The guys streaking into the end zone — or the ones throwing or handing off to them — get all the love on highlight reels.

The guys who block for them, though … they get all the love in the locker rooms. After all, they have as much to do with getting points on the board, or keeping them off, as anyone.

The quarterback can’t throw and make the right reads without protection, the receivers can’t create separation without some time to get open and the running backs, well, they can’t power through the middle without a hole or spring down the sideline without someone sealing the edge for them.

Fortunately for the 2017 Delaware Hayes football team, it’s loaded on the offensive and defensive lines. The Pacers have experienced starters, particularly three seniors who’ve been playing meaningful snaps since they were sophomores.

That’s the good news … really good news considering Hayes’ top playmakers in 2016 — starting quarterback Cullen Moore, leading receiver Derrick Buford and leading rusher Deven Ward — were all lost to graduation. Buford (693 receiving yards) and Ward (769 rushing yards) accounted for 66% of the team’s 2,207 yards of total offense all by themselves.

“We’re very inexperienced with our skill people, and that’s something we’re really working through right now,” Hayes coach Mike Golden said. “We’re trying to get better at all our skill positions and trying to build depth at the same time.

“We’re fortunate, though, because we have an entire offesnive line back. When they’re all healthy, we’re pretty good.”

Senior Kole Shaw (6-0, 289 pounds) is a returning starter at center while Braden Donges (6-3, 278) and Glenn Pauley (5-11, 228) also return to the fold with two years of starting experience already under their belts.

“Those three have two years of experience coming into their senior years, so they’re leaders … real important leaders,” Golden said. “The experience and what they bring to practice everyday is such a good example for our young people. They just set the tone with their hard work and physicality.”

That physicality is something that’s rubbing off on the rest of the guys … and has been for the last few years. The Pacers are getting stronger as a football team because they’re getting stronger as human beings.

“The key has been a continued growth in positive culture toward lifting and conditioning and all the things you have to do to win,” Golden said. “It’s been a good, solid growth … and it’s continued this offseason.

“I like where we are physically; stregth-wise and everything. We’re just trying to make sure we’re as healthy as possible for our opener.”

That opener comes, as it has for the last several years now, against a Buckeye Valley team that’s been getting better in its own right.

“Buckeye Valley is a very well-coached football team,” Golden said. “I know they’ll be where they’re supposed to be … doing good, solid, fundamental things offensively and defensively. We’ll have to prepare ourselves for that.”

The Pacers outlasted the Barons 20-13 in last year’s opener — a win which catapulted them to a 3-0 start. Hayes lost six of its last seven games, though, including five in OCC-Cardinal Division action.

Delaware doubled up BV 10-5 in 2015, a year in which the Pacers finished 5-5.

The offense Hayes will run in this year’s season-opening showdown, slated for Friday at 7 p.m. at Hayes, will be familiar. Golden said his offense will still basically run wing-t concepts. The personnel, though, that’s where the difference will be.

Hayes only has one real weapon back on the offensive side of the ball, but he’s a big one: 6-6, 211-pound senior tight end Todd Toney (eight receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown last season).

“He’s big and he can really run and catch the ball,” Golden said. “He got much stronger than he was last year, so we’re looking for good things out of him.”

Golden said the quarterback position isn’t set in stone, but junior Kael Gannon (5-9, 166), who did see some time behind center as a sophomore, will likely get the nod. Gannon attempted 39 passes in four games last season, completing 18 of them for 212 yards, a touchdown and five interceptions.

“Kael will probably end up being the QB,” he said. “I like his leadership. It’s excellent. He has a great attitude and that goes a long way in that huddle.

“Because of inexperience he needs improvement throwing the ball, but he has real good feet, and in modern football, escapability is huge.”

Senior Blain McCormick (5-9, 172), senior Isaiah Moore (5-11, 206) and and sophomore Jahi Broussard-Nash (5-8, 169) will look to replace the production of Ward in the backfield.

“They bring a good combination of strength and quickness,” Golden said. “They aren’t very big kids, but they’re strong kids and they’re real quick. That’s what we’re looking for in the schemes that we run. That’s what’s important to us.”

Those expected to make plays at receiver include senior Ryan Daughenbaugh (6-0, 164) and juniors Chris Johnson (6-0, 167) and Sam Lagando (6-1, 181). The versatile Toney will also split out from time to time.

The playmakers are capable of growing into their roles, but they’ll need the offensive line to play up to their potential.

“Our key will be, when we get our line healthy, how much they can help these guys grow up,” Golden said. “At any level, if your line is good, kids can grow into their skill positions real quick. If your line isn’t good, it doesn’t help. Just look at the Cleveland Browns.”

The defense, with the line again being the strength, will feature the usual suspects.

“Pauley, Donges, Shaw, Toney … a lot of the same names,” the coach said. “Moore will play at outside backer and Glenn might stand up sometimes in different schemes.”

Daughenbaugh returns to the secondary with plenty of experience, but many of the other guys will be learning on the fly.

“The strength is up front because we have a lot of experience, and they are very physically strong kids,” Golden said. “They’ll have to help the kids behind them get better everyday.”

Senior Zach Ruen (5-5, 188) returns at kicker while junior Mason Davis (6-2, 181) will punt.

Overall, Hayes is young. That doesn’t mean this new stable of Pacers needs coddled, though.

“Right from when they entered the program they bought into it,” Golden said. “They knew what to expect. It’s not like we had to teach them how to practice and how to work … they just need experience. we expect them to grow up very quickly.”

They’ll need to grow up fast, too … the OCC is undoubtedly going to be full of tough tests once again.

“I expect the league to be very difficult,” Golden said. “There are really good football teams and good solid programs in our particular division of the OCC. Nobody really knows anything about high school football at this point, but, based on the past, I expect all of the teams in our division to be solid.”

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The 2017 Delaware Hayes varsity football team 2017 Delaware Hayes varsity football team Rex Welker | For the Gazette
Hayes returns plenty of experience up front

By Ben Stroup

[email protected]

Follow Ben Stroup on Twitter @delgazette_ben.