Success starts up front for Norwin
Playing on the offensive line doesn't offer much glory.
Their names aren't announced for making a great block after a big run. They might get a pat on the back from a teammate.
If they miss a block or get called for a penalty, they draw the ire of their coach and a groan from fans.
It's a tough, physical position. They knock heads with big guys and, usually, the toughest wins.
“If you're soft and not physical, you're not going to do very well,” Norwin coach Dave Brozeski said. “The offensive and defensive lines are definitely the key every year.”
Norwin finished 5-6 last season and finished fourth in the WPIAL Class 6A Southeastern Conference, but the Knights lost their final three games, including twice to WPIAL champion Central Catholic.
“The games that we were able to control the line of scrimmage and defense the run, we did well in,” Brozeski said. “When we didn't control the line of scrimmage, we had problems.”
But Brozeski said he likes what he sees in practice. He is eager to see how they fair in game situations.
Norwin got tested Saturday in its scrimmage at Franklin Regional and will receive an another stern test Friday in the season opener against Penn-Trafford.
Senior Jake Smetak was an all-conference second-team guard in 2016. He is one of three starters returning on the offensive line. If Norwin hopes to make noise in the WPIAL Class 6A, the play of the lines will be key.
“The goal of the team is keep moving forward,” Smetak said. “Last year, we made the playoffs. This year, the goal is go further and hopefully play at Heinz Field and win the WPIAL.
“We are definitely stressing violence. We want to be physical off the ball, getting hands on and getting guys on the ground. It starts in the trenches. You want to win the line of scrimmage.”
The returning starters on the offensive line are seniors Smetak at left tackle, Noah Masten at left guard and Zac Turkowski, who started at center but is moving to right guard.
Kody Piper, who didn't play his junior season, is the leading candidate for the right tackle spot while sophomore Aaron Bowen, the son of Hempfield coach Rich Bowen, and senior Adam Horvat are competing for the center job. Brozeski also is counting on senior John Piekut.
Smetak said he expects big things from the running backs.
“Running backs usually say if the line can give me 5 yards, I'll make it 10,” Smetak said. “If we open some big holes, I want to see 20- or 30-yard rushes.”
On the defensive line, Smetak at nose tackle and junior Franco Gaudio at end are returning starters. Piper, senior Brendon Guastaferro and Turkowski are expected to be in the rotation.
“The defensive line has more depth than last year and more size,” Brozeski said. “We didn't win the physical matchup in very many games. We have some new faces in the mix and guys with more experience.”
If the line does its job, Smetak and his teammates will get their recognition.