- Associated Press - Sunday, September 20, 2015

NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. (AP) - When Mike Strachan was quarterbacking the North Attleboro High football team for Red Rocketeers coach Ray Beaupre in the mid-1980s, his center at the time, Scott Charron, weighed about 155 pounds.

Today, such a lineman would be considered a lightweight.

These days, Strachan, now Attleboro High School’s head football coach, is dwarfed during practice sessions at AHS’s Tozier-Cassidy Field by offensive and defensive linemen who are mostly 6 feet or taller, and a majority of whom weigh 200-plus pounds.

Bigger, stronger and faster are the high school football players who wear jerseys emblazoned with numbers in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

A generation or more ago, guards and centers weighing 150 to 155 pounds were the norm. Tackles weighed 175 to 185 pounds. It was the rare high school player who checked in at 200.

“I think kids overall are just bigger these days,” North Attleboro High coach Don Johnson said.

Now, it’s almost commonplace to see 225-pounders.

“Back in the ‘70s, we were happy just to have linemen who were over 200 pounds,” Johnson said. “Now, that’s considered small, and it’s not uncommon to see high school linemen at 280 pounds.

“I think it is mostly due to the typical American diet, however, and partly due to all the weight training and conditioning.”

But, football is not all about size. Speed and agility matter much.

“The increased size and strength, however, does not necessarily translate into increased performance or playing time,” Johnson said. “Size, strength and conditioning are big pieces of it, but things like toughness, technique, quickness and football intelligence still matter greatly.

“The list is long of kids who had size or strength, but weren’t particularly good football players. The list is similarly long of kids who were undersized, but were great high school football players because they were smart, tough and quick,” he said.

It was the tradition of Big Red football that its guards on the offensive line were not big, not necessarily strong, but knew the playbook and exercised their blocks.

It’s a similar story elsewhere in the Attleboro area.

“We have not been blessed with a lot of big linemen over the years,” Mansfield High School coach Mike Redding said. “But, our guys do work hard in the weight room and we have had some very good players who were 5-10, 5-11 and 205 pounds who have outplayed guys that were 6-2 and 250.

“The biggest change in the last five or six years has been the shift away from typical bench (pressing) and curl lifting for upper body strength, to much more focus on leg strength through the power lifts,” Redding said.

Mansfield High assistant coach Tim Selmon has become the go-to guru for Hornets in developing good off-field training habits.

Those include developing the core strength of abdomen with unique lifts and activities using dumbbells, medicine balls, weighted ropes, tug of war, sledgehammers and even yoga.

For example, Hornet captain Josh Schafer, an offensive lineman and defensive end, was 6 feet tall and 200 pounds last season.

This season, Schafer came into preseason training at 6 feet, 1 inch and 225 pounds.

“He’s much stronger than a year ago,” Redding said. “In his case, he added about 25 pounds of ‘good’ weight to his build.”

Another example of dedication at MHS is 5-foot, 7-inch, 180-pound junior Julio Arevalo.

“He is, pound-for-pound, our strongest player and will help us win games this fall on both sides of the ball,” Redding said. “A.J. Gibbs is another junior who played for us as a sophomore.

“Last year, he was around 300 pounds, but has literally changed his body type and is now 265 to 270 and stronger than a year ago. In his case, he kept lifting but focused on aerobic training to lose weight, and he will be better by losing weight.

“We try to build strength in all of the players and we believe it makes them better players,” Redding said. “Their confidence improves. Their performance improves with more speed and strength, and most importantly it helps keep them healthy and improves the strength around the knee and shoulder joints and prevents injury.

“We tell our guys that we don’t care how tall they are or how much they weigh,” he said. “We want guys with speed and strength who are dedicated, and they can be great players.”

When coaching at Framingham State College, Attleboro High’s Strachan had several linemen who tipped the scales at 300 pounds.

The difference between Division I linemen and those at the Division II and III levels is foot speed, he noted - something that also shows up on the high school football fields.

“We had kids who had Division I size, but not feet,” Strachan said.

With the fast-paced, multiple set offenses now in vogue, “kids have to have good feet. That separates them.”

His Blue Bombardiers of 2015 have some of the biggest linemen in his tenure, the likes of 6-foot, 4-inch, 267-pound Kyle Murphy; 6-foot, 1- inch, 215-pound Matt Mahoney and 6-foot, 4-inch, 268-pound Andrew Gingras.

“There are not that many small kids anymore,” Strachan said. “We have kids who can run, kids who are good athletes.”

From a Hockomock League perspective, though, Strachan says there’s always room for smaller players.

“You take Mansfield and King Philip and North Attleboro,” Strachan said. “The kids are all so well-coached, that no matter what size, they get the best out of their kids.

“To block the way the game is now played - what needs to be done with so many different offenses being run - you need bigger, stronger, faster linemen.”

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Information from: The (Attleboro, Mass.) Sun Chronicle, http://www.thesunchronicle.com

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