By Shawn Wood
The Daily Item
Vince Lombardi once said to be successful at Green Bay, the team needed to focus on faith, family and the Green Bay Packers.
If you take Lombardi’s advice and add to it the Line Mountain high school mascot, the Eagle — which symbolizes strength, perseverance and victory — you get an understanding of the foundation that has built the storied football program at Line Mountain.
After losing 19 seniors last year, there are just three seniors on this years team: Cory Warford (FB/MLB), Rayce Boyer (LG/MLB) and Kyle Lower (DT).
Add in junior, Elijah Zablowsky (LT/DE), and you have only four returning starters from last year’s 8-3 team.
But these are no ordinary returning starters. They are tasked with displaying, both in the classroom and on and off the field, what it means to be a football player at Line Mountain.
“They are all great kids in the classroom as well as on and off the field,” coach Rodney Knock said. “We are blessed with the kids we have here at Line Mountain.”
The effort for Boyer in the classroom came from the Eagles’ past two football coaches, who were history teachers, and they were like school first and academics second, but they want to make sure that football is up there with academics, Boyer said.
“If you are not doing too good in academics, you are not playing football and coach Knock stands by that,” Boyer said. “We had to do well in school to do well on the field.”
Boyer’s favorite subjects are history and world history.
It was in his freshman year that Boyer learned about what it meant to put on the jersey and play on Friday nights for the Eagles.
“One of the seniors who I really looked up was Bryce Martz,” he said. “He was an animal. He’s now one of our coaches and, as it turns out, he’s become a really good friend of mine.”
Another player that Boyer looked up to was running back Joey Hukill.
“He went all out, every down, every play,” Boyer added.
Adding to the academic and football responsibilities come the pressure of passing the torch to the next senior class and the underclassmen.
“We show them what the seniors showed us when we were freshmen,” Boyer said. “Pride, effort, attitude.”
Part of showing the freshmen the responsibility that comes with wearing the jersey was to get them to the 7-on-7 camps and weight lifting, even as far as going to pick them up and bring them to the school or the camps.
“I moved here last year and I looked up to Cory (Warford) and the starters,” Lower said. “They gave me some good advice on playing on the scout team and that’s how I got to where I am now.”
It was one big hit in a game that gave Lower the opportunity to crack the starting lineup.
“It was ONE big tackle,” he said.
With any winning program, there has to be love among the players.
Coming over from Halifax High School, Lower sees that love in his teammates.
“I love having these guys around, they have really good attitudes and they support me,” he said. “They keep my attitude in check sometimes.
Lower admitted that he does have a bit of a mean streak in him.
“I can get really mean at times,” he said.
But that’s a good thing for an offensive lineman.
When it was brought up about the theme for this year of finishing the games, all four players noted they got the chills when it came to the Southern game and just how close they were to winning.
“This year I see that everybody is finishing everything they do,” Lower said. “None of our players are taking it easy and they are giving it 100 percent and beyond to try and be the best they can be.”
“I want the freshmen defensive tackles and defensive lines to play like me and have the intensity and anger I have,” Lower said of what he wants to leave for the underclassmen to build on.
All Cory Warford has done since the first day he strapped on a helmet, giving 100 percent, is the way that Warlord has approached the game of football and life since he was a kid.
During practice on Tuesday, Warford lowered his shoulder and slammed into a defensive back, knocking the wind out of him.
“That’s how I’ve been since I was little,” he said. “You have to play like you practice and coach stresses that all the time.”
Warford recalled one time when he played youth football that his own teammate needed a shoulder brace because he hit him so hard in practice.
“I play as hard as I can every down,” he said. “First quarter, fourth quarter, it doesn’t matter. I am going hard very play.”
Even with last year’s disappointing loss to Southern in the state playoffs, optimism is still there for Warford and the Eagles to beat their nemesis.
“Sure we lost a lot (with) losing all of those seniors last year, but we have kids coming up through the ranks that are stepping up and filling some big holes,” Warford said. “We know Southern lost a number of kids, too, but they also have kids stepping up and filling the holes.”
Warford has been going to games since he was a kid and that was something he has used to be motivated to wear the blue jersey with pride.
“Growing up, I was looking up to the players no matter what year they were, I just wanted to be out on the field with them,” he said.
An example of how much pride is taken by the kids in blue came for Warford following his eighth grade football season.
“It didn’t go so well and after it ended, I was in the weight room working on getting ready to play as a freshman for the high school football team,” he said. “It’s a big tradition here and I love playing with the Eagle pride.”
Warford made the team as a freshman on special teams and got in on some defensive plays. He started as a linebacker and running back as a sophomore.
Warford said he looked up to former Eagles Luke Erdman and Hukill.
“Joey hit the hole hard every down and Luke has one of the best work ethics around, doing everything he could to help the team.”
Warford noted that he loves to work out and he was pushed in the weight room by Erdman to get better every time.
Zablosky moved to Line Mountain from Shamokin in the seventh grade.
As one of the vocal leaders of the team, Zablosky knows that with a large group that will be seniors next year, he’ll be relied upon to take the lessons from this year’s seniors and pass them on to the incoming freshman class in 2014.
“There’s a lot of pressure on junior class to keep getting out there and working hard,” he said. “These guys, all of the juniors, have been working very hard since they were freshmen to play varsity football. They want to do whatever it takes to be on this football field.”
Zablosky said that football is his first love and that he’s been playing since he could put the pads on.
“I came in here in seventh grade and I started playing football for the Little Indians (Shamokin) in the coal region and that’s where I got my knocks,” he said. “I was always pressured from little up to be a football player to be a good football player.”
From the moment that he walked into high school as a freshman Zablosky fell in love with the football program.
“I know a lot of guys inspired us to play our best,” he said. “I love what I see in the upperclassmen in how they take the younger guys under their wings. I try to do the same and I try to give what I know to help people to get better.”
Zablosky, although a junior, started as a sophomore and sees a lot of positive changes in the underclassmen.
“Coach always stresses the off-season stuff and they always work hard,” he said. “I saw it in the pre-season and I am seeing it now in the regular season that they are working hard.”
All of our kids, not just the four returning starters, care about doing well in school, asking questions not only in call but on the football practice field,” Knock said. “They all want to get to know how to get better. If you have a bunch of kids like that, it makes it a lot easier to coach.”
Boyer summed up what it is to being a member of the football tradition at Line Mountain by saying, “Everybody who has played before me is looking at me and thinking ‘this is our future, this is our program,’ so I take great pride in knowing that I play for Line Mountain.”