It Starts Up Front For Aquinas Coach

FORT LAUDERDALE --- St. Thomas Aquinas Head Coach George Smith has the luxury of taking the field with probably the best high school offensive line in the country, a line that includes three of the best players at their positions to be found anywhere. It's one of the reasons the Raiders are among the best teams in talent-rich Florida and perhaps among the best in the nation.

Tuesday, Smith had the privilege of watching two of his players --- left tackle Sam Young and center Dan Wenger --- named to the East team for the US Army All-American Game, which will be played January 7 in San Antonio at the Alamo Dome. Although right tackle Marcus Gilbert wasn't named to play in the Army game he probably should have been.

Smith has seen his three star linemen grow and develop since they became starters as sophomores. It's a rarity at St. Thomas that sophomores see the playing field, particularly on the offensive line.

"With Sam, Dan, and Marcus they came in as tenth graders and were able to play as tenth graders," Smith said. "That has helped having that kind of experience. We very seldom have had sophomores start on the offensive line. it only happened a couple of times. One was Stefan Humphries who went on to play at Michigan and in two Super Bowls. He is now a doctor in Spokane, Washington."

Smith sees his three big guys up close and personal. He knows their strengths on the football field and he sees how they've grown as people off the field.

"It is hard to put your finger on what one does better than the other," Smith said. "Dan and Sam are very intelligent young men and good students and that carries over on the playing field. The three are very good friends, which is also excellent for the camaraderie of the team. They are very solid character. In the hallways is how you find out what kids think of other kids, in how they carry themselves. They are very polite and very respected."

From a physical standpoint, Young, Wenger and Gilbert are imposing but they bring more than physical strength to the field.

"Sam has great athletic ability and for a kid that is 6-8 (295 pounds), he is able to bend and is very flexible," he said. "Danny (6-4, 285) on the other hand is a warrior. He is a very tough, blue collar, inside guy. You better be ready to play against him. Marcus (6-6, 285) is a very good athlete. He has basketball ability and runs very well.

"You see a lot of big lines in high school football, but a lot of them can't move and aren't athletic, all of these three are."

George Smith and his Aquinas Raiders are 7-0 and are looking to make another appearance in the state championship game this year. The loss last year in the big game has spurred them on to the great start and they want to finish it in 2005. If they make their ultimate team goal, the big horses up front will be a big reason why.

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