Leyden linemen applied their stamp to offense
10/26/2012 NorthLake West Leyden senior Mickey Gulo (30) carries the ball up field during the first half of the Class 8A preliminary playoff game against Bartlett on Friday, October 26, 2012. | michael jarecki ~ for Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 2, 2012 6:35AM
NORTHLAKE — Whether it’s cool designations such as “Broadway Joe,” “Sweetness” or “Megatron,” football historically seems to assign nicknames to the playmaking positions on the offensive side of the football.
Conversely, offensive linemen typically put in their work under the radar; and if anything, go by collective descriptions like “grunts” or “hogs.”
At Leyden, quarterback Mike Smith, running back Mickey Gulo and wide receiver Andrew Garcia snagged the lions’ share of notoriety this season. Meanwhile, the Eagles’ own version of the “Big 3” along the offensive line essentially cleared the way to a historic season.
Center John Dyer (5-foot-10, 215), left tackle David Flores (6-2, 240) and right guard Eric Herrera (5-11, 250) provided plenty of leadership and ability, while toiling away in virtual obscurity.
“It’s a tough job,” Leyden coach Tom Cerasani. “They don’t get recognized for what they’re doing and often get the blame for mistakes.
“John, David and Eric and the others (offensive linemen) formed a group identity. We talked with them about bringing your lunch box and hard hat to the field every day. They are also great students who work hard in the classroom. I really have no complaints at all.”
After a three-win showing in 2011, the senior-laden Eagles rebounded with a strong 7-3 record this season, highlighted by a perfect 6-0 mark in the West Suburban Gold for Leyden’s first conference title since 1998 and first undefeated league title since 1979, when Leyden won all seven games in the Des Plaines Valley.
The Eagles’ stellar season ended with a 14-0 loss to Bartlett on Friday in the first round of the Class 8A playoffs. Gulo (9 rushes, 61 yards) and Garcia (7 catches, 48 yards) led Leyden in a hard-hitting game that saw Smith (7-for-10, 66 yards) get knocked out of action with a concussion.
“When Mike went down, it made us want to block even harder,” Flores said. “We played hard, but we made a couple of mistakes that cost us.”
In addition to anchoring the Eagles’ offensive line at center, Dyer served as the team’s long snapper and vocal leader.
“I’ve always been more of a talker on the football field. It just comes naturally for me,” Dyer said. “We’re very disappointed that our season ended so soon in the playoffs, but we beat some good teams and we won conference.”
Flores repeatedly graded out the highest among the offensive linemen.
“My job was to play hard and block well for my teammates,” Flores said. “I tried to make the right calls on the line and make sure everybody did their assignments.”
Dyer and Flores both plan on attending college and hold aspirations of possibly playing football at the next level.
“John, Eric and I are good friends,” said Flores, who plans on studying civil engineering in college. “We like to hang out, play video games and toss the football around the park.”
Herrera certainly earned a ton of respect for the toughness and determination he showed amid personal adversity.
Herrera suffered a knee injury last year, but battled back to turn in a solid 2012 campaign for the Eagles.
“I wasn’t sure if Eric was even going to play this season,” Dyer said. “He was a bit limited because of the injury, but he stuck it out and did a good job for the team.”
With the graduation of the Eagles’ top three blockers, plus fellow senior Raul Molina, the only returning offensive lineman will be promising 6-2, 275-pound Gunnar Schiferl. Replacing key seniors will be a common theme throughout the Leyden lineup.
“Obviously, winning conference was a huge accomplishment,” Cerasani said. “The (playoff) loss doesn’t take anything away from the season we had. We’re reloading with new players; it will be interesting.”
As for Dyer, Flores and Herrera, the close-knit blocking buddies enjoyed making a name for themselves this season, fittingly, together.
“The football season was so much fun playing with my friends,” Dyer said. “They say high school is the best four years of your life, and I think that’s definitely true.”