The Miami Herald

St. Thomas’ foundation is found on offensive line

As Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas wrapped up the spring, looking at a challenging season ahead that will include matchups against Miami Christopher Columbus and defending national champion Don Bosco (of New Jersey), there is concern that this program, which failed to reach the 7A state title game, might have lost its winning touch.

If you have followed the Raiders for any length of time, you will understand that what happened in 2011 was a direct reflection on the amount of quality prospects this program lost the year before. There were too many key players who had moved on from the 2010 team that won a national crown.

When most teams finish 8-3, there is a reason to be happy and look for the positives. There was nothing positive about finishing second in the district and losing twice (Miramar and Cooper City) locally, which had not happened in more than a decade.

Even in a season of transition, there was a part of the program that continues to be that rock every year. What assistant head coach and offensive line guru Jay Connolly has done is put the offensive line in a position to be one of the best every year.

With a number of prospects routinely moving on to the next level, the offensive line has earned a reputation of being the best around, with quality athletes who have size, quickness and a work ethic that is second to none.

When Connolly boasts about his line prospects, he does it with the idea that the next Sam Young, Brandon Linder or Marcus Gilbert is opening huge holes for the running game — or affording first-year starting quarterback John Okorn with enough protection.

“Coach Connolly is easily the best around,” Charles Fishbein of Elite Scouting Services said.

The success of this team, especially from an offensive standpoint, revolves around the success of a line that features six juniors and seven seniors, including standout Kyle Schafenacker (6-4, 285), Austin Bland (6-3, 260) and 6-3, 265-pound Zach Provin.

“When we left the 2011 season, I felt that we would be in great shape with the linemen we had coming back,” Connolly said. “What happened in the offseason further made me feel that this is really going to be special for this program.”

Schafenacker’s success at combines and in the spring helped shine a spotlight on the unit, which is rated No. 1 by Friday Night Football Florida Magazine. Fellow seniors Alain Grerrier (6-3, 230), Jordan McCue (6-4, 320), Joey Ottovegio (6-1, 235) and Michael Curran (6-0, 260) have also made strides.

The depth of the line will be measured by a junior class that is loaded with potential. Led by basketball standout Kai Absheer (6-5, 290), this is a group that features Richard Williams (5-10, 220), West Palm Beach Cardinal Newman transfer Tyler Dever (6-3, 275), Patrick Hubbard (6-1, 310), Ryan Crozier (6-4, 280) and center Nick Linder (6-3, 265), who happens to be the younger brother of current UM standout Brandon Linder.

We are always looking to help promote our area recruits for the current Class of 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. All you have to do is send a DVD and information about the athlete to: Larry Blustein, P.O. Box 3181, Hallandale Beach, Fl. 33009.

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