The eight nominees for this year’s Vince Lombardi Down Lineman of the Year Award have been submitted to event chairman Bill Liermann.

The nominees are Gage Smith and Porter Pagett of Wilmington, Jaren Evans and Nick Mess from East Clinton, Cody Messer and Isaac Green from Clinton-Massie, and Marcos Torres-Garcia and Dylan Fawley of Blanchester.

Blanchester graduate Chris Oliver, who has led the Lindsey Wilson Blue Raiders football team to the NAIA national tournament again this year, will be the keynote speaker at the 44th annual banquet. This year’s event will be held 6:30 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Expo Center on the Clinton County Fairgrounds, according to Liermann.

Eight football players, two offensive or defensive down linemen from each of the Clinton County high school teams, are nominated by their respective coaches for the honor. The winner receives a block of granite award, which is similar to the one awarded to the top collegiate lineman each year.

The block of granite is in reference to Lombardi’s playing days as a lineman for Fordham University. The unit was so strong they were called “seven blocks of granite.”

The collegiate award was started shortly after the death of Vince Lombardi, legendary NFL coach of the Green Bay Packers and, at the time of his death, the Washington Redskins.

Lombardi passed away in September 1970. Clinton County’s involvement with the award started in 1973, when former Wilmington News Journal sports editor Clarence Graham and local businessman Harold Losey served as the co-chairpersons. At that time, the event was held at the Bengal Room at Duff’s Restaurant and was later held at the Wilmington Elks Lodge 797 and Roberts Arena, until moving to the Expo Center in recent years.

Those attending will receive a buffet meal from McCoy’s Catering. Each of the four booster clubs from the Clinton County schools, plus Beacon Orthopedics and Drayer Physical Therapy, assist in underwriting the cost of the event for the players, coaches and their families.

The public is welcome to attend and can purchase a dinner ticket for $15 at the door the night of the event.

Smith, a WHS senior, played center for the Hurricane and “was the ultimate team player,” according to head coach Scott Killen. “He didn’t want to play center but told me that he would if we needed him to. He anchored an offensive line that lead the way for more than 4,000 yards of offense.”

Smith attended Buckeye Boys State this past summer and carries a 3.8 grade point average.

Pagett, also a WHS senior, played on the defensive line and “was a tremendous, selfless leader,” Killen said. “Porter is involved in FFA and works after school and on Saturdays to help his family. He even worked during football season.”

Evans is a 6-1, 209-pound junior at East Clinton. A three-year letter winner, Evans started at left guard two years and at defensive end two years. He led EC in tackles last season and was second this season.

Mess is a 5-11, 208-pound junior for the Astros who started at right guard along the offensive line. He was second on the team in tackles on defense.

Messer was given honorable mention All-Ohio on the state’s Div. IV football team. He was a first team All-Southwest District offensive lineman for the Falcons.

Green was a second team All-South Central Ohio League player at Massie this season.

Torres-Garcia was first team All-Southern Buckeye Athletic & Academic Conference and was given honorable mention All-Southwest District in Div. V. “Very versatile player (who) played with great emotion and passion. All hustle and heart,” BHS coach Brandon Sammons said.

Fawley started at left tackle for the Wildcats. He was first team All-SBAAC and honorable mention Al-Southwest District. “Played multiple positions on OL when injuries dictated need. Offense had 1900-plus yards rushing on the year and 26 TDs and 1800-plus yards passing and 24 TDs on the year. (Fawley) could be counted on week in week out as the mainstay of the line for the year.”

By Mark Huber

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