Big boys need love too, and they got some Wednesday at Clover High School’s lineman challenge.
Generally, the summer fun is reserved for skill position players and their tag football 7-on-7 competitions, and Clover is holding those at the town’s Memorial Stadium almost every Wednesday in June and July. But at the same time, back at the high school, the Blue Eagles’ football program is hosting visiting schools’ offensive and defensive linemen, a refreshing change of pace for the hog mollies, who can’t really participate in the 7-on-7s.
“Coach (Chad) Smith, our head coach, wanted to do something for the linemen, besides just the 7-on-7 for the skill guys,” said Jeremy Smith, Clover’s offensive line coach. “Before the summer started, we said we’ll do it while they’re doing the 7-on-7s.”
On Wednesday, Clover welcomed South Pointe, Union County and Blacksburg’s heavies to its practice field. The star attraction of the three-hour session was the John Deere Gator push. Teams of three took turns pushing the oversized golf cart in 30-yard increments. The first team to push the Gator the full 90 yards won.
“Gator push, man, you’ve got to have some good legs on you,” said Clover rising sophomore Preston Vang. “And you’ve got to know how to transition, keep it rolling.”
While 90-plus temperatures squeezed buckets of sweat out of the teenagers, the mood was positive and determined. There were laughing howls when a South Pointe Gator pilot neglected to hit the brake at the end of a push and nearly plowed over some equipment, and there were even more when the Stallions lost in the finals to Union County after accidentally punching the brake during a transition, curbing all of the team’s accrued momentum.
The teams also battled it out in the kettle bell relay, where linemen had to tote a 70-pound kettle bell in each hand for 10-15 yards, a pro skills relay that involved a number of tasks completed by a team of about six players, and a tug-of-war competition, won by Union County. Finally, the day ended with board drills, one-on-ones where the players finally got to strap on helmets and go at it for brief spells, a major tease well in advance of the fall season.
All of the drills, while fun and abnormal for football practice, served an added purpose.
“All of this stuff we do, it relates to our position,” said Smith. “Low pad levels, stuff like that.”
South Pointe offensive line coach Mike Zapolnik said that the team-building aspect is crucial for offensive and defensive linemen groups, which have to work as a unit.
“It’s good for the team to come out here and get better chemistry,” said hulking South Pointe defensive tackle Elijah Duncan, who checks in at 6-foot-5, 320 pounds and proved very useful during the Gator push.
Wednesday’s workout was a welcome shift for linemen, normally confined to the role of plus-sized cheerleaders during 7-on-7s, or tucked away in some rusty-smelling, windowless weight room.
Around noon, the big fellas were worn out. The axles on the Gators were too, the wheels bent inward like knock-knees. Under Armour shirts were ripped from the one-on-one scraps, and palms were blistered from the tug-of-war. And no one could wait for the chance to do it again.
“You get to summer workouts and it’s all 7-on-7, so they feel kind of left out,” said Zapolnik. “It’s awesome to get these guys out here and get all the schools out here competing against each other.”