For an offensive lineman, football "is a war between you and the guy across from you," said Broadneck center Ben Gabbard. "Every play is a battle."
Gabbard should know.
"I've pretty much broken all of my fingers at least once, sprained my ankles a lot, got a concussion in 10th grade," said Gabbard. "You get real bad cuts on your hands, legs get scuffed up, ankles get beat up from people falling on them. You're going to take a lot of punishment, but you also get to deal it out to other people."
A 6-foot-4, 288-pound senior, Gabbard epitomizes that rare blend of size, smarts, durability and desire that is a prerequisite for a guy whose job it is to be on the front lines where the game is won or lost.
This season, there is no shortage of quality linemen.
"This is a great year for the Baltimore metro area in terms of offensive linemen," said Sheldon Shealer, editor of the Maryland/D.C. High School Football Preview. "There are certain guys out there in the Baltimore area whom you can line up and put together a solid group of Division I prospects."
Gabbard joins others such as Hereford junior Joe Akers and seniors Brandon Albert of Glen Burnie, Woodlawn's Scott Burley, Dundalk's Danny Romanowski and Wilde Lake's Steve Simms - all of whom have paid the price to be among the best at patrolling the line of scrimmage.
Albert is the largest at 6-7, 340 pounds; Romanowski, a returning All-Metro selection, is among the lightest at 6-4, 285. But all possess the right combinations of size, strength, and surprising levels of speed, agility and quickness that allow them to explode off the line.
"It's the best feeling in the world to drive somebody down the field and completely out of the play. I hit this one defensive lineman in the chest so hard that his knees buckled and he fell backward," said Gabbard, describing an act called "a pancake."
While Gabbard gets a rush from drive-blocking - the straight-forward act of forcing his adversary back from a wide base - Akers thrives on pull-blocking, or leading the play left or right along the line of scrimmage before blasting a defender.
"One of the things I like to do in our Wing-T is pull-blocking, where you build up speed running along the line of scrimmage and basically crush the first man you see," said Akers. "When you `pancake' somebody, man, that's like scoring a touchdown."
Akers, a staunch 6-2, 310 pounds, has exceptional speed and power. He got the attention of recruiters at the prestigious Nike Camp in May by covering 40 yards in five seconds and bench-pressing 185 pounds nearly 30 times.
Wilde Lake coach Doug DuVall said a lineman "always has to be thinking, reading the defense and determining, sometimes at the last second," the most advantageous way to block.
"Good technique," said DuVall, includes "a good, squared stance, head up, but staying low in a crouch with his feet under him."
Run-blocking, said DuVall, is being "in attack-mode," while pass-blocking is "defense-mode."
"In pass-blocking, you're more of a shield for the quarterback," DuVall said. "The guy can beat you [up], but if he doesn't get the quarterback, you win."
Woodlawn's versatile Burley excels at pass-blocking, back-pedaling while holding the pursuer at bay.
Called "a freak of nature" by Eastern Tech coach Marc Mesaros, the 6-6, 320-pound Burley calls himself "more of a technique guy" when it comes to using his powerful, long arms to thrust and parry while pass-blocking.
"You have to be more on the balls of your feet, hands right on their chest, poised and ready to make quick adjustments," said Burley, who has committed to Maryland. "I'm trying to counter his every move: Whatever way he goes, I'm ready to force him off balance so he ends up on the ground."
Burley, who dropped 20 pounds since last year and is nearing 400 pounds on his bench press, is most proud of the fact that he did not allow a sack on his side of the scrimmage line during all of last season.
"If you give up a sack, then you've failed," said the 6-6, 305-pound Simms, who is bound for Syracuse University.
"Quarterbacks and running backs make all the plays and score all of the touchdowns, but they appreciate us as offensive linemen," said Simms. "They know it wouldn't happen if we didn't block for them."