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Dartmouth O-line takes pride in a foe well blocked

  • Dartmouth offensive lineman John Paul Flores blocks New Hampshire defensive end Zach Garron (97) during their game in Durham, N.H., on Oct. 16, 2021. Dartmouth won, 38-21, in their first meeting in five years. (UNH Athletics - Rick Wilson) UNH Athletics — Rick Wilson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/21/2021 9:30:06 PM
Modified: 10/21/2021 9:30:15 PM

HANOVER — The Dartmouth College football team’s offense relies heavily on its running game this year.

The Big Green have averaged over 200 rushing yards per game in the first half of the season. The holes opened up by the offensive line for the rushers have been imperative to the success.

And that rushing success fills the linemen with pride.

“It’s nice watching a receiver run 40 yards downfield and catch a big play. I get excited for that. But there’s nothing like running it down someone’s throat,” center Evan Hecimovich said this week. “When we went out there at UNH and we just started running it 6 yards, 8 yards, 10 yards every play and they couldn’t stop us, that was just fun.”

The blockers rely on one another to do their jobs correctly, and that requires more trust in their teammates than perhaps any other position on the field.

From offensive line coach Keith Clark’s perspective, it’s a role unlike most others — in other positions and other sports.

“I don’t think there’s any other group of people in sports that have to work so closely together, both geographically because they’re 2 feet apart from each other and (in how) they have to rely on each other,” Clark said. “If a guy’s technique is off by 12 inches or 6 inches, the other guy could suffer.

“We’re looked at as a unit; we’re not looked at as individuals. Either the O-line stinks, or the O-line’s playing really well.”

Clark establishes the roles and expectations for his players, but he can’t form trust for them. The linemen have to do that themselves.

Most of that happens off the field. Hecimovich, left guard Jake Guidone and right tackle Donald Carty — all fifth-years — live together and invite the other linemen over frequently. Things like that help.

They also bond over an annual tradition, a group outing to the China Moon buffet in White River Junction during preseason camp. They couldn’t go in 2020, as the restaurant was closed due to COVID-19. So they were excited to return in early September.

This year’s dinner took an unexpected turn — the linemen saw Bernie Sanders at the buffet. Hecimovich spotted a man he suspected was the politician in the corner of the restaurant and asked his teammates if it was, in fact, Sanders.

After 10 to 15 minutes, they realized it was Sanders. The group asked him for a picture, but he was thin on time.

They weren’t completely sure why Sanders was there, but it gave them a good story heading into the season.

“I think the man just likes some Chinese food,” Guidone said. “I mean, I can’t really blame him; it’s good. I like their food there. It’s gotten a lot better.”

The strong relationships formed through those experiences are crucial on the field. Schematically, if just one lineman is out of position, it throws off the entire operation. Hecimovich said that particularly on double-team assignments, which Dartmouth utilizes often, it’s imperative to know that the other blocker will do his job.

The Big Green offensive line was in flux, a bit, heading into the season. Hecimovich and senior tackle John Paul Flores were preseason second-team All Ivy selections by Phil Steele. Guidone played as a blocking tight end as a sophomore and junior before moving to the O-line this season. Senior right tackle Griff Lehman and senior right guard Calvin Atkeson saw limited playing time as sophomores.

Clark didn’t know what to expect from his group as a whole, but he’s been pleased with their performance thus far. Big Green head coach Buddy Teevens identifies the offensive line as a key to every matchup Dartmouth faces. He knows strong blocking is essential to the team’s success.

“They’re jelled well. Keith Clark does as good a job as any guy I’ve been around with an offensive line,” Teevens said. “Some untested, inexperienced guys, (but) they work well together. They play hard for each other. (They’re) critical to us.”

The confidence the linemen have in one another is equally necessary between the line and the runners. Junior quarterback Nick Howard, Dartmouth’s leading rusher, said it’s important for the linemen to know what they’re doing on every down to give him a chance to make a play. And he said Dartmouth’s line does that to near perfection.

He added that the offensive line is the hardest-working group on the team.

“Obviously everybody makes mistakes, but it really actually is impressive to me how on top of their stuff those guys always are,” Howard said. “Especially in some of the bigger games that I’ve been lucky enough to have, I get a lot of credit for it, but it definitely is not taking any kind of special ability for me to be able to run through the alleys and lanes that those guys are making.”

Winning games is the team’s ultimate goal, and the offensive line knows it’s importance in doing so. That’s the group’s main motivator.

They genuinely enjoy setting up their teammates for success, whether it’s Howard or one of the running backs on the ground, or whether it’s fifth-year quarterback Derek Kyler in the passing game.

But something about a dominant rushing game, as Dartmouth has had multiple times this season, makes those blockers smile.

“The running is like proving that you are just more dominant than them,” Guidone said. “It’s kind of establishing who you are as a team and who you are up front. (When you’re) able to drive down on a team, it really deflates them.”

Seth Tow can be reached at stow@vnews.com.




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