Quad Central loaded with talented, supersized linemen
With a few 6-foot-3 linemen and a tight end who's almost 6-5, Peters Township has an offensive line suited for Class AAAA football.
Only in the Quad Central, though, could some consider that size relatively small, because the South Hills has a number of mammoth linemen. Many of the WPIAL's best line talents can be found in this one conference, where they'll battle for the next nine weeks.
“Linemen are always big in this conference, but this is an odd situation where you have so many guys who are huge,” Peters Township coach Rich Piccinini said. “It all hit at once. Every team has these monster linemen.”
Among them, Bethel Park's Mike Grimm (6-5, 325), Mt. Lebanon's Alex Bookser (6-6, 290), Baldwin's Sterling Jenkins (6-8, 300) and Canon-McMillan's Alex Paulina (6-4, 295) can provide a powerful push on offense and an almost immovable object on defense
Their talent makes them special, Piccinini said, not just their size. All four are drawing major college attention.
Grimm, a senior, has committed to Pitt. Bookser has an extensive offer list, including Alabama. But the four also earned the attention of their entire conference. It requires a little added strategy whether playing with or against them.
“They're all big-time impact players,” Baldwin coach Pete Wagner said. “You go scout them, and you may tweak some things just a little bit. Maybe you'll give just a little bit extra help on his side of the ball or stay on a combo block a little longer. You've got to pay attention to those types of kids.
“It's a dogfight every week in this conference in the trenches, so it's important to have those big bodies.”
Rarely, though, have these four linemen squared off. As two-way tackles, they don't typically meet at the line of scrimmage. But there were times last season when Bookser lined up as a defensive end across from Grimm.
“I like knowing you have someone who's going to work you and make you better,” he said. “You have to step your game up because they're also a Division I athlete.”
What Grimm doesn't see on the field he watches on video.
“I'm sure they do the same thing,” he said. “We watch each other in a secretive way to see what kind of players we are.”
Jenkins has a growing list of scholarship offers, including from Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State, Michigan, Tennessee, Virginia and Virginia Tech. Wagner doesn't expect Jenkins to grow, but has seen him strengthen.
“He transformed his body, especially his midsection,” Wagner said. “He got a lot stronger.”
Jenkins only played offense last season, but Wagner will use him on defense this year.
The advantage of having an standout lineman often shows most on offense, Wagner said. On defense, an opposing team can run plays away from them or double team them instead.
On offense, the better guy can dictate the outcome.
“You see in our conference, a lot of guys fill in their best five on the offensive side of the ball first,” Wagner said. “Then they use a committee approach on the defensive side.”
Paulina has a head coach who was a former NFL lineman. Ron Coder has worked this summer with the two-way tackle and believes Paulina has the skills to succeed. Pitt and Penn Stare are already recruiting him, he said.
“We've worked a little on his technique, but he's a pretty talented kid,” Coder said. “A lot of (the advice) will be minor stuff to help him get better. It's tremendous to have a big guy like him.”
The teams without oversized linemen aren't conceding.
“We don't say: ‘Look how big they are,'” Piccinini said. “We respect their talent and we have to game plan for them. They're good linemen. ... But believe me, there are some 6-foot guys in this conference who can do the job as well.”