They are the unsung heroes of football — the guys who put their bodies on the line, both literally and figuratively, on every snap and almost never get to touch the ball or score a point.
What ignites their passion? What keeps them pushing the sled in practice, hour after hour and day after day?
We gathered senior offensive and defensive linemen of all different shapes and sizes from some of the North Shore's marquee programs — Matt Noonan of Salem (5-foot-9, 200 lbs.), Billy Shaw of Beverly (6-1, 260 lbs.), Michael Lock of Peabody (6-foot, 250 lbs.), Aidan Michaud of Marblehead (6-4, 305 lbs.), Tommy MacDonald of Bishop Fenwick (6-5, 270 lbs.), James Taylor of St. John's Prep (6-1, 315 lbs.), Ron Remotigue of Danvers (5-10, 210 lbs.) and Henry Smith of Hamilton-Wenham (5-10, 190 lbs.) — for a wide ranging conversation about the trials and tribulations of life in the trenches.
What follows are some of the highlights from that chat:
Salem News: What does it mean to be a lineman, knowing that you might never get to touch the ball?
Matt Noonan: No credit is needed. I mean, they need us to score, and that's enough right there.
SN: Do you feel appreciated by the skills players?
Matt Noonan: Absolutely. Vinnie (Gaskins, Salem's 2017 standout running back), any time he had a really good game or broke a record, he always said he'd never have done any of it without us linemen.
Henry Smith: I agree. The running backs know that without the line, they won't be able to do much. We're really what makes the team function well and be able to succeed. Everyone on the team knows that, and that matters more than what fans might know.
SN: Some of the teams run hurry-up offenses. As a lineman, is it taxing to sprint to the line, then block again?
Aidan Michaud: Of course I'm getting out of breath (in those circumstances), but we train hard all summer. We run every day. We're all used to it. Run blocking, especially in the hurry-up, especially when the other team is gassed, that's when you get your pancake blocks — so even though you're tired, that's the most fun part.
SN: Mike and Ron have gone against each other in a game (Danvers beat Peabody, 7-0, in 2017). How did you prepare for each other?
Ron Remotigue: It was all film. We did our techniques in practice, studied their team. It was a great game, very respectable.
Michael Lock: It was a back-and-forth game. I learned a lot of little techniques, used the film to try to get prepared for the game.
SN: What's the bond of being linemen like? Is it a brotherhood?
Tommy MacDonald: It's part of being a linemen that you have to be on the same page.
Matt Noonan: We all do the same thing; we don't get any credit, but we all love what we do.
Aidan Michaud: It's definitely a bond. We all know if four people are doing what they're supposed to do and one person is not, the play is getting blown up. Everybody has to be on the same page to be successful; otherwise, you're just running in circles out there.
SN: Some of the linemen are bigger and some are smaller. Is it tough for a big guy to handle a smaller guy who's a little more athletic and fast?
Tommy MacDonald: It depends on the situation. If you're a player you can play, it doesn't matter if you're 5-foot-4 or 6-foot-7. You can't take a rep off.
Aidan Michaud: You can't measure hurt, either. It's really about wanting it more, comparing yourself in practice, film and weight room. It's mental and physical toughness more than size.
Matt Noonan: I'm probably the shortest guy on my line, maybe 5-foot-9. I wasn't supposed to be starting but I wanted it more. By my size, I'm not supposed to be there, but if you work hard you'll get it.
SN: On the opposite tact, what's the pressure like when you're a younger player trying to go against veterans in practice or in games? Is there a lot of pressure there?
James Taylor: I put pressure on myself (as a freshman) because I wanted to be the guy. I wanted to start, so I worked extra hard in one-on-ones. I'd lose because they had more technique than me, but I'd put up a good fight. I was nervous going in, but I went in and fought that much harder.
SN: What's your favorite one-on-one drill?
Matt Noonan: Board drill.
James Taylor: Circle drill.
Michael Lock: Oklahoma.
Salem News: Would you rather have a hard drill and hit and get hit, or do you ever take it easy with a "peace pact" in practice?
Aidan Michaud: You don't win taking it easy.
Matt Noonan: You have to hit each other. In Salem, it's hit-hit-hit.
Ron Remotigue: There's nothing like when the whole team is standing around the drill cheering and making noise.
Matt Noonan: And no matter what happens, it's all good. Even if I get pancaked, afterwards it's 'good job'. That's the respect of the line.
SN: Do you ever think about injuries or the way concussions are always in the news these days?
Ron Remotigue: If you think about it, you're not going to be 100 percent focused and you're going to be more likely to get hurt. You have to block it out and have no fear.
Tommy MacDonald: I tore my meniscus in the first game last year. I played the whole year on it, so I kind of always had it in my mind. My coaches caught on; if it was really bothering me, they had to pull me (out) because I wouldn't pull myself back. I felt like if I didn't have bone sticking through my skin, I wanted to go.
SN: What does it feel like on Saturday morning after a game? How sore are you?
Matt Noonan: After a win, it's like waking up in heaven.
Tommy MacDonald: When you win, your mind is high. Even if your body is dragging behind, it feels great.
Aidan Michaud: When you lose, the motivation is to get back in there and watch some film to make sure it doesn't happen again.
SN: What's it like in the playoffs? Is it different playing those games before Thanksgiving after you're out of the playoffs? Is it more of a drag than losing in, say, September?
Matt Noonan: A game is a game; I just love playing no matter what.
James Taylor: For us, those (non-playoff) games were hard to get up for. We lost to Everett in the first round and it was just killer. Everything after that was a letdown until Xaverian.
SN: What's the biggest rivalry for you guys? If you could only beat one team for your senior year, who would you want to beat?
Billy Shaw: Salem.
Matt Noonan: Beverly.
Tommy MacDonald: St. Mary's.
Ron Remotigue: Gloucester.
Henry Smith: Ipswich.
James Taylor: Xaverian.
Michael Lock: Marblehead, just because that's one team that I've never beaten in my career.
Aidan Michaud: Swampscott. That's the game I look forward to the most.
SN: On the defensive line, when you're going up against a stud running back or a really good passer, how does that make your job more difficult?
Billy Shaw: I just like hitting. I think if you hit a kid early and multiple times, it can get in their head. Certain quarterbacks, you see if you can get bodies on them, they get flustered. When you get pressure and collapse that pocket, you can damper their success.
James Taylor: I watch film all week on the guy I'm up against. I worry more about the lineman I'm against and what technique is going to work against him than about the skill guys.
SN: Is it better to beat your man off the ball, win that line battle, or wrap up the ballcarrier? What's more satisfying?
Tommy MacDonald: Definitely beating your man off the ball. You don't know if the running back is coming to you or not.
Aidan Michaud: It's out of your control where the play's going, but the guy in front of you? That's something you can control every single play. It's all about doing your job. I played nose guard — if I can take up two guys every day (and) win my individual fight, that sets up the tackle for the linebackers.
SN: What's your favorite hit or a big block that got a big reaction in the film room?
Michael Lock: At the end of the (2017) Revere game, which was our first win, we were all going 100 percent because we were excited to get that victory. Elijah White got an interception, and the quarterback was trying to run him down and didn't see me coming. I lowered my shoulder and just laid him out. That was the best hit of the year.
Matt Noonan: I remember getting a cut block and the guy flew way up in the air, and the coaches were going crazy on the sidelines.
SN: What about when you get called for a flag? A holding or a late flag, whether it's a good call or a bad call?
Billy Shaw: There's holding on every play ... almost every play ... so to be pointed out on one single play is a drive killer. You have to mentally reset (and) deal with everyone getting on you in the huddle.
Henry Smith: It's worse when it's a false start. It's all on you and everyone can see it.
SN: What's the competition like in the weight room?
Matt Noonan: It's definitely more of a competition in the summer. We have some guys who are mad strong, and sometimes my goal in the weight room is just to beat them in one lift before I leave or I won't feel like I got better that day.
Michael Lock: It's both trying to be the best on my team and be my best. I want to put up the most weight to make someone else want to beat me, so we're all getting stronger.
Tommy MacDonald: Our whole football team is undersized. We had a guard that was maybe 155 pounds, plus a freshmen at center. For us, it's not a competition of who can put up the most; it's working hard together. I don't care if you bench 300 pounds or 100 pounds: if you can play football, you can play football.
SN: What is more important: footwork on a play, or having your hands in the right place?
Aidan Michaud: Definitely setting my feet, but hands is a close second.
Matt Noonan: I feel like they go hand in hand ... not to be funny.
SN: Does it take a certain kind of guy to be a lineman, almost like being a goalie in hockey or lacrosse?
Michael Lock: It's a lot of hard work, and not everyone's willing to put it in.
Henry Smith: I feel like you really have to have that drive. You have to be hungry to the win, for the hit, for the play. Even if you lose one play, you know you're coming out with no fear to hit him harder and to show you're not giving up. Linemen never quit the entire game.
SN: Some of you might get to play in college and some of you might be getting ready for your last season of football. What's that feel like, and how do you make the most of senior year?
Matt Noonan: I think about it a lot. It hits me that this is my last 'first day of camp.' I want to go in there and just ball out. It's my last year as a Witch so I better make it count.
Aidan Michaud: Every game you want to go home exhausted, knowing you did everything in your power to help your team.
SN: What are the perks of being a lineman?
Matt Noonan: You never get yelled at for eating too much.
Aidan Michaud: You get totally shamed if you're getting too skinny, like 'What are you, trying to be a skill position player instead?'
Tommy MacDonald: I got it for looking too much like a basketball player.
Billy Shaw: It's just busting chops. Lineman coaches understand where you are, and then know how to talk to you in a way no other coach knows how. It's a bond that I don't think I'll ever break — and I love that.
Michael Lock: That's the stuff that motivates you, because you don't want to mess up and you don't want to get yelled at again.
James Taylor: David McHenry is our line coach at the Prep and he has so much respect. I've learned so much from him.
SN: Would you ever, if you could, change your body type and trade and want to be a skills position player?
(As a group): No way (We'd want to get bigger).
For a video look at the featured linemen and their outlook for the 2018 season, visit SalemNews.com.