By Nick Curcuru Sports Editor
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — At first glance the Gloucester football team’s offensive line could easily be mistaken for a group of tight ends, and maybe even a group of running backs.
The offensive front five certainly does not resemble the prototypical offensive line. With the exception of center Connor Adkins, the muscle of the group at 6’1” 240, the guards and tackles are undersized for their positions. Tackles Filippo Zappa and Jason Lattof are listed at 5’11” 190 pounds and 5’10” 150 pounds respectively. Guards Jack Goss and Austin Titus are listed at 5’10” 200 pounds and 5’11” 170 pounds respectively.
The Fishermen offensive line may not look the part, but it can certainly play the part, and play it well.
Week in and week out Gloucester’s offensive line is giving up size to the opponents defensive line, and week in and week out the size deficit hasn’t stopped it from opening holes for the Fishermen running backs.
Through four games Gloucester has put up 933 yards on the ground, averaging 233 yards per game. The line has also helped Gloucester running back Zach Smith lead the Northeastern Conference with 497 yards rushing.
Gloucester’s running backs dominate most of the headlines, but that doesn’t bother the linemen at all. In fact that’s exactly the way they want it.
“We know the running backs get most of the glory and get their names in the paper more often,” said Titus, the lone senior and returning starter on the line, the other four linemen are juniors. “But they give us credit, they know we are doing a lot of work to open holes for them and that’s what counts. We appreciate what they do and they appreciate what we do.”
So why can the Gloucester offensive line push around players who are in some cases 100 pounds heavier? The answer is simple.
“It comes down to footwork and technique,” Titus said. “It doesn’t matter how big the guy you’re blocking is, if you get low and get into his hips you can move anybody. Our coaches preach that speed is power, as long as you have the right form you can move anyone.”
Lattof, the smallest member of Gloucester’s offensive line who weighs less than all of the team’s running backs, echoed his sentiment.
“We expect to be giving up size at this point,” the Fishermen tackle said. “But we just stay low, keep on driving and get our head in the hole. It’s all technique and we do what we gotta do. It’s a good feeling when you’re up against someone almost twice your size and you can move them two or three feet off the line.”
The offensive line has clicked right off the bat and can block a number of plays out of the wing-t offense. Adkins, Goss and Titus have worked together to make the fullback trap an effective play while Lattof and Zappa, who have both played guard as well, can get out and pull as a lead blocker on the edge on a quick pitch, or block down on a linebacker or kick out a defensive end.
While most offenses feature vanilla blocking schemes that heavily favor brawn, the wing-t offense is perfectly built for an undersized line like Gloucester’s. Pulling and cross-blocking, which require quick feet and foot speed, is what makes the wing-t work.
It also helps that the offensive linemen know exactly what its teammates will do on each play.
“We all know where we need to go and where everybody else needs to go,” Lattof said. “A lot of it is a mental game. We run some plays to the same holes but we block them differently. We try to stay one step ahead of the defense and confuse them with our blocking schemes.”
Gloucester’s offensive line has certainly found a way to get it done this year, and it doesn’t just come down to technique, it also comes down to heart and toughness, which, uncoincidentally, the offensive line has plenty of.
“They’re all tough kids and they all take pride in what they do,” Gloucester head coach Tony Zerilli said. “They don’t care about their size disadvantage, they give up size every week. But they go out and battle every play and that takes a lot of heart and desire.”