Offensive linemen do not get a lot of love. That stops today. Penn's fun-loving, all-you-can-eat-buffet ruining, pancaking big men deserve attention.
In navigating the Penn football statistics page on the Penn Athletics website, it’s tough to even know the offensive linemen exist. The passing, rushing, receiving, and scoring stats are readily available. The defensive stats can be seen with a bit of scrolling. But the offensive line? Nowhere. It doesn’t bother them, though.
“We get the spotlight if we run for however many yards, if we don’t give up sacks,” senior lineman Jeff Gibbs said. “People might not know, but the team knows. At the end of the day, if we’re winning, that’s what matters.”
If the offensive line gets the spotlight when the Quakers are able to run for a lot of yards, they certainly have the spotlight now.
Last year, running back Karekin Brooks averaged 89.8 yards per game, good for third overall in the Ivy League. He was second in total rushing yards. Through the team's first two games this year, however, Brooks is averaging double that at 180 yards per game.
Anchored by some charismatic seniors, the offensive linemen's success can be attributed to their time together.
“I think [our success] is primarily because we’ve been together so long now. We’ve all really bought into the system,” senior Greg Begnoche said. “We’ve put in work in the offseason, and it’s finally starting to show on the field.”
In addition to the running game, there have been some improvements in the air as well. Last year, Penn quarterbacks threw for 10 total touchdowns in 10 games. This year, senior quarterback Nick Robinson has thrown for five touchdowns in just two games.
Off the field, linemen are usually an interesting bunch. It’s almost a team within a team, with the collective goal of protecting their quarterback and creating space for runners. They bond in strange ways, too.
When it’s someone’s birthday on the Penn offensive line, the players have a bit of a routine. They make the birthday boy twirl around as many times as their age, then have the player attempt to punt the ball through the uprights. Most recently, it was freshman JC Dobis' birthday.
“[Dobis] was close. He almost fell over though,” senior Ace Escobedo said. “It’s my birthday next, and I’m gonna hit it for sure.”
“You can’t even pick your knee up,” Gibbs joked.
Even these off-the-field antics are still pretty football related. This group, however, extends their bond to a number of places, including restaurants.
“This is probably the funniest offensive line memory we have together. There were about 13 or 14 of us, and we went to all-you-can-eat sushi. We absolutely tore it up," Begnoche said. “It was so bad that the couple next to us wasn’t getting served because we couldn’t stop eating. They ended up standing up and leaving the restaurant very upset. It looked like it was their first date.”
“I had like 10 full rolls of sushi,” Escobedo said.
During Philadelphia’s restaurant week, the group went to Chima, an all-you-can-eat steakhouse. An hour in, the waiter stopped coming by their table. They were eating too much food.
They’re a funny group. While conducting the interviews for this story, the linemen were constantly chirping at each other, and their fun off the field extends to their play on it.
“The most memorable play this year was when [sophomore] Joe Basura got a pancake about eight yards downfield and started literally doing the breaststroke on top of the person who he knocked over,” Gibbs said.
Apparently, this post-pancake celebration has become a pattern. In the following game, Basura pancaked someone, then did the backstroke. With a few more knockdowns, perhaps he’ll be able to knock out freestyle and butterfly.
Their next chance to practice their swimming technique comes on Friday against Dartmouth. They might not get the credit if they win or if Karekin Brooks runs for 200 yards again, but they don’t care.