Ben Bolte hadn’t played on the offensive line since before his freshman year at Manhattan High. He’d been entrenched on the defensive side of the line, learning that technique and playbook.
Before the 2019 season, the Indians coaching staff needed the senior, Bolte, to help out.
“With this team, it’s not going to be all about you.” Bolte said. “When the coaches came up to me and said I need to step up and become an offensive lineman, I felt ...”
Bolte paused, and glanced over at his teammates on the Bishop Stadium turf who were preparing for practice Tuesday.
“I felt like it was an honor to become one,” Bolte said.
Bolte helps headline another talented Manhattan High offensive line, a staple of a prolific football program that prides itself on its toughness and consistency.
“This O-line is not different from our PO-lines of the past,” head coach Joe Schartz said. “Typically our offensive line is very intelligent, built of soft-spoken individuals and excellent young men that go to the weight room and develop themselves. This offensive line is out of the mold of our offensive lines in the past, and they just continue to really work well as a unit”
Bolte and another senior offensive linemen, Sam Shields, who likely will return later this season after dislocating his shoulder in Manhattan’s opener Sept. 6, are the leaders this season. The line spends time together working in the weight room, sharing pregame meals and developing close relationships. This bond has had a notable influence on Bolte.
“It makes us stronger,” Bolte said. “Between the defensive line and offensive line, we all are brothers. Us five guys, it’s really close. It is especially (important) for me, because I’m an only child, so these guys are like my brothers. If we ever need anything, we can talk to each other. We go through hell or high water together.”
The off-the field relationships are important. Developing chemistry can be the difference between a miscommunication and a big hole for the running back to dash through.
Manhattan’s offensive line consistently excels, but to get a better picture of it, one has to look at the stats of the quarterback, the rushers and how often the chains are moving to see how dominant the unit truly is.
It also takes a certain personality to play that position, because a lineman’s best stats are the stats of others. Personal glory isn’t much of a concern for Manhattan players anyways, but the linemen are taking hits and battling so that the flashy plays that make the highlight reels can happen.
“An offensive lineman is, in my estimation, the ultimate teammate,” Schartz said. “Other than pancakes, what stat category is there for an offensive line? They have to take the light in the running back’s stats or the quarterback’s stats. Not letting the quarterback get sacked or pressured. If you want to talk about unselfishness and the ultimate team player, that’s an offensive linemen. I’m very proud of these guys, and one of the sayings we have is, ‘To lead is to serve’ and ‘Deeds not words,’ and that’s our offensive linemen to a tee. They just give themselves so that the team can be successful.”
Senior running back BJ Young and junior quarterback Dayne Aschenbrenner already are close to combining for double-digit rushing touchdowns of over 50 yards, and it’s been two games. Young said his way of thanking his O-line when it’s making plays is to “get down field, see the hole, hit it and go,” — to get the first down, score, and make it worth it.
The offensive line likely will continue to be consistently solid this year, as it was in years past. Some of it is coaching, some of it is leadership, but all of it is intended to be lasting.
“As a freshman, the seniors are hard on you, but they want you to succeed,” Bolte said. “Now that I’m in that position, I can’t thank them enough for teaching me the ways on how to become a great Indian. Now you want to set that same standard with the underclassmen, too.”