WILLIAMSTOWN -- The Monday following the first football game of the season wasn't a pleasant one for Mount Greylock's inexperienced offensive line.
It didn't matter that Greylock was 1-0 on the season. It didn't matter that the Mounties had extend their winning streak to 27 straight games. It didn't matter that the score was 36-8 over Pittsfield. It didn't matter that running back Ethan Ryan had 128 yards and three touchdowns in the contest. And it didn't matter that quarterback Hank Barrett had tossed for an additional 97 yards.
Coach Shawn Flaherty and Brian Gill, the team's offensive and defensive line coach, weren't impressed.
"None of the interior five had played on the line before," Gill said. "I think the hardest thing for them was film sessions on Mondays. We were watching that first film and they're just getting blasted. You think you did a good job and made a good play, but you're just getting blasted for one thing or another."
The entire offensive line was brand new at the start of the season, with the exception of tight end Tyler Picard. Nick Disanti, Matt Malloy, Robby Buffis, Matt Hogan, Andrew Leitch and Jake Benzinger were all strangers to the position.
"Our Monday tape sessions can borderline on brutal," Flaherty said. "Nothing is sugar-coated. That first week those kids got an experience. But they all hung in there and have excelled since."
The coaching staff spent time preaching each
Flaherty and Gill both thought the line's first effort of the season was disappointing. They called it "sloppy," and said it left the window open for improvement.
It was just one more step the players needed to take towardsplaying for a championship team.
On the heels of two straight Super Bowl victories and two unbeaten seasons, the offensive line needed to be entirely rebuilt this season. Only Picard was left from the group that started in last season's Super Bowl win.
The Mounties needed new names and faces to step up. So Flaherty gave Gill as many athletes as he could to work with.
"I am a firm believer that the game is won on the line," Flaherty said. "I gave him a lot of backs. Robby Buffis and Nick Disanti were both fullbacks. I gave him as much talent as I could.
"Just because you have some talented athletes, though, doesn't mean they are linemen. It's a tough position to learn. He's absolutely done a great job with this year's line."
Playing on the line isn't the most glorious position and it certainly isn't the easiest, but it may be the most important toward developing a championship contender. It didn't take much to convince former running backs, fullbacks, split backs and even wide receivers to play on the line.
"Coach Flaherty told us that if we played offensive line then there was a much better chance of getting back to where we are now," Buffis said. "We're in the county championship and contending for another Super Bowl. He was right."
Disanti started the season on the line, but an injury forced him off it. He now plays primarily on the defensive line and sophomore Matt Hogan has taken over his spot on the offensive line. That's a luxury the coaching staff enjoys having. The more players a team has that play on just one side of the ball when everyone is healthy contributes to the team's depth, in case injuries do begin to set in.
It took some time for the unit to mesh together. Having seniors like Picard, Ryan and Barrett has helped the line develop. The team's practices and film sessions have also contributed to the improvement. However, the biggest reason for the improved success has been experience.
"Really the first four weeks were just incredibly difficult," Gill said. "I don't think they knew what to expect. You can teach the line play. You can teach the techniques. You can teach where they have to be and how they have to get there.
"But until they have to do it against an opponent, none of it makes any sense."
The line helped Ryan reach the 1,000-yard mark for the second year in a row. It's the fifth straight year the Mounties have had a rusher get to that mark. He reached the plateau in Greylock's seventh game of the season. He entered the Berkshire County title game with 1,402 yards and 21 touchdowns.
"That's a fantastic accomplishment," Disanti said. "Not just for us, but Greylock has been able to do that for the past several years. That's just a credit to the coaching. They really have coached us up well."
Gill and Flaherty have been coaching together for more than 15 seasons and played for Greylock in the 1980's. Flaherty was a fullback and a linebacker, while Gill played quarterback. Flaherty joined legendary coach John T. Allen's staff first and was assigned to coach the running backs and the linebackers. Paul Barrett was also already on the staff and was the quarterbacks coach when Gill joined the staff 15 years ago. The last coaching slot that needed to be filled was the line. Gill took the challenge head on.
Ten seasons after Flaherty took over for Allen, the coaching assignments remain the same.
"As a quarterback, you need to know the line calls and the line plays, so he really knew them all," Flaherty said. "It was just kind of a natural fit for him. When Brian started coaching, Coach Allen was still here so the plays were all the same. He might have been away from Mount Greylock football for a few years, but the terminology and the plays were pretty much the same as when he was running them."
Gill spent much of his time studying under Allen and learning how to coach the line. He spent time going to clinics and reading books, as well as taking tutorials on how to play offensive line.
Fifteen years after starting to coach the linemen, the coach that looks least like a lineman -- he better fits his track coach position -- seems to have a pretty good read on what they need to do. It matters not, as his players are still soaking up every detail of line play they can.
"Coach Gill preaches, technique, technique, technique," Buffis said. "It's all about footwork and where your hands are. It's not always about being bigger, faster or stronger than the other guys. It's about being more disciplined, more technical and playing smarter."
At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Buffis doesn't exactly look like a lineman, either. Next to the 6-foot-6 Picard, Benzinger is the biggest member of the line. The sophomore is 6-foot-4 and weighs in at 190 pounds. Malloy is the smallest member of the group. The center checks in at just 5-foot-7 and barely breaks 150 pounds.
While the biggest point of emphasis has been technique, the line has also grown into a cohesive unit through the season.
"We were all getting thrown into something we had never tried, but through coaching and through bonding and becoming a family, we have all gotten to know each other and how we play," Buffis said. "We have become smoother and we're just a greased up machine now."
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On Twitter: @NAT_DigitalSam