SWANTON — MVU may not have fielded a varsity team this year, but regardless of the level football is played at, the positions demand the same endurance and grit.
Cole Gabree and Ethan Kelleher both played line for MVU this fall. Gabree was new to the sport this year, and Kelleher was playing his final season for the Thunderbirds.
“I thought I was going to be the water boy,” said Gabree with a chuckle. “I didn’t know what to expect my first game, and I was scared. Once that ball was snapped I was having the time of my life.”
Coming in as a blank slate, Gabree had a lot to learn and a small window in which to learn it.
“I had to have a five second memory,” said Gabree.
When it came to his teammates, Gabree answered with a warm, immediate smile.
“The guys are like family to me, and that’s the most important thing.”
MVU head coach Chad Cioffi complimented Gabree on his first-year performance.
“Cole had the key element of loving what we were doing and wanting to get better,” said Cioffi. “That’s always been the main thing for me with players. If they have that passion, teaching the x’s and o’s is the easy part. You can’t teach someone to play with heart and effort on every play.”
Kelleher, who played his first two years in the backfield, moved to sure up the line and help coach up the younger players.
“Coming to the offensive line was a culture shock,” said Ethan. “It’s a lot more involved play-scheme wise. One person messes up on a blocking assignment, the whole play can be a bust.”
On the line, Cioffi explained, you’re always working with four or five other guys.
“It’s a group effort on the line. That’s why it’s a thankless job--when the breakdowns happen it’s those five guys’ fault, and when things are going great you’ve got a fantastic running back,” said Cioffi with a chuckle.
Kelleher, noted one piece that surprised him when it came to playing on the line.
“On the line you don’t have five yards of separation from that nearest defensive player,” said Kelleher. “You’re face to face.”
Kelleher played line briefly for the MVU team his junior year.
“Every guy that had the misfortune of being lined up with Ethan was getting driven 10 yards back, and he did a good job problem solving. He’s the nicest kid you’d ever meet off the field,” said Cioffi. “He’s going to be the first guy picking you up and sending you back to the huddle after the whistle, but in between whistles you don’t want to be across from him.”
Kelleher had a unique perspective as a running back going to the line.
“When we had him on the line, we’d often see him coaching up the running backs and telling them where they should be running,” said Cioffi. “He made our backfield better by explaining what he was doing in front of them. “You could see the underclassmen gain more confidence because a senior on the line had the utmost confidence in them.“
“It’s a selfless position to play, and there’s no more selfless person on our team than Ethan. He sacrificed his senior season to play at a JV level and fill a player/coach role,” said Cioffi.
Gabree felt the strength of Ethan’s confidence.
“We got in the huddle and he told me I was going to do good—just hold the block, and that set the play for me.”
In both the Fairfax and BFA St. Albans games this year the MVU team was able to move the ball on the ground, and Kelleher appreciated their efforts.
“I was very proud of our offensive line that game. I reminded them to go through their techniques and their blocks correctly and everything would be okay. Once we got in that groove we really started to move the ball well,” said Kelleher. “I was happy to see them step up and get a good drive going.”
After returning to the backfield late in the season, Kelleher had an even greater respect for his teammates on the line.
“I know how they feel now, and I feel for them!” said Kelleher. “It’s a physically demanding position and you’ve always got that person in front of you.”