SHAWNEE'S OFFENSIVE LINE IS A BROTHERHOOD
Senior tackle Alex Pfeifer is a leader of a unit that is helping the Renegades drive to another South Jersey Group 4 title
If you follow football at any level, you know the role of the offensive line. Your job in the sport is to block for the running backs to gain yards, and block for the quarterback so he can throw passes.
O-linemen rarely score and unless you’re the center, you only touch the ball, the very purpose of the game, when there is a fumble. In some cases, it’s a penalty if you do.
Offensive linemen don’t get sacks, they can’t pick off a pass or bat one down. The whole thing sounds kind of dumb, but really, playing offensive line is complicated.
Linemen form the very structure of every play, running or throwing. How they block, who they block and how well they sell a trick play can mean the difference between winning and losing a game. Just ask the New England Patriots defense after they fell for the “Philly Special.”
Offensive linemen have a fellowship within a fellowship. It makes no difference if it is at the pro, college or high school level. Eagles linemen can be seen hanging with each other at Sixers games and other events around town. They train as a unit and pull for each other regardless of their role.
At Shawnee High School in Medford, NJ, it’s the same. “The chemistry of this group is very special,” head coach Tim Gushue said recently. “They literally do ‘everything’ together. They also have an amazing work ethic in the weight room & on the practice field. O-Line Coach, Tony Escudero has worked tirelessly to build a ‘brotherhood’ between all of these young men.”
It was this spirit that helped the Renegades rally from a disastrous 2-7 start in 2018 to pull off a four-game win streak that included capturing the South Jersey Group 4 Championship. Senior left tackle Alex Pfeifer remembers how the season unfolded.
"It wasn't really the start that we wanted, but we came together," Pfeifer said during an interview during a team meal in the school cafeteria. "We had a really tough schedule and that, I think really helped us in the playoffs and in the long run. So, of those tough losses, it definitely I also think paid dividends in the offseason."
What is the difference this season, the Renegades are 6-0?
"Definitely experience," Pfeifer said. "A lot of us, we have so many returning guys this year. We're a bunch of seniors. Pretty much everyone who starts this year, started last year. I definitely think we have so much more experience that we know what's going on."
As stated earlier in this article, offensive linemen are, more often than not, kind of brainy and keep a lot of things to themselves.
But when asked, O-lineman usually have a lot of knowledge of the game and their team. Pfeifer did not disappoint. He took advantage of this interview to poke some good-natured jabs at his teammates (non-linemen) but also spread a lot of love.
Pfeifer gave a shout out to all his O-linemen mates Ben Emerle, Tom Papa, Nick Dittmar, Brett Hilgetag, Matt Suriano, Anthony Abbott, Lee Simms and Mike Jarvis.
Pfeifer talked about his quarterback, sophomore Matt Welsey, who as a freshman, was a big part of Shawnee’s turnaround last year.
"That kid's a miracle worker," Pfeifer said. "He's a sophomore, but he plays like a senior. They call him 'Matty Ice,' 'Magic Man,' 'Matty Football,' 'QB 1,' ...he's really good. I give that kid a lot of credit. He works really hard."
What about junior wide receiver Nate Summerville? "Another great player yet that was his first-ever touchdown," Pfeifer said. "I have to give that kid a lot of credit. He works really hard."
NFL linemen will tell you they don’t know who the running back in a particular play, they just block the player they are supposed to block.
Pfeifer was asked if the Shawnee lineman play like they are not interested in who is behind them? Is the focus just on the blocking scheme?
"Not really," Pfeifer said. "We know who’s in there. But still it doesn't matter who’s in there, we're going to go 100 percent no matter what. It doesn't really matter who’s in the backfield but we are conscious of that."
Pfeifer was asked to talk about running backs Jake Barnett, a senior and Tom Rebstock, a junior, and their different styles.
“Jake and Tom? Jake is more of a hard-nosed running back," Pfeifer said. "He likes to run up the middle a little bit. They're both very similar in the way that they read the field really well. They know what to do on certain plays. 'Reb' likes to bounce it outside more on those stretch plays. I think Rebstock's a little bit faster than Barnett. As far as in the huddle goes, Jake's kind of quiet, Rebstock is like always cracking jokes and stuff like that...loosen us up."
Pfeifer was asked if any of the skill guys are divas?
"That's all Matt Wilson," Pfeifer said with a laugh. "Matt Welsey's the Diva. He's the Diva of the offense."
Pfeifer said he likes Patriots future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, but admitted he is not much of an NFL fan. "I don't watch the NFL that much," Pfeifer said. "I don't really watch football; I just play it."
Pfeifer did say he is a college football fan and singled out Chase Young, the junior defensive end from Ohio State.
"That kid's an animal," Pfeifer said. "I'm a big Ohio State fan. I watch them every week." Pfeifer does not have his sights squarely set on college football. He is looking for towards his academic interests. But football would be fine, since it might take where he want to attend college. "I want to go like D-3," said Pfeifer, who is listed at 6-foot-3, 261. "A good academic school and use football to help me get in. I like to think I'm good, grade-wise but football always helps. "If I play, I play, If I don't I don't,” Pfeifer continued. “I'm just happy to be playing in high school. It's a great opportunity. If an opportunity presents itself to play in college, I'll definitely go for it."
Coach Escudero said he is not surprised by Pfeifer’s outlook on college and that it would be centered on his off field interests rather than strapping on the should pads.
"He's a little different," Escudero said with a smile. "He's a renaissance kind of guy. He's got a lot of different interests. He comes from a great family. And he's really, really smart so he has different interests. But he loves playing football. Our guys have such a great bond here. That's the thing here, our offensive linemen, we try to make it special. You're not a wide receiver, you're not a quarterback, who thinks about you? We try to."
Escudero went on to talk about just how good a lineman Pfeifer has become. "It doesn't really matter what seed we're going in, we'll have to beat the good players, the good teams eventually, so doesn't matter. We'll go in there 100 percent every single game."
Offensive line coach Tony Escudero "Alex is one of our hardest working kids," Escudero said. "He's improved every year. Last year he stepped in there. You could see he struggled a little bit at times but he kept working and working hard. This year he’s probably one of the best linemen we have and best lineman I think, in my opinion in South Jersey, and anywhere. He's as strong as anyone, he's a great down blocker. When we want to run the ball, we go to the left. We go right behind him. Everybody knows that."
At press time, Shawnee was undefeated and the No. 9 rated team in New Jersey, according to MaxPreps.com. The Renegades play the No. 8 team, Williamstown on October 25. The Braves are also undefeated with a 6-0 record.
Pfeifer said he doesn’t care about their seed, order of the teams they have to face. They just have to beat them.
"It doesn't really matter what seed we're going in,” Pfeifer said. “We'll have to beat the good players, the good teams eventually, so doesn't matter. We'll go in there, 100 percent, every single game."
Note: Shawnee went on to win the South Group 4 Championship with a 28-0 win over Ocean City.
* Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii