At first, calling a high school kid a “hog” might sound offensive.
Especially for someone who wasn’t around in the 1980s watching the Washington Redskins block for Super Bowl MVP John Riggins. Some confusion might come about when a coach starts calling his offensive linemen names.
Needless to say, the current offensive linemen at Manhattan High were all likely born well after the original Hogs had retired or were playing for other teams.
“Somebody a few years back looked at me and didn’t understand what I was saying, but that is the ultimate compliment to be called a ‘hog’ if you’re an offensive linemen,” MHS coach Joe Schartz said. “It’s kind of stuck, and the kids enjoy it. They understand now that it’s a compliment.”
Manhattan High’s senior-laden group of linemen have done their best to live up to the nickname their coach bestowed upon them, paving the way for the Indians to run the ball effectively in all but one game this season.
The group is led by left guard Wyatt Charlson, who was voted a team captain by his peers in the spring.
“As it is with all of our captains, it’s not something that’s gained over night,” Schartz said. “These kids have been going to school a long time in the Manhattan school system, and it’s one of those things that they’ve earned the respect of their teammates over the years, especially once they become a part of the high school program.”
This year’s offensive line returned no starters. Brandon Velez, who played there last year, moved to defense in the offseason. That left spots to be claimed by Charlson, left tackle Gabe Caldas, right guards Pat Zenk and Cain Blaha, and right tackle Ryan Deters.
The group is completed by one junior, center Wade Stroda.
“We’re always proud of our offensive line and the way they develop over the years in the weight room,” Schartz said. “Typically, our offensive line is made up of guys that didn’t really get to play much varsity until their senior years, and this group is really no different.”
Despite not seeing the field together on varsity before this season, the group has gelled well together through five games.
Schartz said their biggest strength is their ability to communicate.
“They’re all sharp and they communicate well,” he said. “There’s not one of them that is extremely big — they’re all anywhere from 215 to 240, but they communicate and work well together as a unit. That’s the strong part of it.”
Schartz was quick to note that while the unit is typically undersized against its opponents, the group never makes excuses.
“They’ve got big hearts, and they understand there are high expectations with that group,” he said. “If we’re going to do anything offensively, it starts up front with them. We don’t make excuses around here about size or speed or talent or whatever. They know that they have to get it done and they take pride in their work.”
Schartz said he is proud of the way this unit has developed, especially considering their lack of playing time before this year and their dedication to getting better.
“I’m proud of all their development in the weight room and on the field and most importantly, as individuals,” he said. “They’re all super kids and we’re very proud of them.”
Manhattan High hosts Shawnee Heights tonight for homecoming. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Those who can’t make it to the game can find a live stream with play-by-play on The Mercury’s website, www.themercury.com