CHATHAM, NJ - They all knew what they signed up for by the time they were in eighth grade. As football offensive linemen, none of them were going to see their names in the headlines.
"Even coach Agnew (John, youth coach) in middle school used to tell us that," Chatham senior guard Nick Zack said. "You'll never get all the credit, but everyone knows where it comes from. They (running backs) definitely know that nothing happens without us and we know that nothing happens without them. It goes both ways."
Most offensive lines are nameless jersey numbers who take it for granted that the glory and accolades will go to the running backs, receivers and quarterback. But the 2015 Chatham Cougar offensive line gets mentioned so many times, it's starting to seep through into the mainstream.
On Tuesday before practice, the Cougar offensive line was named the Athletes of the Week by Football University.
That was a nice honor of recognition, but the award the line - nicknamed the "Hogs" by line coach John Ahsler - wants most is the state championship trophy that goes to the winner of the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 winner, 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4 at Kean University.
Chatham (9-2), a team that snapped a 23-game losing streak just last season, will be the underdog against undefeated and top-seeded Cranford (11-0).
"Every game they expect to win and dominate," Chatham line coach Bob Beattie said. "It's just their expectation. They want to dominate and break the will of the other team."
That was apparent last Saturday when Chatham scored the first five times it had the ball on offense, building a 31-0 lead at halftime in its 45-6 state semifinal victory over West Essex.
"I don't think we've seen one better than the one that we have," Chatham quarterback Alex Sands said of the offensive line. "They're all really, really strong and they put in a lot of work all last season. Their techniques are basically flawless. They are able to do everything. They open up holes trapping, they open up holes just base blocking. They can beat almost every defensive line I've seen."
The "Hogs" line up with left tackle Graham LeMon (6-6, 300), left guard Colin Ness (6-0, 280), center Mike Kellstrom (6-0, 270), right guard Nick Zack (5-10, 200) and right tackle Jahanzab Khan (6-2, 230).
"They're a coach's dream," Ahsler said. "They're smart, they're quick learners, they adjust and communicate.
"The hard work is reflected in their play. You have a huge left tackle with great reach in Graham LeMon, Colin Ness is like a coach on the field; Kellstrom is huge and probably has the best strength. Nick Zack, the right guard, never comes off the field and plays middle linebacker. Jahanzab Khan is a good two-way tackle and a guy you have to drag off the field. He never wants to come out."
Those five are backed up by David Vivona and Ryan Ness. The guys pushing the O line in practice from the opposite side every day are: C.J. LaMantia, Joshua Pollard, Pat O'Malley, Chris Strutt, Thomas Elliott and Chris Kinder.
When Chatham put in its spread offense last year, there was a lot to learn for quarterback Sands and the offensive line as well.
"They know everything that's going on," Sands said. "They know exactly where the play should be going before the ball is even snapped. They make as many calls, probably more than I do, for each play. They're very, very rarely incorrect. Most games I've gotten out of it with the same clean jersey, it's been a pretty easy year for me.
"Last year, I could see a lot of improvement. This year, it's mind-boggling how much stronger they are. They're one of the strongest units in the team. They've never really lost any matchups; they've never been overpowered."
Colin Ness, Kellstrom, Zack and Khan are seniors and LeMon is a junior. They've all been together since sixth or seventh grade.
Chatham has produced two 300-plus rushing games and more than 2,000 yards on the ground this season. Running backs Justin Hayes, Matt Nestler and Timmy Adams always seem to mention the great blocking they received on their way to a Chatham touchdown. It's all part of the well-deserved respect given to the "Hogs."
"We've put in the time and dedicated ourselves the last four years and we've really come together as a family," Ness said. "We work for each other and we play for each other, that's why we're so successful."
Matt Nestler runs through a big hole and right guard Nick Zack pulls and manages to get out in front during first TD vs. West Essex on Saturday.