An offensive line is rarely the most-hyped position group on a high school football team.
Then again, most offensive lines aren’t like the one at Stoughton.
The Vikings have the size, speed and postseason accolades to garner plenty of attention for a team aiming for the top spot in the Badger South Conference.
Though offensive line coach Rocky France has a talented and touted bunch to work with, he pushes the five starters — Jack Nelson, Gabe Rousseau, Zach Wahlin, Ethan Skavlen and Tony Hohol — to continually improve on their craft.
“We need to challenge ourselves to get better each day,” said France, who is entering his third season as the offensive line coach at Stoughton. “Sometimes we get complacent, and that’s not acceptable. They know that. We strive to get 1% better each day.”
Stoughton runs a zone-blocking scheme, which is common in spread offenses. France said the scheme requires players who are committed to proper technique with the hands, head and feet.
France often has his linemen work in the chute, which has a tarp-like canopy with a metal frame roughly five or six feet high. Players must come out of their stance low to sneak under the chute.
Stoughton’s linemen also frequently work on fitting and driving, whether it be with sleds, hand-held pads or each other.
“They do a great job of firing off the ball and getting out in space,” France said. “We take care of the first level, then get to the linebackers. We expect to create holes in front of running backs, as well as cutback lanes.”
Nelson is the most touted of the five starters. He became the first member of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s 2020 recruiting class when he verbally committed during his sophomore season, following in the footsteps of his father Todd, who played on the Badgers’ offensive line in the late 80’s.
Jack Nelson is entering his fourth season as a starter, and is coming off two straight seasons as the Badger South Offensive Lineman of the Year. The 6-foot-7, 280-pounder is ranked as a four-star prospect by 247sports and a three-star by Rivals, but remains focused on his final season with the Vikings.
“We should be improved since we only lost one lineman (Jack True) from last season,” Nelson said. “There’s a lot of pressure on us, but I think we’ll handle it well. We just want to be better than we were last year.”
Rousseau is expected to step in to replace True at left guard this season. The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder started at U back last year as a freshman, which helped him build rapport with a new crew on the line.
“Playing together multiple years in a row has really helped us build a connection,” Rousseau said. “We have great chemistry.”
Wahlin, a 6-foot-3, 210-pounder, is entering his second year as the starting center.
“We really know what we’re going to get from each other,” Wahlin said. “We know how each other work.”
The right side of the Vikings’ line is equally large in senior guard Ethan Skavlen (6-foot-3, 250 pounds) and senior tackle Tony Hohol (6-foot-2, 260 pounds). Both are entering their second seasons as starters.
Skavlen missed all of his sophomore season due to injury, but was named honorable mention all-conference as a junior.
“We’re a pretty confident group,” Skavlen said. “We just need to come out every game and play our game. Things will take care of themselves.”
Hohol, like his counterpart Nelson, is confident the group up front can take on an even larger role this season.
“We might feel some more weight on our shoulders holding more responsibility, but the offense starts with us anyways,” Hohol said. “We just have to be able to execute.”