T-Lloyd: Chapter 1
Chapter 1: The Line
Everything is quiet on the line. Almost too quiet. The sounds of the crowd seem far away. The players line up across from each another in a 3-point stance. These guys are huge. In a few seconds, the ball will be hiked. When that happens, it won’t be quiet anymore. The field will turn into a war zone.
Coaches yell advice from the sidelines, but it doesn’t matter right now. The guys on the line know what to do. Each player looks right at the person he will soon be doing battle with. There are just a few inches between them.
The line between these players is called the line of scrimmage. It’s where every play in a football game begins. The line can’t be crossed by either team until the ball is hiked. This area is known to football players as the trenches. On both sides of the line are some of the strongest men in the world. They are the offensive and defensive linemen.
The action in the trenches is not pretty. It’s brutal. Linemen are trained to hit hard, and they never show mercy. They want to strike quickly and with great power.
The stuff that happens on the line is very important. It changes almost everything else that happens in a football game. Sure, it’s the quarterback who leads his team down the field. It’s the running back who explodes for a first down. And it’s the wide receiver who catches a pass for a touchdown. But none of that will happen if the guys on the line don’t do their jobs.
Football holds a special place in the hearts of Americans. Millions of fans tune in every year. They root for their favorite teams. The Super Bowl is the biggest game of the year. It’s watched by more than 130 million people from around the world.
Across the country, young football players are training hard every day. When summer ends and fall arrives, it’s time for high school football. In small towns and large cities, big games take place every week. For these high school players, it’s all about the love of football. For many of them, it’s also about trying to earn a college scholarship.
College is a whole different level, of course. The players are bigger, faster, and stronger. Star players are thinking about making it in the pros. This is something they’ve been dreaming about for their whole lives. Now, it’s so close they can almost taste it. They know how tough it is. Less than 300 players are drafted into the NFL every year. Still, for star college football players, that’s the goal they are shooting for.
Playing football is a lot of fun. The only thing that is just as exciting is watching a game in person. Most fans, when they can’t go to a game, watch it on TV. But many football fans only watch part of the game. That’s because the cameras only follow the ball. Yet there are 22 players on the field at all times. So, by only watching the ball, fans don’t see everything that’s happening—especially in the trenches.
When a play ends, the cameras turn to the quarterback. We see his anger when he throws an interception. We also see the joy on his face when he tosses a pass for a first down. But the quarterback isn’t doing it all by himself. Most people don’t realize how much he depends on his teammates. The offensive line has to block the defenders to give him time to throw. If anyone doesn’t do his job, the whole play breaks down.
To win a football game, an all-around team effort is needed. There are 53 players on each NFL squad. That’s more than teams in other major sports. Any one of these players might play a big role in the game.
Teamwork starts in the huddle. The players gather around the quarterback, who calls a play. On the other side of the ball, the defensive line gets ready. They want to put pressure on the quarterback. They also want to create a wall of bodies that running backs can’t get by. The next time you watch a football game in person, try something. For a few plays, don’t follow the ball. Instead, watch the action that is taking place at the line of scrimmage.
Okay, so maybe most fans don’t pay attention to what’s happening in the trenches. But coaches and star football players certainly do. In 1991, Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys rushed for 1,563 yards. What did he do? He bought $5,000 Rolex watches for each player on his offensive line! He knew how important their blocking was. Without it, he wouldn’t have had such a great season. As one coach says, “The line is the key. If you can’t protect the quarterback and run the ball, the game is lost.”
For every offensive player, there is a defensive player. The cornerbacks and safeties guard the receivers. The linebackers usually play between the linemen and the safeties and corners. Linebackers follow the ball. If it’s a running play, they attack the line of scrimmage. There, they look to make a tackle. If it’s a passing play, they have a couple of options. They either attack the quarterback or drop back to cover the pass.
Defensive linemen are different. They try to plug the holes in the line. They also try to keep the offensive lineman from pushing them backward. If they get the chance, they will go after the quarterback or running back. But that’s not their main job. They are just trying to keep the other team from moving forward.
That’s what defense is all about—trying to stop awesome players like Tony Romo or Adrian Peterson. It’s not easy, of course. Any coach in the NFL will tell you that defense wins championships.
Here’s a quiz: think of your favorite NFL team and name the nose tackle. No clue? Well, you’re not the only one. Most football fans couldn’t tell you who their nose tackle is. But he is one of the most important players on the field. The nose tackle is also sometimes called the nose guard. He lines up on the nose of the football, across from the center. He’s right there in the heart of the trenches.
When the ball is snapped, one or two blockers crash into the nose tackle—on every play. He must hold his ground so his teammates can make a play. This is why many coaches consider the nose tackle to be so important. If he is getting pushed backward, the offense is probably moving down the field. But if the nose tackle is doing his job, it changes everything. In that case, a lot of offensive linemen have to worry about him. That means that there are fewer guys protecting the quarterback.
A nose tackle has to be willing to take a lot of punishment. Put on your helmet, get out there, and get pounded … on every play! That’s the life of a nose tackle. It’s a tough position, that’s for sure. Bob Golic knows all about it. He was an all-pro nose tackle. He once said, “If you’re mad at your kid, you can raise him to be a nose tackle. Or, just send him out to play on the freeway. It’s about the same.”
Golic’s funny statement makes a good point. Nose tackles take a lot of pounding during a football game. So why would anyone want to play this position? Well, one amazing young athlete knows why. His name is Thomas Lloyd III, known to his family as “T.J.” With his friends, though, and on the football field, he goes by “T-Lloyd.”
This 18-year-old nose tackle is from Hurst, Texas. Before that, he lived in New Orleans. He has loved the sport of football his entire life. But he wasn’t born to play quarterback or wide receiver. T-Lloyd was built for the trenches. He’s a team player who never gives up. At just under 270 pounds, he’s an awesome force on the football field.
Vince Lombardi might have been the greatest coach in the history of football. He once said, “Individual commitment to a group effort—that is what makes a team work.” He meant that doing your best for the team is the most important thing. Nobody understands this better than nose tackles. One of the best of them is Thomas Lloyd III—T-Lloyd.