Cole Melanson, left, works with Brent Grant on a seven-second offensive drill at Leavitt Area High School on Thursday afternoon. Working on the drill behind them are Tom Casey and Caleb Lafrance. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

TURNER — Maybe it’s the low-profile nature of the position, but an offensive lineman usually knows whether he’s had a good game before he reads about his teammates in the newspaper.

“When I get done with the game and I’m exhausted, I’ve had a good game,” Leavitt senior center Cole Melanson said. “If you take a couple of plays off, you’re not as sore or tired after the game.”

As satisfying as wearing oneself out can be, one of the guys who lines up next to Melanson every play, junior guard Riley Parmenter, believes there is nothing that quite matches wearing out the opponent. 

“You know you’re doing well if you look over and you see a sub for the other guy and you’re still in there,” Parmenter said.  

Being a lineman at Leavitt has its perks, such as getting to go to the front of the line for water breaks. But despite their role in the Hornets’ success this season, and many other seasons in the past, Leavitt’s linemen are as anonymous as their peers across the state.


The main reason offensive linemen don’t get the glory is, of course, because they don’t get to throw, catch or run the ball (unless they report as an eligible receiver). And football fans, like fans of most other games, usually aren’t interested in following anything but the ball.

But watching how an offensive line performs can be fun, and it is always informative. An eye trained to good line play can usually tell how well the offense is performing without even looking at the ball for the full 48 minutes of a high school game.

In hopes of giving linemen across the region some overdue credit, we asked coaches and players at Leavitt what fans should look for when watching line play.

The first thing a budding offensive line connoisseur needs to know is that winning in the trenches isn’t just for the biggest or strongest. Linemen need to be athletic, just like the people behind them who are carrying the ball.

“The first thing I’m looking for is who can pull and who can trap,” Leavitt coach Mike Hathaway said. “I’m looking at which guards or tackles can get out and do some things other than just blocking the guy in front of them.”

To pull is to sprint out to engage the defender outside the initial width of the line. Trapping is blocking on the opposite side of the center.


Evaluating individual linemen on skill and technique can be difficult, what with about a dozen bodies flying around the line of scrimmage at every snap. So without the benefit of film, fans may be better off evaluating the unit as a whole.

First, though, they must be able to recognize whether the line uses a “zone” blocking scheme or “man” blocking scheme.

The designations are just like they sound. Zone blocking involves blocking an area. In man blocking, the blocker engages his assignment, usually the man in front of him.

Like most teams that use a spread offense, Leavitt uses zone blocking. One way to tell when a team is using zone blocking is if the linemen start in a two-point stance with their backs arched, rather than bent at the waist, and engage defenders with their hands first.

Using a zone scheme depends on linemen making reads based on how the defense lines up in front of them. And it often means not even blocking the best player on the opposing defense. The play and the scheme are usually designed to have that player take himself out of the play.

Leavitt coach Dave Bochtler, one of the most respected line coaches in the state, is charged with getting his blockers on the same page each week with their assignments. That’s not easy considering the many defensive fronts his linemen need to read and react to, not only from one opponent to the next but one play to the next.


“You start working on one particular defense at the start of the season, and then the next week you see another defense, and then you see a different defense the following week, so the blocking assignments all change,” Bochtler said. “By the third or fourth week, they recognize most of them.”

Bochtler is a hard grader when he reviews film of his line. Since he knows the game plan, he can tell whether they followed their assignment or not, which a fan probably won’t be able to do. Fans can also look at some of the things he evaluates during live action, such as how well the linemen sustained their blocks

Bochtler said a couple of other key factors to watch in the running game are yards per rush and how a team does with the ball and the lead late.

“In high school football, in order to win games, you have to run the clock out,” Bochtler said.

Coaches and veteran line observers usually don’t have to wait until the fourth quarter to know how good the line is, though. Hathaway often gets his first clues before Melanson even snaps the ball to set himself, Parmenter and linemates Tom Casey, Brent Grant and Caleb Lafrance in motion.

“The funnest thing to watch, when a good offensive line is playing at a high level, you watch them before the snap communicating with each other,” Hathaway said. “Just to watch them in unison, like in chip blocks, when two guys have two guys, when you see those executed well, that’s a good sign.”


“If you see the running backs are getting to the second level (5 to 10 yards downfield), that’s a good indicator that the linemen are doing the job up front,” he added. “And then how clean they can keep the quarterback is usually a pretty good sign.”

Hathaway believes that, next to quarterback, lineman is the most intellectually challenging position on a football field. The feeling after a game, win or lose, is often like one has after taking a big exam.

“I think a lot of it is if after a game they feel like they knew what they were doing, you know, how prepared you are during the week,” he said. “They can tell you before they see the film whether or not they made their blocks.” 

The best way for a lineman to ensure he’ll ace the exam is to do his homework, and remember that his teammates are counting on him.

“Our offensive game plan varies week to week, so we’ve got to keep a sharp pencil going into the game,” Melanson said.

“If you want to play fast and hard, you have to know what you’re doing. And if you can’t play fast and hard, you’re not going to play good,” Parmenter said. “You really do have to pay attention. Everybody jokes around about linemen just being big, dumb guys, but we’ve got a lot going on (mentally), especially with the offense we run. We run a very meticulous scheme with reads, and we have to know those, because the backs rely on us to be where we’re supposed to be.”

Coach Dave Bochtler talks about some of Leavitt Area High School’s offensive strategy as five of his linemen listen in. From left are Cole Melanson, Riley Paramenter, Brent Grant, Tom Casey and Caleb Lafrance. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

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