While many of the more high-profile high school football players spend the summer honing their skills and their competitive edge at 7-on-7 tournaments, linemen continue to toil away in anonymity in weight rooms and at camps and combines.
For one day last month, however, the big guys took the main stage at the fourth annual Air It Out 7-on-7 and Big Man Competition in Bel Air.
As their more nimble teammates played pass and catch, eight teams of big guys matched muscle at pushing a fire truck, tossing SUV tires and bench pressing 135 pounds. They also had a tug-of-war and a hamburger eating contest.
Patterson Mill lineman Justin Gunn, who led the Huskies to the Big Man team title, said it was nice to be in the spotlight, even if just for one day. When the season opens — Saturday is the first day of practice for public school teams — the linemen will be back in their supporting roles.
"It even shows in college and the NFL that the offensive linemen always do the dirty work and nobody notices unless you're like a Jonathan Ogden, and then everyone knows who you are," Gunn said. "It's good to get that recognition. Without us, the team really can't move forward."
The Huskies — Gunn, Jake Martin, Chris Livingston, Essa Rizkallah, Alex Boyd, Aaron Levell and Alex Hudak — took first in the tug-of-war and in the bench press. Elkton, which won the fire truck push and the tire throw, came in second overall, with two-time defending champ North Harford third.
Gunn, a 6-foot, 245-pound senior offensive guard, excelled in the bench press competition, during which each team's seven linemen pressed 135 pounds as many times as they could. Gunn tied with Elkton's Mike Rossi for the most reps, 49, but the Huskies won with 214 reps.
"I thought the highlight was the burger-eating contest," Gunn said. "Everyone really got into it and we cracked jokes along the way."
North Harford won the burger-eating contest, which is not as counterproductive to keeping the players in shape as it sounds. In a timed relay, seven linemen eat two burgers each. The second lineman couldn't start until the first finished and so on down the line. The Hawks had only six competitors — Trevor Atkinson, Tyler Hampton, Frank Koslowski, Chris Bland, Tyler Ayers and Dustin Beall — so one went twice.
"I think it's awesome for them," North Harford coach Ken Brinkman said of the entire big man event. "I know our big men get so excited about it when I ask them in the spring. They start planning on who's doing the hamburger eating. The one event they really love? For whatever reason, they love pushing that fire truck."
Patterson Mill coach Josh Mason said the Big Man Competition drew a bigger crowd than the 7-on-7 competition. You can see players pass and catch every day, but how often do you see seven guys push a fire truck?
"We just really want the linemen to have things to look forward to too," Mason said. "That's why we put that in the middle of summer [July 9], so they're not just watching the little guys run around and catch the ball."
Calvert Hall coach Donald Davis said his linemen have competed in big man events in the past, although they did not this year.
"They're good for team building," Davis said. "That's just a nice little outlet for the kids when they go to those and it helps build camaraderie. That's as important as how good they are, that they believe in each other and trust one another."
Gunn said that made the difference for the Huskies.
"The one thing that gave our team the advantage was how much teamwork, how much chemistry we've had together. In years before, we didn't have that much of a connection, not that much chemistry. But with a lot of up-and-coming JV stars and a lot of the ones that had been through varsity last year, [it] definitely brought us together and we have the potential to be a great team this year."
The Baltimore Touchdown Club ran its Big Man Jamboree for eight years but did not have one this year. Scott Ripley, the club vice president, said next year his group plans to bring back the event, which included a half-day clinic, a tug-of-war and big man 7-on-7s.
"I think it's a wonderful idea," Poly coach Roger Wrenn said. "There's all this stuff for the skill-position athletes, the quarterback, the wide receiver, the defensive back. But, offensively, five of our 11 players are linemen and there's really nothing for them."
Some camps and combines have competitive aspects for linemen, and Dunbar junior Dariz Hill said he enjoyed the tug of war at the Penn State camp he attended with some of the other Poets linemen.
"I just basically like competing against other people," said Hill, a 6-foot, 375-pound junior guard. "There's some competition with one-on-ones, too, when you do individual pass rush and see if we can block the person that we go up against."
For as much fun as they have in the Big Man Competition, linemen are serious about their summer training. In addition to lifting, they run to improve their stamina, and to get acclimated to the warm weather, and they also work on developing sprint speed and getting out of the blocks quickly.
All that grunt work is about to pay off.
"Bring on the two-a-days," Gunn said. "I'm ready for this season."
5 tips for the first day of high school practice
Saturday is the first day of practice for local public school athletic teams, and many private and parochial school teams began workouts earlier this week. Heading into his 12th season as the athletic trainer at Archbishop Spalding High School, T.J. Morgan shared his tips for how young athletes can be ready to get back in action.
1. Preparation: Too often athletes take for granted their conditioning and try to jump right into the season doing a full workout, and they're probably not prepared for it, so they should expect a certain amount of soreness. They should expect a certain amount of lack of conditioning where they're not able to keep up with the guys and girls who may have been conditioning all summer.
2. Avoid unnecessary supplementation: There's absolutely no need for any student who is getting an adequate diet to have to add any kind of supplementation to their diet. They should not add need to add any kind of protein powder, things like that. If they're eating the recommended daily allowances of the foods they should be eating, they're getting enough foods in order to recoup the energy stores that they need.
3. Get adequate rest: Rest is the ultimate healer. The more time you're able to give your body to rest, the better the body is going heal, the better the tissue is going to be able to heal. Many of these kids do have part time jobs and try and work in between [practices], but other kids will go out and do other things. They'll finish a heavy practice and then the next day, they'll go for a run trying to condition themselves into shape, and the problem is they're just not giving the body the opportunity it needs to recover.
4. Adequate nutrition: Which ties into supplementation, but the nutrition component means making sure they're eating meals throughout the course of the day, multiple meals. Especially if they're participating in a two-a-day type situation, they can't — if they're at morning practice — just wake up and have toast and jelly or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and go to practice. They're about to go to practice and expend anywhere from 4-5-600 calories, so they have to make sure that they take in at least that in the morning.
5. Get hydrated and stay hydrated: Pre-hydration is the key. If they're going to their practices and they're well hydrated, the chances of them succumbing to a heat-related illness is significantly reduced. But if they go into their practices dehydrated, or they're not maintaining hydration while they're practicing, the chance of succumbing to a heat-related illness goes up, and the research all supports that.