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There's more to these linemen than their size, but being big helps

Glenelg's David Robbins, Franklin's Patrick Allen and McDonogh's Ellis McKennie.
Glenelg's David Robbins, Franklin's Patrick Allen and McDonogh's Ellis McKennie. (Colby Ware, The Baltimore Sun)

If offensive linemen are born rather than made, Franklin's Patrick Allen, McDonogh's Ellis McKennie III and Glenelg's David Robbins were destined for the trenches from their first breaths.

Allen arrived at 10 pounds, 4 ounces. McKennie weighed 9 pounds, 6 ounces. Robbins was 9 pounds, 8 ounces. And did they ever keep growing.

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At 18, Allen stands 6-feet-5, 285 pounds. McKennie, 16, is 6-3, 310 pounds. Robbins, 17, is 6-4, 295.

For these seniors, size is just the beginning. Add intense work in the weight room and sharp attention to fundamental technique and they've grown into some of the nation's top offensive line prospects. Allen has committed to Georgia, McKennie to Maryland and Robbins to defending national champion Florida State.

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Although all came late to the game — McKennie and Robbins in seventh grade and Allen in ninth — that doesn't matter much for linemen, said Adam Friedman, a recruiting analyst for rivals.com familiar with all three.

"Offensive linemen, ones who will star in high school and college or the NFL, they take shape most of the time a little bit later, because they still need to grow," said Friedman, who played football at River Hill.

"It's really about their physical gifts. Pat is a strong guy that has a lot of quickness in his feet, long reach and is aggressive by nature. Ellis is a naturally strong in the upper body and has a huge body overall and it's tougher to get around him. David is just a worker; he's an aggressive guy, he'll work hard in the weight room and works hard on his technique as well."

Over the past four years, they have learned to love the position and have become dedicated to their craft. That, however, came after the somewhat disappointing realization that, despite their size, they would play some of the most invisible positions on the field. When they excel at their job, someone else gets the headlines.

That's not exactly what they dreamed of at first.

"Playing outside with my friends, playing street football, I was always the quarterback, and I thought I played quarterback pretty well," McKennie said with a smile, "but when I got to seventh grade, I realized quarterback wasn't going to be my future. I had to play offensive line. I came to that realization pretty quick."

Allen, who played a little tight end his freshman year, and Robbins had similar epiphanies. Once they accepted them, they found a lot to like about playing offensive line. Each takes pride in what boils down to a battle of strength and will with his opponent.

"When you're on the line and you line up against somebody, it's who can beat who and it's more about your will to win," Allen said. "Driving him off the line, your will's got to be stronger than his."

The battle is bruising and tough, but that doesn't mean it's not fun.

"I think it's the most fun position on the field just because every time you line up, you see who's better," Robbins said. "It's a one-on-one thing and it's a good feeling when you win. It's more personal really, because you're not going to get the credit. They're not going to yell over the announcements, 'Great block by that guy.' You feel good when you make the blocks and when your team celebrates with you after the win and they're giving you the credit."

For Allen, the cannon blast after every Indians' touchdown at home signals the line's success even though the linemen aren't the ones jumping up in the end zone.

"Our coach says as long as we make our running backs and quarterbacks look good, we look good," Allen said. "We like to be noticed as a unit for what we're doing for our running backs and our quarterbacks."

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While their efforts go largely unnoticed by spectators, the linemen are getting more attention lately and are grateful for frequent shoutouts from their quarterbacks and running backs.

McKennie noted that last year after a strong running game helped the Eagles beat Gilman, 37-6, to win the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship, reporters weren't talking to the running backs but to the offensive linemen.

At Glenelg, where the offense is built on running behind Robbins, Brent Richardson has been the main beneficiary of his teammate and friend's transformation every Friday night into a mean, hard-driving battering ram.

"It's every running back's dream to have a lineman like that to be able to run behind," Richardson said. "What I admire most about him is his physicality and his mental awareness as a player. There's a lot of big boys out there, but just because you're big doesn't make you a Florida State commit."

Some running backs go further than a shoutout. After McDonogh's Alex Hurdle scored five touchdowns in one game last year, McKennie said, Hurdle took his line to Golden Corral.

At the Glenelg Homecoming game two weeks ago, Robbins stepped into Richardson's shoes for one running play and scored his first touchdown.

"It was awesome," Robbins said with a huge grin.

Most of the time, however, a lineman's work is anonymous, grueling and exhausing. To excel, a lineman spends long hours in the weight room year-round. All three credit their offensive line coaches — Franklin's Mark Agent, McDonogh's Spencer Folau (a former NFL tackle who played eight seasons, including four with the Ravens) and Glenelg's Josh Hatmaker — for driving them through the offseason.

They all bench press over 300 pounds, with Robbins pressing 380 pounds. Robbins also squats 400 pounds.

In addition to their physical prowess, they're all smart players with GPA's over 3.0. McKennie's is 3.7. Their intended majors attest to that brain power — Allen in engineering, McKennie in government and politics, and Robbins in kinesiology — and it's a huge asset on the field where a lot of calls have to be made at the line of scrimmage as defensive formations shift, triggering changes in blocking schemes.

Saturday, McKennie's high school career will come to an end when the No. 1 Greyhounds take on McDonogh in the season finale, but Allen, whose Indians are the defending Class 3A state champions, and Robbins will play on into the playoffs.

All will then play in two or three senior all-star games. Allen will play in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl Jan. 4 in Carson, Cal. Robbins has been invited to the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl Jan. 4 in Orlando, Fla. All three have been invited to the Crab Bowl and are on the watch list for the Big 33 Football Classic in June.

Then it's more hard work in preparation for college, but they're ready for that.

"It's realizing that right now the three of us are big fish in a small pond, and then when we get to college, we're going to be small fish in a very big pond," Robbins said. "At that point, everybody's a college athlete. Everybody's strong, fast, athletic.

"I've been really blessed, and I think Pat and Ellis have too, to have people in my life who've pushed me. ... Our offensive line is that hardest working group every day in practice. We don't take a rep off."

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