EDITOR’S NOTE: Following is the third part of The Enquirer-Journal’s ongoing series previewing Union County players at each position group for the upcoming football season. To catch up on the rest of the series, please visit enquirerjournal.com/sports.

Always among the most overlooked athletes in football, offensive linemen don’t always get the credit they deserve for helping a team’s offense. But county coaches know without a solid group of players in the trenches, it’s hard to generate any kind of momentum.

With that said, here are five offensive lineman from around Union County to watch when the 2021 fall season kicks off in August.

Will Hart Sr., Porter Ridge

Porter Ridge is known for churning out solid offensive linemen, and the next great Pirate in the trenches is rising senior Will Hart.

During the 2021 spring season, Hart spent most of his time at right guard, where he helped Porter Ridge run for over 1,400 yards and 19 touchdowns in seven games. Hart’s 74 pancake blocks were the most in the county by a fairly wide margin.

While Hart hasn’t reported any Division 1 offers yet, head coach Michael Hertz said earlier this summer that he should receive the same level of attention as Will McDonald, who is now a member of the Coastal Carolina football team along with former Porter Ridge quarterback Grayson McCall.

Standing at 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds, Hart has visited several schools over the summer, including Coastal, Lenoir-Rhyne and N.C. State. He will likely generate more buzz once the 2021 season kicks off in late August.

Trevor Tate Sr., Cuthbertson

One Union County offensive lineman who will for sure play Division 1 football after graduating is Cuthbertson senior Trevor Tate.

Tate, who stands at 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds, has committed to play collegiately at the Air Force Academy. Prior to his decision, Tate also reported offers from Richmond and the U.S. Naval Academy.

This past season, Tate — who started primarily at right guard — helped Cuthbertson average 118.7 rushing yards per game and just under 200 passing yards per game. Tate will be among the senior leaders the Cavaliers turn to this fall season on offense, as head coach Trey Kavanaugh’s team is expected to have new starters at quarterback and running back once the season kicks off.

Colton Penner Jr., Weddington

Perhaps no offensive lineman in Union County will have more responsibility than Penner this upcoming season. As one of the few Warriors offensive linemen returning that has playing experience, Penner will now be one of the anchors of Weddington’s offensive attack.

In 2021, Weddington ran for over 1,300 yards and threw for over 1,000. Over the offseason, the Warriors graduated starters Nich Aderholt, Austin Pronk, Alex McLaughlin and Will Owens. Now, Penner is expected to slide in as a starter at center or one of the guard positions.

This upcoming season, Weddington might be more run-heavy than in years past, as senior Kyle Parsons returns for his final season as the team’s starting running back, and potential starting quarterback Grady Brosterhous is also known for his mobility. While the Warriors definitely have talent at the skill positions, it will be up to Penner and the rest of the offensive line to give the offense time to make plays.

Rowen Starnes Sr., Forest Hills

While the Forest Hills offense struggled during the spring season, the Yellow Jackets had one of the top offensive lines in the county with Jacob Mullis and Brian Smith anchoring the group as seniors.

Now, rising senior Rowen Starnes will be tasked with leading the Yellow Jackets in the trenches, as both Mullis and Smith graduated this offseason. At 6-foot-2 and 280 pounds, Starnes has an ideal frame to dominate smaller defensive linemen.

This past season, Forest Hills averaged more than 200 yards of total offense per game, 116 coming through the air and 90 on the ground. If the Yellow Jackets want to compete in the new 2A/3A conference this season with the likes of Monroe and Parkwood, they’ll need to have better luck on the offensive end. That all starts with Starnes, who will be expected to lead Forest Hills’ offensive line in 2021.

Cole Pearce Sr., Marvin Ridge

Of Marvin Ridge’s three returning players on the offensive line, senior Cole Pearce seems primed for a breakout season this fall.

Starting for the first time this spring, Pearce helped the Mavericks average 264 yards of offense per game, 170.5 in the passing game and 93.5 in the running game. Marvin Ridge finished the 2021 spring season with an overall record of 4-2 and looks to carry that momentum into the fall season.

Pearce’s level of play this spring made it easier for Marvin Ridge to hand the reins on offense to freshman quarterback Evan Medders, who came on midway through the season. With a year of experience under his belt and a solid group of linemen in front of him, Medders could help the Mavericks challenge for a conference title this fall.