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Chemistry, flexibility big part of Grayson's offensive line success

Matt Roon (87), at left, and the Grayson offensive line including Harris Cesko (55), Hayden Gregory (50), Fred Zerblis (74), Iman Mangini (51) and Garrett Gorringe (59). 

Matt Roon (87), at left, and the Grayson offensive line including Harris Cesko (55), Hayden Gregory (50), Fred Zerblis (74), Iman Mangini (51) and Garrett Gorringe (59). 

LOGANVILLE -- In some football lore, offensive linemen have been compared to blocks of granite. Other times, they have been referred to as the "big uglies."

At Grayson, the offensive line has been a mainstay, especially during the team's current run of five straight trips to the Class AAAAA state quarterfinals that includes a visit from West Forsyth to Grayson Community Stadium on Friday.

But while this year's unit maintains the toughness that seems appropriate living up to the team's "Rams" mascot, it has shown other traits that have helped set it apart.

Not that the starting unit of center Fred Zerblis, tackles Garrett Gorringe and Harris Cesko, guards Ian Mangini and Hayden Gregory and tight end Matt Roon don't have the necessary physical traits to excel.

"They're all really good athletes," Grayson coach Mickey Conn said of his offensive line. "They've got size, and they really run well, which is important as much as we like to get our running backs to the corner.

"They're also very smart and play really well together. They communicate well together. They play as a unit, and that's been really key."

It's not hard to see where that chemistry comes from.

With all of its members except the junior Gregory being seniors, most of the group have played together as a unit for several years dating back even before they came to high school.

And as Gorringe points out, that familiarity with each other comes in handy when it comes time for the line to clear the way for the Rams' skill position players.

"It absolutely helps just knowing who you're playing with," said the 6-foot-4, 270-pound Georgia State commit. "We've played with each other so long, we know more or less what each other is going to do -- our strengths (and) weaknesses. It helps a lot keeping everybody together and on the same page."

The line has been on the same page pretty much the entire 2011 season judging by how productive the Rams' offense has been.

In addition to ranking fourth in the county in scoring a 32.6 points per game, Grayson also ranks fourth in the county with an average of roughly 230 rushing yards per game and sixth in Gwinnett in total offense at about 337 yards per contest.

Those numbers are a point of pride for all the linemen, especially given the hard-nosed, grind-it-out reputation of the Rams' running game.

"We love to run the ball," said the 6-2, 298-pound Zerblis. "If we can run the ball, we'll just control the game, basically."

But as much as Grayson has dominated on the ground through its traditionally run-first wing-T set, the experience and the efficiency of quarterback Nick Schuessler and the emergence of weapons like Callen Hightower and Marcus Lindquist has prompted Conn and his staff to install more pass-friendly, spread offense sets.

The difference in the blocking schemes that the line had to learn throughout the summer and preseason were quite a change from that the individual members were used to.

"That's something they've really had to learn -- pass blocking," Conn said. "It's probably the biggest hurdle they've had to hop over. They've been doing wing-T blocking pretty much their whole existence. Now all of the sudden, they had to protect in a five-man (pass) protection scheme."

But Conn is very pleased with how well they adapted to the new sets, and the Rams' numbers bear him out.

Schuessler has been given plenty of time to become one of the county's most efficient passers, completing 61.1 percent of his passes (77 of 126) for 1,246 yards and 14 touchdowns on just three interceptions, and giving Grayson enough of a passing threat to keep opposing defenses from loading up the box to shut down the running game.

"We just started working on the spread during the summer -- learning all the new techniques," Gorringe said. "I like hitting people, so it was hard to learn to stay back, especially with the quick (defensive) ends we have. But once (we) got adjusted to it, we're all doing pretty well with it."

No matter what the blocking scheme, the Rams' linemen know they will never get as much glory as the skill players do. That's the nature of their positions.

But that doesn't mean their efforts go unnoticed.

In addition to the already-committed Gorringe, several other members of the line are garnering attention from college programs.

Zerblis holds offers from Alabama-Birmingham, Arkansas State, Western Kentucky, Georgia Southern and Georgia State, among others, while Cesko has drawn interest from Coastal Carolina, among others.

But as Zerblis points out, the Rams' wins and further advancement in the state playoffs are their own rewards.

"You just have to stay patient with everything," Zerblis said. "It's going to work itself out in the end."