ALL-TIME TEAM: offensive line

In the 97 years since Tyrone Area High School first fielded a football team, 70 players have been named to all-state teams a total of 110 times.

So here’s a trivia question: which position has earned the most all-state selections?

It’s not running back, which might come to mind first considering the volume of 1,000-yard backs Tyrone has produced.  It’s not linebacker either, although there have been some good ones.

It’s offensive line.

Tyrone has filled 26 spots on all-state teams with 20 different linemen, which makes this position among the toughest to narrow down for the purposes of an all-time team.  Clearly, it’s a position that more than any is going to take some abuse as the generations move forward.  More succinctly, linemen – and high school players in general for that matter – were a heck of a lot smaller in 1940 than they are in 2018, and that makes a difference.  Could linemen from 1947 and 1948, when no one on the line was approaching 200 pounds, compete with today’s bigger, faster, and stronger athletes?

It’s impossible to say, but there were some competitors from eras gone by who physically could have held their own against today’s super-sized players.  None stands out more than Lynn “Slug” Drake, and that is a good place to start if you’re building an All-time offensive line from Tyrone Area High School.

Lynn “Slug” Drake

Slug Drake was simply the most sought-after high school football player in Tyrone history.  As a senior in 1957, he had no fewer than 30 schools knocking on his door, and they were 30 national powerhouses, schools like Tennessee, Purdue, Notre Dame, SMU and Georgia Tech.  This wasn’t some rinky-dink regional phenom we’re talking about here.

Terry Fike, who spoke to Orange and Black for a story on the death of Richard Park in 1961, recalled a time he was sitting in Sully’s on Pennsylvania Avenue when he looked in the booth next to him and saw Rip Engle and Joe Paterno dining in downtown Tyrone. They were there courting Drake.

Drake was the first player from Tyrone to be named All-State twice, making the AP and UPI first teams in both 1956 and 1957.  He is one of only two players from the borough to be selected to play in the Big 33 game, an all-star game which now pits the best high school seniors in Pennsylvania against the best players from Maryland, but during Drake’s era the game set the best from PA against the best from the rest of the nation.

Drake played in that game twice, selected in his junior and senior seasons, and in 1958 he was voted MVP.  He made the all-Central Counties first team twice, as well.

Need more accolades? His senior season, Drake was voted a Sporting News magazine All-American.  The guy was totally legit and could play in any era.

Most importantly, Drake was a humungous player even among the all-stars of his time.  In 1957, the Pennsylvania All-State team chosen by the UPI averaged 190-pounds per player.  That season Drake weighed in at a fit and trim 220 pounds, so if you’re looking for a player whose vital signs will pass the test of time, Drake is that guy.

That’s not to say size tells the entire story.  It doesn’t.

John Franco is arguably the best coach that ever walked the sidelines at Tyrone and he didn’t always go for the big and bulky interior linemen.  Often, he liked them tall, lean, and fast.  The point is, while it’s important to consider player size when compiling an all-time team, size, like statistics, isn’t always the whole story.

Take Nick Kobak, for example, who was a starter on the original All-Century team in 1999, and is a starter on the rebooted All-Time team for 2018.  Kobak was a guard who, in the modern era, would be among the lean variety of linemen.  In his time – the mid-1950s – he was a big kid at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, and his size is solid enough that one could easily see him fitting into an offensive line today.

Kobak made the UPI All-State first team in 1955 when he was not only the best lineman at Tyrone – on a squad that included the aforementioned Drake as a sophomore – but one of the top linemen to emerge from Western Pennsylvania in years.  One UPI sportswriter hailed him as “the best guard in a decade in the Western Conference.”

Kobak was a member of the varsity team for four years, and he was named to the All-Central Counties first team in both his junior and senior seasons.  That was a recognition that’s not totally comparable to what we might see in 2018.  Now, it’s a nice honor to make All-Mountain League, but recent snubs – like the one delivered to Tyrone’s James Oliver in 2012 – show that often the formula for being named to the team is two-fold: a) be a senior, and b) have a nice year, in that order.

But for decades Central Counties was a prime-time league, with schools like Lock Haven, State College and Hollidaysburg participating, so to make that squad twice is saying something.  He joined the military after graduation and played for the Parris Island Marine team.

Drake and Kobak are not alone among Golden Eagle linemen in having effusive praise heaped upon them by the media.  In 1970, Dave Grazier was named to the UPI All-State first team, the AP third team, and the Central Counties first team.  He also has the distinction of being the only other All-American from Tyrone, joining Slug Drake in the elite category.  He is the second starting tackle on the new All-Time team.

At the end of his senior season, a year when the Golden Eagles finished 8-1-1 and ran the ball at will, Grazier was an All-American honorable mention by Coaches & Athlete Magazine on their Sunkist High School All-American team.  It was the highest honor in a year of high honors, when Grazier also was named a Blair County All-Star and won the Thom McCann trophy as the most valuable player in Blair County.

The only blemishes on Tyrone’s record that year were a 20-20 tie with Central in Week 3 and a 9-8 loss to Hollidaysburg on a last-second field goal by Rich Shoop in Week 10.  Grazier was the prize tackle on an offensive line that made the way for the Eagles to rush for more than 2,000 yards, with Bobby Irwin (959 yards), Abe Campbell (615 yards) and Mike LaRosa (431 yards) all averaging more than 4.4 yards per carry.

Grazier accepted a full athletic scholarship to play for NCAA legend Lou Holtz at William and Mary.  There, he was a three-year letter-winner (freshmen were not allowed to play their first season in those days), and he was a member of the All-Southern Conference Academic Team in 1974.

Filling the other guard spot will take some shifting.  What may be most conspicuous about the All-Time Team’s line to this point is that it’s absent any of the blockers from some of the most successful rushing teams in Tyrone history – those during the Franco era.  Part of that is due to the Franco philosophy of interchangeable parts, line rotations, and an emphasis on team play.  So rather than having one outstanding lineman you could get behind and ride like a horse, Franco might have preferred to have eight really good blockers who could rotate in at any time and still have enough gas left over to play defense.

In keeping with that spirit, we’re going to take Scott Gummo, a three-year starter on the offensive line at left tackle, and nudge him over just a bit to fill the hole we have at guard.  Judging by his incredible athletic ability – not even for a big kid but just for a kid – chances are he could handle the move.

Gummo, like Jesse Jones, was moved the varsity team as a freshman.  Jones ran wild once he cracked the starting lineup and grabbed major attention before the year was over.  Guess who the second-leading scorer on that team was, behind Mr. Touchdown Mark Wyland.  It was Gummo, who as a freshman kicked 52 extra points.

Now, clearly, kicking ability doesn’t translate into blocking, but it does begin to demonstrate the athleticism Gummo possessed in a frame that reached 6-foot-1 and 254 pounds his senior season.  He was also a five-time state champion on the Punt, Pass and Kick circuit, defeating, among a host of other competitors, Robbie Gould, who played at Penn State and  the Chicago Bears, a team with which he won a Super Bowl.

Gummo also played varsity basketball and was a baseball star, playing at Penn State before a brief professional career in the Tampa Bay organization.  So this little shift is something he could easily handle.  Gummo was a fierce combination of size, strength and quickness and he would manhandle you if you didn’t come to play.  In the 1999 state championship game, when Tyrone was clinging to a 7-6 lead with just over a minute to play and backed to its own end zone, Jones broke off a 92-yard touchdown run that sealed the game and his place in Tyrone history.  What many people forget is that he had just run for about 15 yards the play before, going to the right side.  However, the play was nullified by a clipping penalty, putting the ball inside the 10.  With the game on the line, Franco’s call went to the left side – Gummo’s side – on a sweep.

Now, a lot of people did something right to make that play work.  Josh Lucas had an excellent kick-out block.  Tyler Beckwith took his man out of the play from tight end.  But make no mistake, yards were always there to be had when the 1999 Golden Eagles ran left.

Want some nostalgic evidence?  Go back and check out some of the iconic photographs from that season, many of which were captured in a 2000 calendar.  There was one particularly grand shot of Jones scoring against Bellwood-Antis with the sky burning orange in the background.  If you look in that photo beyond the outstretched arms of Jones you see Gummo, in perfect position and with perfect form blasting his man out of the play to create a hole.

BA Jesse 001.jpg
Scott Gummo, number 65, seals a hole for Jesse Jones against Bellwood-Antis in 1999.

So use vital signs, use photographs, use the eye test, use videos – use whatever measure you want.  Gummo was an outstanding lineman – snubbed twice by the all-Big 8 conference team voters, by the way – and there’s got to be a spot for him on this team.

So we have Gummo and Kobak at guards, Grazier and Drake at tackles.  You’ve got to have a center.  In 1999, on the original All-Century Team, that honor went to Jim Funk, who was first-team All-State in 1948.  There’s only one problem with Funk as a member of the rebooted All-Time Team: he was 5-foot-7 and 145 pounds, and among these behemoths he would stick out like a sore thumb.

As critical as the center position is to a team’s success, and as well as Tyrone has run the ball historically, it’s surprising there haven’t been more accolades heaped on this position for the Golden Eagles.  But the truth is, in the last 20 years, only four centers from Tyrone have even been named all-conference.

The All-Time center is one of those guys who didn’t make conference all-star status, but as players like Gummo and Oliver have shown, what do conference all-star voters know anyway?

John Seiner was the starting center in 1996 when Tyrone went 13-1 and played in the first of three PIAA championship games.  At 6-foot-3, 227 pounds, he was tough to move.  And he may well be the best center of the John Franco era.

Like several other Tyrone greats, Seiner was a victim of circumstance when it came to individual honors.  He was never a first-team all-conference center, and he never made all-state.  Then again, Gummo, a two-time All-State defensive tackle, never was a first-team all-star in the Big 8, so that in essence sums up the value of league coaches voting for all-star squads sometimes.

What it comes down to is Tyrone already had seven positions filled on the 1996 Big 8 first-team all-star squad.  What were the league coaches going to do?  Vote for every Tyrone player?

Of course they didn’t, but it does little to diminish what Seiner meant to that team.  It was a unit that ran for more than 3,800 yards and totaled almost 5,000.  Marcus Owens with more than 2,000 yards rushing and Mark Wyland with over 800 are a strong testament to how well Seiner Seiner performed as a blocker.

So although Seiner lacks some of the accolades others on the new and improved All-Time team received, his play on the field ranks among the best, and his size was more than enough to merit a spot among the elite.

But in this day and age, you rarely see five guys line up in the trenches and bang heads for every offensive snap.  Instead, it’s about rotations, moving guys in and out, and keeping players fresh, whenever personnel permits.

In this case, the personnel definitely permits because Tyrone has turned out plenty of outstanding offensive linemen that not only could work their way into the fictitious All-Time Team training camp, but work their way onto the field as part of an all-time line rotation.

Tom Templeton would have to be there.  He made two All-State teams his senior season in 1965, when Tyrone lost just one game, including a first-team nod on the UPI squad.  He was also a two-time Central Counties first-team all-star.  He is the only player other than Drake to play in the Big 33 game, and he went on to play at Penn State, although his career was shortened by injury.

Nick Wolfe and Jerrod Good are two modern-day players who would make the roster, as well. Wolfe was an integral part of the offensive line that allowed Christian Getz to post back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 2010 and 2011, a group that also provided the time for Stevie Franco to set just about every passing record imaginable.  He was a Pennsylvania Football News first-team All-State selection in 2011, the same season he was named to the Mountain Athletic Conference first-team.

Jerrod Good was a MAC first-team all-star in 2007 and 2008, and in 2008 he made the PFN’s second-team All-State squad.  Behind him, both Shayne Tate and Larry Glace were able to successfully switch positions and run for 1,000 yards.

Other notables include Doug Shoenwolf, who was a UPI first-team All-State selection in 1978 after helping lead Tyrone to its first winning season in five years; Albert Hammers, who was an AP All-State selection in 1998 and started as a sophomore in the 1996 PIAA championship game; and Chuck Soellner, who was a UPI honorable mention in 1965.

Finally, it’s important to recognize Tyrone’s first lineman to be named All-State, Max Schnellbaugh, who was a guard on the Golden Eagles team in 1940 that went 12-0-1 and tied Shenandoah in the East-West championship game. Schnellbaugh was also a first team Bald Eagle League all-star, who helped Tyrone rush for 259 yards per game, including season highs of 404 against Bigler Township and 420 against Morris Township.

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