By Rich Fisher | Correspondent
Since the day they inflated history’s first football, offensive linemen were destined to become the anonymous warriors on their team at every level.
See more photos from Red Bank Catholic’s Oct. 14 win vs. Long Branch, here.
In the case of Red Bank Catholic High School, even when one tries to shed light on the men in the trenches, they are content to share it with everyone else.
Senior left tackle Connor Smith feels the line takes great pride in the Caseys’ eye-popping offensive statistics.
“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” Smith said. “It’s a team effort. Having a runner like Zach Bair (1,053 yards, 15 touchdowns), and guys like Billy Guidetti and Nick Brusca in the backfield and Steve Lubischer at quarterback makes our job a lot easier.
“And having the coaching staff we have with coaches (Frank) Edgerly and (offensive coordinator Matt) Ahearn, designing the plays we run. We really work hard to get it done, and having the guys on the edge, the wide receivers blocking down the field. They all help. It’s a team effort that’s working.”
It sure is. In a 6-0 start, RBC has scored 290 points and averages 48.3 per game. Its low for the season was 42 on Oct. 14 when the Caseys beat Long Branch in a battle of unbeatens. Lubischer is 50-for-71 for 948 yards and 12 touchdowns. RBC has rushed for 1,965 yards and is averaging 485.5 yards of offense per game.
It does indeed take great skill players to amass such numbers. But it all starts on the line, where the Caseys have come together well.
Going from left to right, it consists of Connor Smith (6-5, 270) at tackle, Tommy Smith (6-2, 280) at guard, Mike Griggs (6-3, 265) at center, Brandon Dente (6-0, 230) at guard and Rich Christie (6-3, 275) at tackle.
Tommy Smith is the lone junior and is in his first year on the o-line (while also playing defensive tackle). Griggs is a three-year starter and Connor Smith a two-year starter after converting from tight end. Dente started as a sophomore but got hurt midway through last year, and Christie started the first half of last year before getting hurt.
Despite being somewhat fractured a year ago, the group has developed a cohesion and chemistry necessary for a line to operate efficiently.
“The most important thing for these guys is they’re friends on and off the field, they get along very well,” Ahearn said. “They’re the most inquisitive offensive line I’ve ever had. They’re always asking questions and they’re not just flimsy questions, they’re pertinent questions to what we’re doing.
“They’re trying to understand the offense, trying to understand everything that we’re doing, why we’re doing it. That’s key to their success. And they’ve meshed so well because they’re so friendly off the field.”
Connor Smith, a member of Nativity Parish, Fair Haven, is headed for Harvard, while Griggs has earned a full scholarship to Colgate. All five have football smarts.
“Most of us have been playing football since as soon as we can walk,” Smith said. “We love watching football on weekends. Football is a huge part of our lives and being around it at a young age, always watching and always playing, helps us develop the football IQ and helps us learn stuff better.”
Smith agrees with Ahearn that friendships along the line play a big part. Tommy Smith and Christie hail from Howell and knew each other prior to RBC, while Wall’s Griggs, Ocean’s Dente and Connor Smith all met in their freshman year.
“We’re really close friends in the weight room, off the field in the locker room,” he said. “I think that bond as really close friends translated onto the field. The chemistry we have, just working together to get the job done.”
And lest anyone think that linemen only get by on strength and quickness, think again. The bonding is an important part of it all.
“It’s a lot of mainly just trusting your guys on the line to pick up assignments, to pick up blitzes, do their job,” Smith said. “You can see something and without even saying it you just know the guy next to you is gonna pick it up and do his job.”
The same goes for the skill players.
“Definitely,” Smith said. “Blocking down field, having a sense of where they’re gonna cut, where they’re gonna go next so we can help them out.”
“It’s a trust thing,” Ahearn added. “They trust we’re gonna block the right way and do the right thing. We trust they’re gonna go to the right hole and let us set up our blocks. Trust is a key factor in that.”
While many high school programs hope to have a balanced offense, only a fortunate few are able to carry it out. RBC is one of them, making it important for the line to consistently drive block in the running game while being able to protect in the passing game.
“They’re good at both, as long as we keep our feet moving,” Ahearn said. “The most important thing for our offensive line is to have good feet. If you have good feet, then you’re athletic, you can do different things. You can pass block and run block.”
In assessing his tackles, Ahearn feels that Connor Smith is physical but possesses the athleticism to pull, while Christie’s size helps him on his down blocks and being physical up front. As for the guards, Tommy Smith is also physical and finishes off blocks well, while Dente is tough and can dissect the situation, which Ahearn feels is key in jokingly referring to him as “the runt of the litter.” At center, Griggs is in charge of making calls for setting up blocks and is key with down blocks.
As each one continues to do their job, RBC continues to build a promising season. The Caseys go from one unbeaten to another as they take on 6-0 St. John Vianney Oct. 20.
“It’s definitely an exciting part of the season and a great time to be part of this program,” Smith said. “We’re trying to do our job one week at a time. This week we’re focusing on Friday night and getting the job done and we move on from there.”
Asked if the Caseys feel confident they can challenge for a state title this year, Smith didn’t budge.
“The confidence is there, but we’re just focusing on one week at a time,” he said. “Right now the confidence is there for this week.”
With an offensive line this good, confidence should be there.