Avon football coach Mike Elder knows all about good offensive line play. After all, he was an offensive lineman in his playing days.
So when he says this year’s Avon offensive line is one of the most physical and nasty he’s ever coached, believe him.
And believe it when he says senior leaders Alex Kelly and Tim Von Salter are the biggest reason for that reputation.
Kelly and Von Salter normally form the left side of the line that protects quarterback David Zeh and opens holes for running backs Ross Douglas and Mark Kvach.
“I think that, obviously, we’ve run the ball better than we have ever since I’ve been at Avon,” Elder said. “That’s a tribute to our running backs, but also to our line, led by those two young men. We run the ball left or right without problem because they are the most physical line we’ve had in a while, and those two guys are the leaders of that physicality and nastiness that we play with.
“They bring that to the table with every practice and it continues in every game. They are the best offensive linemen I’ve ever coached, and I’ve coached some good ones in the past.”
Kelly, at 6-foot and 260-pounds, and Von Salter, at 6-2, 270, are the prototypical “big uglies” that have been dominating offensive lines for years. However, while some Division I schools have inquired about both, their height has been the lone detriment to them not having solid offers yet.
“They’re both a little short for Division I standards, but if you’re going straight from the football film, you can see them dominate every single night,” Elder said. “Most schools have already offered their scholarships, so if they were to get one, it would be because of a late shift. But that has nothing to do with their ability. Unfortunately, not being 6-4 hurts them.”
While bigger schools have overlooked them, Kelly and Von Salter continue to solidify an offensive line that has helped produce 2,376 yards rushing, 2,046 passing and 4,422 total yards through 11 games this season for the 10-1 Eagles, who will take on top-seeded Tiffin Columbian in a Division II, Region 6 semifinal at Fremont Ross’ Don Paul Stadium tonight.
“Me and Tim are the leaders on the offensive line,” Kelly said. “I love playing with him. He brings a good attitude and a lot of physicalness to practice, and I love that. He goes hard all the time, and that just feeds into what I want to do out there.”
Kelly’s versatility has been utilized by Elder this season. He’s moved over to the right side for a few games and played tight end in certain formations, usually matched against the other team’s top pass rusher.
“Coach Elder plays me wherever he needs me and I’ve accepted that role and ran with it,” Kelly said. “I go wherever he needs me or whatever scheme we’re trying to do that week. Whatever’s best for the team is what I’ll do.”
Kelly also starts at defensive end, and Elder has been moving Von Salter to nose guard to help spell regular starter Jeremiah Burris.
“We play a 3-4 (base defense), so he’s a nose guard when he comes in,” Elder said. “Kelly is the anchor end, who gets all the double teams. When you’re a 3-4, you better get some big guys up front to allow your linebackers to make plays. Our starting nose guard is Jeremiah Burris, but Tim Von started playing in the playoffs.
“As we face some stout run teams, it’s nice to play with some big bodies. And we go to some four-man fronts, and that allows Tim Von to line up with Burris. That’s pretty formidable.”
Kelly thinks Von Salter’s presence makes them a tougher defensive line.
“Tim is a physical player and brings a physical presence to the defensive line,” he said. “He brings a good push and ties up blockers, and that helps our linebackers get free to make tackles.”
Von Salter moved in midway through his freshman year and didn’t start playing for the Eagles until his sophomore year. Kelly got some varsity time as a freshman and has been a starting two-way tackle since his sophomore year.
“Getting to play early and watching the guys before me and getting the feel of varsity football so early has certainly helped with the experience,” Kelly said. “Just knowing what’s going on has been a key, and that’s helped me develop real well.”
Elder knows one thing: He’ll miss both players when they graduate.
“Like with (running back) Mark Kvach, it seems like Alex Kelly has been with me forever,” he said. “Tim Von has been a stalwart since he joined us as a sophomore. They are both great kids who come to work every day and work extremely hard in the offseason. When you see that consistently for four years, you know that they’re success is certainly not by accident.”
- WHO: Avon (10-1) vs. Tiffin Columbian (11-0)
- WHAT: Division II regional semifinal
- TIME: 7:30
- WHERE: Fremont Ross High School’s Harmon Field at Don Paul Stadium
- RADIO: WEOL 930-AM, WOBL 1320-AM
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.