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NW Region, Division 5 Football: Blockers use heads, not heft, for North

SEE ALSO: Region Final Week Stories

BY TAFT COGHILL JR.

Many times in film sessions this year, Joe Mangano has been stunned at what he viewed.

The North Stafford football coach didn’t always know what formation his offensive linemen were in during a particular game.

    FRIDAY’S GAME

    Northwest Region, Division 6 final

    C.D. Hylton 23, Colonial Forge 13

    TODAY’S GAMES

    Northwest Region, Division 5 final

    Mountain View (8–4) at North Stafford (10–1), 2

    Region I, Division 4 final

    Courtland (8–4) at Smithfield (10–1), 1:30

    Region I, Division 3 final

    Park View–South Hill (10–2)

    at James Monroe (10–1),1:30

    SEE ALSO: Prep Pairings

But with five returning starters on a unit that helped lead the Wolverines to the Group AAA, Division 5 state semifinals in 2011, Mangano has learned to have trust.

The Wolverines’ offensive line has used experience, intelligence and athleticism to make up for what it lacks in bulk.

North Stafford (10–1) will play for its second straight Northwest Region championship today at 2 p.m., when it hosts Commonwealth District rival Mountain View (8–4).

No North Stafford starting lineman weighs more than 235 pounds or stands taller than 6 feet, but Mangano has implemented a zone blocking scheme the past two years that minimizes those factors.

“I think the zone scheme helps them because it focuses on their athleticism,” Mangano said. “The second thing is a lot of times, they make decisions on the field. We’ll call the play, but we don’t know the blocking. It’s a lot of times we’re watching the film and we’re like. ‘Man, I didn’t know they were in that front.’ So they have to be accountable on the field.”

Mangano adapted the zone blocking scheme to the one he played in as an offensive lineman at Wesley (Del.) College. Mangano also coached the scheme for four seasons at Wesley as an offensive line coach.

North Stafford two-year starting center Nathan Camden, who was a unanimous all-district selection, said the system focuses on blocking a certain area, rather than being assigned to an opposing player. He said it was initially difficult to pick up when the Wolverines first implemented it last season after previously running the triple option.

Mountain View coach Lou Sorrentino said the zone blocking concept isn’t anything new, but teams need experience to pull it off at the high school level. He said the danger in teaching it is that by the time players grasp it, they’re set to graduate.

He said defending zone blocking is tough because on a single play call, a running back could cut to different areas.

“Joe’s got those guys playing it a high level,” Sorrentino said. “It’s one of those unsung things. When people see a team, they see guys on the outside making plays. They lose focus on the guys up front, but when you can block the way they do, it makes it that much easier for their skill guys.”

North Stafford running back Kwesie Dadzie (933 rushing yards, eight touchdowns) said he’s enjoyed running in the system, especially behind such an experienced line.

Dadzie, Anthony Shegog and Cedrick Watkins have combined to rush for 1,870 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Dadzie said an earlier 35–13 win over Mountain View was the highlight of the season as he constantly found holes en route to 205 yards and two scores. Dadzie said the group “would be good in any scheme, but zone blocking complements them well.”

“I find it real easy to run behind these guys,” Dadzie said. “They’re real good at what they do.”

It also helps that the unit is tight-knit. Every Thursday, they go out to eat together, along with the defensive line, and usually at a buffet.

Three-year starting left tackle Justin Field said backup lineman Josh Kramolisch, who stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 330 pounds, “hits the buffet pretty hard.”

“A couple of nose guards put a dent in it, too,” Field said.

And when the Wolverines’ linemen aren’t bonding over a meal, they’re usually playing video games together or hanging out at a swimming pool. Field said that togetherness translates to the field.

The linemen give a salute in unison whenever one of them records a pancake block.

“That’s one of the ways we choose to dominate,” Field said. “We want to dominate people by putting them to the ground.”

At the end of the season, Mangano treats the group to pancakes and he also awards a sledgehammer to the lineman with the most knockdown blocks.

The tally on that could be plentiful this season. The Wolverines plan to play three more games as their goal is to win the school’s first state championship.

“I really think they’re extremely underrated,” Mangano said of his linemen. “Obviously Brandon [Ravenel], Anthony and Kwesie are extremely talented football players. But this group is as good a group as I’ve been around. I think that kind of gets missed.”

Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

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