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The Unsung Heroes

It’s a thankless job.  When you do it correctly, others reap the benefits and get all the accolades.

When you mess up, everyone notices. There are not stats out there like touchdowns, yards gained, or tackles and interceptions to look back on after a game. It takes a special person to play on the offensive line.

Jon Nolan Lawrence, Asher Young, A.J. Gosselin, Gray Thomas, and Cole Whiddon make up the starting offensive line at Fort DaleAcademy. There are two seniors and three juniors, and they average 6’2” and 235 pounds per man.

“This is as good a group as we have ever had at Fort Dale”, according to Coach Clint Lowery who is the line coach at Fort Dale. “The only group that could hang with this bunch would be the State Championship line we had in 2010.”

“It takes a strong mentality to play offensive line” added Lowery.  “You have to be accountable to your fellow lineman and be able to teach yourself.  You have to be tough and take pride in what you do. You also have to be selfless because you only get recognized when you make a mistake.”

He added, “I’ve often said that these are the guys that make good husbands and fathers. They have to go to work every day with no praise or recognition, and when things go wrong, they take the brunt”.

This group is athletic too and their play is not just confined to the football field. They all play other sports as well and that includes basketball, track, baseball and soccer.

As with any sport, weight training is an important piece of the puzzle. Fort Dale has an exceptional weight program right now and has won the 3A Powerlifting state championship the last two years.

In fact, Jon Nolan and Gray have also won individual state championships in power lifting the last two years.  Jon Nolan is also a state champion Shot Putter.

“These guys are the anchor of our team” said head coach Eric Folmar. “Three of these guys are 4-year starters so we have lots of experience. They got thrown around when they were younger and now they are the dominant group.  This is a tight knit bunch and like a family and they care about each other.”

Jon Nolan will be taking his football prowess to the next level as he has accepted a scholarship offer to play football for the University of North Alabama next year.

Recruited as an offensive tackle and standing at 6’5” and 275 lbs., he has the potential to develop into an excellent college player.

“This is a game that I love and I am excited about playing at the next level” said Jon Nolan.  “I want to cap off my senior year here with a great season”.

Coach Lowery works with the line every day and he has seen their progress.“This is a highly aggressive group, just like you want them to be,” said Lowery.  He had an interesting take on each of them:

“Jon Nolan is the perfectionist of the group.  He wants it done perfectly and the way he needs to do it when he plays at the next level.

Asher is the mauler. He is like a bull in a China shop and wants to dominate his opponent.

A.J. is the pleaser and wants everything done right. He works hard and doesn’t want to let anyone down.

Gray is the peacemaker of the group and also the brains.  He makes all the calls at the line of scrimmage.

Cole is the quiet one, but he gets the job done.  He wants to have fun while he is out there playing.”

A.J. stepped in at center this year allowing Gray to move to right guard. “I like playing center and I have become more comfortable with my snaps now,” said A.J.

“I used to like defense best but now I would rather play offense”, he added.  For Gray, he has really enjoyed the move to guard.  “I love playing guard”, he said.  “I like being able to pull and to hit an opponent at full speed.  It is a good feeling to outplay the guy in front of you”.

All five guys were unanimous in their praise for their position coach. “I love playing for Coach Lowery, he teaches us so much about football and about life”, said Cole.  Asher agreed, “He has really helped me develop as a player.”

As for team goals for this season, Asher provided good insight.  “The last couple of years our goal was to make the playoffs,” he said.

“This year we expect to make the playoffs and we want to play for the championship in Montgomery”.

The contributions from the offensive line have been noticed by the rest of the team too. “Our line is what controls the team’s success,” according to quarterback Ethan Alford.

“The pass protection this year has been exceptional” he added, “and it has given me time to find my receivers and to make throws without being rushed.”

“I agree,” said running back Joseph Ealum. “The run blocking has been outstanding too and they have opened up big holes for the backs to run through. It is a lot of fun right now and it is nice to have that bunch in front of us.”

The Eagles will be back in action next Friday night Sept. 8 when they host Autauga Academy in a regional matchup.

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