Lake Orion Football, Terror in the Trenches

LAKE ORION — When a football team scores a touchdown, or the offense makes a big play, how often does the public address announcer make a mention to the offensive line?

While the credit often goes to the running back, quarterback or receiver, and sometimes the holder or placekicker on the extra point or field goal attempt, those on the offensive line are often the forgotten-about commodities of the grid-iron.

Even on defense, when a player makes a tackle, hit, sack or an interception, or leaps up and blocks a punt or an extra-point attempt, the slash goes in the stat column and the crowd can often hear those jersey numbers shouted out, echoing out off the bleachers on both sides of the field for anyone within a mile to hear.

But what about the offensive lineman? Is there a stat for making a large hole in the other team’s defense? Is there a praise every down coming from the PA? Is there much notoriety for being the big boys down in the trenches doing the dirty work?

“We just work hard,” said Blake McGhee. “We know what our job is out there.”

McGhee, a senior at Lake Orion, is 6-foot-2, 295-pound terror in the trenches. Leading a fine offensive line unit, McGhee has helped the Dragons to one of its best seasons in school history.

“We just practice really hard. And we practice like we play and that translates into games,” said McGhee of the Dragons’ offensive line play this season.

Lake Orion is 11-1 overall and has won the OAA Red Division, district and regional championships. The Dragons are in the Division 1 state semifinals for the second time in three years and the third time in 13 seasons this weekend.

To put things into perspective, Lake Orion has scored 460 points in 12 games and has yielded only 120 against good competition — six of those opponents are playoffs teams and eight teams finished with winning records. The Dragons have averaged 38.4 points and outing and have scored over 40 points eight times and over 50 twice this season.

Lake Orion even put up 56 points on West Bloomfield in mid-September and 54 points on Grand Blanc in the district title game. The Dragons’ powerful offensive linemen have earned some respect, at least among teammates.

Although McGhee is soft-spoken off the field, he is a leader on it. Opposing teams have to find someone to match up with him on the line, and McGhee and his line-mates often overpower the defensive linemen and linebackers on the other side of scrimmage.

“They give us love,” smiled McGhee, referring to his teammates: the receivers, running back and quarterbacks. “They tell us how much they love us.”

As for opposing teams … not so much. When the Dragons’ deep and talented arsenal of skilled-position players touch the ball, there is plenty of operating room — often enough to make Moses recall when God parted the Red Sea to lead his people to safety.

There’s ample room, and all-state prospects such as Marques Stevenson, Sean Charette, Cole Schaenzer and Danny Ney have been able to flourish.

“The two question marks coming into the season were our offensive line — how good were they going to be? And our defense? Both have been outstanding and why we have had a great year,” said Lake Orion head coach Chris Bell.

“They have all been solid,” added Bell on his unheralded offensive line. “Now, Blake has been the most dominant. Offensively, he’s just a mauler. He’s so strong. For a big guy, his feet are so quick that he gets on you and destroys you. No doubt about it. He’s been the best of the group but they have been solid across the board.”

McGhee is fine with the remote press clippings and fanfare. He should be an all-state and all-county player when the season finishes up. But the self-proclaimed leader of “O-Line Hogs” — a modern-day version of the Washington Redskins big and talented offensive line of the early 1990s named “The Hogs” — is glad just to do his part. He wants another shot at the state title, as the Dragons lost in the title game in 2008 to Rockford.

“We want to get back there,” he said. “But we have to take it one game at a time.”

McGhee and the Dragons will face Detroit Cass Tech (12-0) in the state semifinals Saturday, 1 p.m., at Troy Athens with the right to advance to the state finals the following weekend at Ford Field. Rockford and Plymouth are on the other half of the bracket.

The O-Line Hogs in the middle have been a huge part of the success.

“Blair Williams, Nick Luby, Joey Kohler, Cody Campbell…we’re all good friends,” said McGhee of his linemates. “We’re close. The chemistry (is there).

“We call us the O-Lineman Hogs and we Hoggies sleepovers and we hang out,” he added. “We’ve become good friends over (the course of the season).”

That hard work and chemistry among linemen has helped Blake McGhee become a terror in the trenches.

Dan Stickradt

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