Offensive linemen usually don’t get the headlines when their team wins and often times are only noticed after holding penalties or when a missed block leads to their quarterback getting trampled on the turf behind them.
Not at Avon.
Eagles coach Mike Elder appreciates what his offensive line has accomplished this season and realizes they are one of the biggest reasons Avon (10-1) is still alive in the Division II playoffs and preparing for a Region 6 semifinal against Whitehouse Anthony Wayne (11-0) Friday night at 7 p.m. at Clyde High.
“The offensive line is the strength of our football team,” Elder said. “They are as good as we’ve probably ever had at Avon.”
The Eagles’ line is anchored by a pair of veteran seniors on the left side of the line — tackle Michael Bergen and guard Matt Schuler.
The 6-foot, 282-pound Schuler said the success Avon is having this season is the culmination of an offseason of hard work that started shortly after the 2017 season ended with a state semifinal loss to eventual champion Akron Hoban.
“Honestly getting back in the weight room after the season is the toughest grind there is,” Schuler said. “Once we got into January we were working out four times a week and doing speed training twice a week. And you’re doing that knowing the season is still months away, but once you get back on the field in August you see it was all worth it.”
The strength and skill of the Eagles offensive line has allowed Avon’s running backs and receivers to put up video game-like numbers this season, averaging nearly 48 points a game while amassing over 5,300 yards of total offense — including 306 rushing yards a game.
Over the past three games, Eagles junior standout running back Nick Perusek, after missing five games due to injury, is averaging 216 rushing yards per game.
“I’d like to take all the credit for Perusek’s big games but that kid is something special,” Schuler said. “It feels good to see the offense be as successful as it has been, seeing all of the pieces come together is a great thing.”
Bergen (6-4, 269) is a two-year starter who has attracted attention from dozens of Division I college scouts and will play for the University of Toledo next year.
“It all starts with our coaches getting us ready in the offseason and at the beginning of every week with the game plan,” Bergen said. “All we have to do is make sure we know our assignments then go out and execute. It’s the guys like Perusek and (quarterback) Ryan Maloy who carry the team. It just makes everyone on the line happy to see those guys flourish.”
While Bergen and Schuler came into the year with playoff experience, November football is something new for the other members of the line — junior right tackle Joe Svec (6-2, 209), junior right guard Tommy Lorincz (6-4, 277) and sophomore center Mason Bingham (5-10, 223).
“We are a hard-working group of kids. We won’t back down to anyone,” Lorincz said. “We built a lot of chemistry in the offseason and during two-a-days, and that’s really paying off now.”
Elder knows how to prepare his team for playoff football — this is the ninth consecutive year Avon has made the playoffs — and he knew his linemen put in the work in the offseason that would get them ready for this time of the year.
“They’ve taken good care of their bodies, they lift in the offseason and they really work hard at their craft,” Elder said. “Offensive line is a technical position and we have guys who are committed to that. If you don’t want to do the lifting and you’re not going to put in the work, you’re not going to be one of the final 16 teams playing (in Division II).”
After watching film on Anthony Wayne, Elder said the Generals remind him a lot of his Avon team with their physical, athletic style of play.
“When coach said Anthony Wayne is like us it put it into perspective for me, there are other teams that work as hard as us and grind year round like we do,” Schuler said. “I think the way we set ourselves apart is we work just as hard on every rep in practice to make sure we’re running our plays to perfection and we’re ready for Friday nights.”
If the Eagles linemen can bust open holes in a Generals defense that has only allowed 75 points all season and has shut out four of its last six opponents, they’ll prove they’re not just ready for Friday nights but possible ready for Canton, the site of the state championship game.