JACKSON TWP — Many question marks surrounded Seneca Valley's football team prior to this season, none more so than on the offensive line.
The Raiders returned one starter from last year in right guard Owen Moran and the rest of the starting front was not settled until well into August.
An hour before the team's scrimmage against Peters Township Aug. 21, junior H-back Lucas Lambert was approached by several of the team's coaches. They asked if he'd be willing to switch to left guard.
“I trained all off-season to be an H-back, went to camps and 7-on-7 drills,” said Lambert, who caught four passes for 79 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore tight end in 2020. “But I trusted Coach (Tim) Sasson (offensive line) and Coach (Ryan) Lehmeier (offensive coordinator). Whatever was best for the team, that's what I was going to do.”
SV head coach Ron Butschle loves that type of attitude.
“Lucas goes from a position where he would have been scoring touchdowns to one that is much-less glorified,” he said. “He took on his new role as selflessly as anyone I've coached.”
Lambert and Moran joined senior center Ben Correll, junior left tackle Devin Webb and senior right tackle Caden Matthews as the offensive line the Raiders would roll with.
The latter three players each have their own interesting backstory. Correll missed last season with a torn ACL. Webb was previously a fullback and Matthews was a tight end who did not play varsity last year.
Not surprisingly, the scrimmage showed the group had its work cut out for it.
“We weren't very good, were out-physicaled,” said Sasson. “I'm a teacher and I can equate those first couple of weeks to teaching them five plus five equals 10.”
For his part, Moran remained optimistic the line could round itself into a strength of the team.
“I was prepared for any curveball that was thrown our way,” he said.
Following a season-opening 38-21 loss to Moon, the line came into its own in a home game against Pine-Richland Sept. 3. The Raiders put up 313 yards of offense and put together a 65-yard, game-winning touchdown drive. Quarterback Graham Hancox found Brandon Ross for a 24-yard scoring pass with just nine seconds left in the game as the Raiders prevailed 24-20.
“It took me the loss against Moon to figure things out,” said Lambert. “I really started to feel comfortable against Pine-Richland.”
“It was kind of a baptism by fire with Lucas,” Sasson said, “but he's done well.”
Some kinks remained, but the quintet has since made measurable progress and is a big reason why the Raiders (7-3) find themselves in a WPIAL Class 6A semifinal Friday against Central Catholic.
“It's been a complete 180,” added Sasson. “In the beginning, they wanted to be good, but I knew we had a long way to go. They had to raise their level of competitiveness.
“Now we're making combination calls and they understand what it takes to be a successful offensive line.”
The line has also successfully made the transition from blocking in a spread offense under Hancox to one that's more compact with tight ends under sophomore quarterback Sean O'Shea.
Hancox was injured in early October and is not expected to return.
Sasson lauded Correll, who's shown no effects from his knee injury.
“He's practiced every day and is the guy up there making all the calls for us,” he said.
With the most experience of the group, Moran has been a steadying force.
“All the credit goes to Coach Sasson,” Moran said. “He's taught me everything I know.”
“He's proven to be our best lineman,” said Butschle of Moran. “Devin has really grown up since last year and Caden, I can't overstate his toughness.
“It started out as a patchwork offensive line, but they have really come together.”