By Sean Lynch
Section 9 Football Insider Staff
CENTRAL VALLEY — Offensive lineman are like referees — they don’t get noticed until their job is done incorrectly.
At Monroe-Woodbury that is exactly the opposite. The offensive line is the core of the Crusaders team, and has been since James Hintze started coaching them in 1988.
At the time, not a lot of Section 9 schools had offensive line coaches and Hintze took advantage of it.
“We coached every position like they were the quarterback because every football position matters,” Hintze said. “coaching offensive line is difficult because you have to get five guys to play together, but it pays off when your offense is successful.”
Monroe-Woodbury played in an unparalleled 16-of-19 Class AA section title games from 1996-to-2015. Part of that success goes to longtime coaching trio Hintze, Bernie Connolly, and Pat D’Aliso. D’Aliso, Section 9′s all-time winningest football coach, went 194-49 and won 11 Section 9 championships in 24 seasons. D’Aliso’s teams reached the Class AA state title game every year from 2005-08, winning in ’05.
The other part goes to the student-athletes who wanted to get better individually and as a team.
“Twice a week, from January to June, for 27 years, the offensive line would work on stance, steps and pre snap lingo.” Hintze said. “A lot of the credit goes to the kids who worked hard to be the best offensive lineman they could be.”
Despite the changes in coaching staff, the expectations for offensive linemen in Monroe-Woodbury remains the same 30 years later.
“You look at all the state championship teams from the early 2000’s and there’s one common denominator,” Monroe-Woodbury coach Ryan Baldock said. “They all had great offensive line play.”
Second-year Monroe-Woodbury offensive line coach Brent Van De Weert could be seen jumping up and down and encouraging players to give it their all at Monroe-Woodbury’s practice Tuesday afternoon. Players practiced without pads and linemen competed in drills that emphasized footwork and technique.
The Crusaders return four offensive linemen from last year. Johnny Braunagel, Jayden Prina, Kyle Bermingham, and Connor McCleary all return for their senior season. Baldock said he will pick a fifth offensive lineman to join the core four by the end of camp. The four returnees have been friends since middle school.
“They love being around each other,” Van De Weert said. “They never come into the weight room individually, they always come together. If you walk around the hallways of the school you’ll probably see them together too.”
“We do a lot of things together,” said Braunagel, a left tackle. “We eat, study, work out and watch film as a group.”
Despite bonding with each other often, the four also compete against each other, pushing one another to do the best that they can.
“We always want to be the best unit on the team,” Prina said. “Last season, the offensive line was supposed to be the weakest link on the team. It was Van De (Weert’s) first year on the team and he took us in, challenged us and we’ve grown as a unit.”
The strength of the offensive line impacts the rest of the offense. Senior quarterback Steve Campione stood out in his junior season, throwing for 16 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He gave them a lot of credit for his success. “I rarely have to worry about what’s going on in front of me, and it lets me focus more on my receivers.”
The Crusaders offensive line has had an award-filled summer. Prina won the inaugural lineman challenge at West Point in June. The challenge consisted of a 40-yard-dash, medicine ball throw, shuttle run, and a figure-eight footwork drill. Three days later, the Crusaders won the fifth annual Minisink Valley Lineman Challenge that included 12 teams from Section 9. Points were totaled in events such as the tire flip, five man sled and the tug of war.
The football season sneaks up on most fans, and maybe even some players, but certainly not anyone on the Crusaders’ offensive line.
“We’ve been in the weight room twice a week for eight months,” McCleary said. “There’s nothing like competition and we can’t wait for this season to start.”
While nobody in the stadium bleachers may notice the high quality offensive line play, the Crusaders do, and they recognize how impactful they are.
“You never hear anybody cheering for the offensive line in the stadium,” Campione added. “They deserve it more than anybody because they are the reason for our success; without a strong offensive line nothing can happen.”