Coming into the football season, many people expected St. Clairsville to be the premier team in the Ohio Valley.
Their rationale was the Red Devils had arguably the most athleticism and skill on one team that's been assembled in quite some time in the Ohio Valley.
However, there were more veterans returning, but they were fairly unheralded - like they are on most levels of football.
On top of the bevy of skill players, the Red Devils featured an all-important veteran offensive line that welcomed back four starters and two "viable options" for the opening spot.
"I have to be honest," said St. C. head coach Brett McLean. "I was glad they were under the radar because I knew what we had and I think we snuck up on some people in that regard. We had four guys back and other guys who were ready to battle. Our line deserves a ton of credit. We've had some holes to run through that these skill kids would brag to you about because they're untouched."
The Red Devils' offense averages more than 400 yards a game and has done it both through the air and on the ground.
Senior Cole Stephen anchors the line at the center spot. He's been a three-year mainstay and returns to the lineup this week after missing the regional final.
"We've done a good job of focusing each week and we play well together," Stephen said. "We've challenged ourselves every week and I think we've played well most of the season."
Senior Corey Ernest is a three-year veteran in the trenches for the Devils. He lines up at one of the tackle spots. He's accepted the role of showing the newcomers the way. Last year, he took Joel Giffin under his wing and this year the new addition was Nick VanVoltenburg, who won the job in camp.
"Coming together as a team has been the biggesy key," Ernest said. "The older group of linemen came together and got Joel ready by teaching him his assignments. Now, this year, it was Nick and he has veterans around him to help out."
The unity between the linemen has also been a huge key to their success. According to starting guard, Tom Parker, the group is always hanging out with each other away from the field, too.
"Sometimes we don't even have to make calls because we know each other so well and know our assignments we're able to get the job done," Parker said. "To be playing in the state semifinals feels really good. This was definitely one of our goals. We've got to really work hard this week to get ready for it."
Regardless the level of football, the line doesn't receive the credit publically, but guys like Matt Kinnick and Jaylon Brown consistently give their linemen kudos for the work done.
It's not about publicity for the Devil line. It's about looking up at the scoreboard and seeing more points and then seeing the productivity of the offense.
"It makes all of us feel great," Stephen said. "It's good to have these kinds of skill guys on our team because all we have to do is make a hole and they're gone. It really makes our job easy."
Ernest heard the grumblings during the summer that the Red Devils' line might be the team's biggest question mark. He took it personally, too.
"We got together at times during two-a-days and talked about all of the things we'd heard and we knew if we worked hard in the off-season we could show everyone," Ernest said. "Obviously, the skill guys can do a lot by themselves (in open field), but without the line playing well, it's hard to get that done. It's just a total team effort."
Senior Derek Shunk is the top reserve and filled in admirably, at center, for Stephen last week. He's enjoyed a tremendous season on the defensive front.
"The dedication and all of the hardwork has really paid off," Shunk said. "The coaches just keep pushing and pushing us to get better, so that has sort of been our motto. Some of the stats and yards we've compiled are pretty astonishing."
Staskey can be reached at email@example.com