit we get is if we win. I've always been big and played on the line, but it never kept me from wanting to score.''
The Trojans' season has been like a runaway train. After having to forfeit four wins two years ago and finishing 0-12, Northwestern followed with a 6-6 record last year. But even that was tainted by a first-round loss in the playoffs.
It got a little harder for the linemen, but a lot more fun, when offensive coordinator Kyle Richardson arrived with his "Air Raid'' offense. Coach Jimmy Wallace described it as a vertical passing game run out of a no-huddle offense, designed to take what the opposing defense is giving.
The hard part was learning new blocking schemes not common to the balanced attack of last year that featured more running. The Trojans pass on nearly every play. King has set school records for yards (2,803) and TD passes (35) in a season.
"Last year we were asked to hold our block at least five seconds,'' Powers said. "In the new offense, that's dropped to two or three seconds, the time it usually takes for Will to throw the ball."
Northwestern's offensive line includes Powers at right tackle, Max Kersbergen (6-3, 240) at left tackle, Darrell Brevard (6-3, 270) at left guard, Adam Layman (6-2, 215) at right guard and Nathan Pierce (6-3, 245) at center. Robert Cogar (5-9, 277) fills in at tackle and guard.
Layman and Pierce were out of school Thursday, missing the final day of practice before Northwestern plays at Irmo tonight in the second round of the Class AAAA Division I playoffs. They were attending a Model United Nations competition at Clemson.
Kersbergen and Brevard were glad to fill in the gaps in their absence.
"We take a lot of pride in our offensive line,'' Kersbergen said. "Coach Richardson tells us that every time Will breaks a record, it's the same as if it was our record. So the more he breaks, the better we feel.
"But the new offense can cause problems. We'll watch a team on video to see their defense. Then we'll get into a game and they will switch everything around to try and stop Will. We've seen about every defense you can name.''
Brevard played on the defensive line last season, but Wallace saw the offensive line needed help.
Brevard enjoys his new position, especially the no-huddle offense, maybe the quickest to set up in South Carolina high school history.
"On most plays, we line up so quick that the other team doesn't have time to signal in a call,'' Brevard said. "I really like it because it moves so fast and it gives you an edge over the players you are blocking.''
Wallace, an offensive lineman at Rock Hill High School and Appalachian State, has a soft spot in his heart for the guys who play up front and never complain. He calls the offensive line the hardest position on the field, because they have to be ready for different fronts, blitzes and stunts and have little time to relax.
"You can use your hands on defense, grab a player and pull him to the ground,'' Wallace said. "If an OL lays a hand on a defensive player, chances are he'll get called for holding.
"Our kids there are smart, know that things can change for them on every play. And for the most part, they've done a good job.''
New coach, new season, new offense, new blocking assignments. Powers, Kersbergen and Brevard said it's been worth it.
They particularly enjoy playing for Richardson, who administered some motivation during the season. Each week he'd hand the offensive team a piece of paper that said, "Redemption Tour," meaning the Trojans were out to beat every team that beat them last season.
No paper was handed out this week. Last week Northwestern got its final measure of revenge, beating Stratford, the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season. It looked bad when the Trojans fell behind 24-0 at the half, but they kept the beat going with 28 unanswered points in the second half.
"Me and Max haven't played on a team with a winning record since we were on the freshman team,'' Powers said. "This year everything has turned around and it's going good.''
"But it's just like coach Richardson keeps telling us,'' Brevard said. "We haven't finished climbing the mountain.''