Offensive linemen toil anonymously on the edges of the spotlight, their skills far too arcane for the average spectator to appreciate, often illuminated only when they fail.
To that end, high school cheerleaders don’t normally swoon over the big uglies. Then again, there’s nothing typical about Naples’ offensive line this season.
“I always say it’s good when our offensive linemen have girlfriends,” Golden Eagles coach Bill Kramer said. “When your backup guards have groupies, you know you’re having a special season.”
That’s certainly been the case for Naples in 2012. The Golden Eagles enter tonight’s Region 5A-3 final against visiting Daytona Beach Mainland (9-3) with a spotless 11-0 record. A significant reason for that success has been the play of the team’s offensive line, which has paved the way for the Naples offense to average 51.2 points and 411.1 yards per game.
The seven-player front, which features tackles Dan Gallman and Alejandro Gallegos, guards Frank Cirone and Cody Weeks, center Jorge Friedrich, tight end Conner Phillips and reserve guard Anthony Candito, cemented its bond during Monday night dinners at offensive coordinator Paul Horne’s house.
“Just because they don’t get recognized, I started having them over,” said Horne, who began the tradition in 1999, his second year with the Golden Eagles. “We don’t talk football at all. My wife gets all the girlfriend talk, the soap opera stuff. We eat and then there’s 15 guys lounging around on the floor. It’s something we all look forward to.
“After we beat South (last week), the first thing Frank said to me in the locker room was, ‘Coach, we got another Monday night.'”
Perhaps no player appreciates the team’s success this season more than Cirone, who was a part of just seven victories in two years as a starter at Palmetto Ridge before a family move allowed him to enroll at Naples for his senior season.
“It’s been great; they accepted me like I was one of their own,” Cirone said. “These guys, they’re not just my teammates next to me, they’re my brothers.”
Gallman, who was held out of one game with a minor biceps injury, is the only starting linemen not to play in all 11 games this season. It’s a sore spot his linemates make every effort to poke, especially at a position where playing at less than 100 percent is a badge of honor. It’s also a necessity as attrition takes its toll on athletes who are involved in a collision every time they step on to the field.
“We’ve had thumb injuries, ankle injuries, shoulder injuries, knee injuries and guys ignore them and just play through any pain they have so they can get the job done,” Horne said.
“When you wake up and get out of bed in the morning, you’re not thinking, ‘OK, run into that guy with your face as hard as you can.’ There’s a sense of fearlessness about it that is admirable.”
There’s also has to be a focus on team, rather than individual, success. Junior quarterback Kilton Anderson and senior running back Manny Morgan grab the lion’s share of the media spotlight for the Golden Eagles’ offensive prowess.
“As an offensive lineman, you don’t get the attention,” Cirone said. “But if our quarterback and our running back are happy with what we’re doing, then we’re happy.”
“Manny and Kilton, they do a good job of giving us credit when they’re getting interviewed,” Friedrich added.
“We’re OK with just celebrating in the end zone with them,” Weeks said.
While Naples’ offensive linemen accept their relative anonymity, don’t think they’re content with it.
“Personally, I want to be remembered as one of the best offensive lines in the history of Naples High School,” Gallman said. “That’s one thing that keeps me and the rest of us working hard every day.”