Imagine a job where if you succeed, no one notices; and if you fail, everyone blames you. Who would want a job like that?
Offensive linemen — that's who.
In the past few seasons, Penn football has had some high-profile offensive stars. Players like Alek Torgersen, Justin Watson and Tre Solomon get all the attention for the unit's repeated success. But the unsung heroes of the offense are ones who never get noticed, the ones who grind it out each and every play so that their teammates can go on to make the highlight reel plays — the linemen.
You may not have heard, but Penn's offensive line has been dominant over the past few years. They've allowed just 29 sacks over the past two years, second only to Brown's 26. For the past two years, they've helped Penn establish a strong running game with the best yards per rushing attempt average in the Ivy League. They're a big part of why the Quakers have won back-to-back Ivy championships.
But even though most casual observers might not realize their contributions, the O-line takes a lot of pride in what they do. They know their job isn't glorious, but they attack it with all of their energy anyways.
"I think we attack it with a different mentality," senior center Nathan Kirchmeir said. "We embrace it. We go in, we know it's not going to be the best, it's going to suck a little. But we go in knowing that if we do our job, the team's going to win."
This mentality isn't by chance, either.
"It all comes down to the leadership, the older guys, the seniors," offensive line coach Joe Johnson said. "The culture just gets passed down year to year, of our expectations of what it is to be a Penn offensive lineman. The guys, they take pride in it, they don't want to let their teammates down, so it's just kinda trickled down through the years."
Part of the reason for the unit's success over the past few years has been the continuity in personnel: the Quakers ran out the same starting five linemen every game last year, with three of those players getting significant playing time the season before.
But this year, there are a lot of changes. The Red and Blue graduated three starters from the line last year in first-team All-Ivy left tackle Nick Demes, second-team All-Ivy left guard Dan Poulos, and right guard Nick Whitton. Only Kirchmeir and junior right tackle Tommy Dennis return to the starting lineup, leaving several big holes, especially on the left side.
But those holes are filling quickly.
"Obviously, Dan Poulos, Nick Demes, Nick Whitton, three exceptional players, great guys, great for the room, we lost them, but we're having younger guys step up," Johnson said. "Obviously you're not going to be able to replace those guys, and they're doing it in a different way, but they're just stepping up, those younger guys, to fill those shoes."
With the loss of those three seniors and an influx of freshman this year, the O-line has gotten much younger. Of the 13 linemen on the roster, six are freshman, meaning there will be chances for the young players to prove themselves this year. And with several veterans to help them out, it looks like this unit won't miss a beat.
"I think they might even go above and beyond [last year]," senior running back Tre Solomon said. "They've been working really hard together, I'm really excited to see what they do in the games."
So, whenever Solomon or Justin Watson score this season, the offensive line probably won't get a lot of credit. But they won't mind, because they'll know they did their job.
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