JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville University's spread-option offense's success will be predicated in large part not to the strong-armed quarterback, downhill running back, or speedy wide receiver. The truth of its future and any style of offense lies in the play of five men who may never hear their name over the stadium speakers during a game.
Therein lies the grandeur of being an offensive lineman. What the positions lack in outward appreciation, the unit makes up for with internal cohesion.
Head Coach Ian Shields and offensive line coach Tom Freeman welcome back three lineman who started and played key snaps in the trenches last season. Robert Ritterhoff, Jake Dempsey, and Andrew Guthart have provided a steady presence to grow and help bring the newcomers into the fold.
"Being an offensive lineman all about physicality, toughness, and understanding your role on the football team," said Freeman, a 47-year coaching veteran. "You're striving so that the offensive line becomes the face of the offense and that they set the tempo. If you're good on offense, you've got a good offensive line, no matter what you're running."
"Ritterhoff is a returning starter who has done some good things for us and is a versatile player that is a real bonus," said Freeman. "Dempsey is young and we are excited about his progress. Guthart has been a tremendous leader for us."
Ritterhoff, a 6-5, 291-pound redshirt junior hailing from Ocala, Fla., played in all 11 games last year and offers flexibility this season having spent time at tackle and adjusting to playing center during camp.
Dempsey, a sophomore from Bunnell, Fla., saw action in nine games last year. The 6-2, 313-pounder is arguably the strongest player on the team and was on a nationally-ranked wrestling team in high school.
Guthart (pronounced "good heart"), played in five games and ended the season as Jacksonville's center. The 6-0, 258-pound sophomore from Ft. Pierce, Fla., returns to the position and will be asked to help direct the line during pre-snap communications on top clearing a path for the Dolphin backfield.
Of the over 50 newcomers, the offensive line may see the most freshmen action of any position group. Nick McKenney, Avery Thompson, Chris Tremblay, Christian Huber, and Jake Howell are working to take an advantage of opportunities for playing time.
"McKenney and Howell have been a real nice addition to us. We moved Thompson from defense to offense in the middle of camp, which is a hard move, but he is picking it up," said Freeman. "Tremblay and Huber have shown some flashes and will contribute to our depth."
McKenney, a 6-3, 252-pound freshman paved the way for Mainland High School's 2015 District Championship and 11-2 record.
Thompson, 6-3, 259 pounds, was a four-year starter for Cane Bay High School in Summerville, S.C. Howell, 6-3, 280 pounds, was a First Team 5A All-State player for Palm Bay High School. Freeman believes he is the most physical in the group.
"He comes off the ball with good pad level and is a tough player. It's important to him," said Freeman.
Huber, 6-2, 255 pounds, was a multiple-year starter for Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla. The 6-0, 265-pound Tremblay was a Second Team 6A All-State performer for Naples High School.
"The group is headed in the right direction. When executed, this offense is hard to stop," said Freeman. "Coach Shields has such a massive knowledge and background in option football. He knows where the answers are."
With a profusion of position players returning to the offense and Shields' mastery of the option attack, a dominating offensive line can lead to a lengthy day for D.B. Milne Field's scoreboard operator.