On the offensive

— It's not easy be­ing an of­fens­ive line­man, but May­fair All-Amer­ic­an John Lav­elle wouldn't have it any oth­er way.

Cut­line (for all pho­tos): Di­vi­sion III All-Amer­ic­an of­fens­ive line­man John Lav­elle, a 2009 Fath­er Judge gradu­ate, is get­ting set for his seni­or sea­son at Delaware Val­ley Col­lege. Lav­elle has ex­celled for the Ag­gies, and hopes to add a na­tion­al cham­pi­on­ship trophy to his long list of ac­com­plish­ments. (All pho­tos provided by John Lav­elle).


Even though they’re of­ten the largest play­ers on the field at any giv­en time, of­fens­ive line­men tend to go over­looked.

It really is a pe­cu­li­ar dy­nam­ic, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing without a stead­fast O-line, no foot­ball team at any level would be able to en­joy suc­cess. After all, it’s the line­men who give the quar­ter­back the ne­ces­sary time to sur­vey the field from the pock­et be­fore find­ing an open re­ceiv­er, as well as cre­at­ing gaps for run­ning backs to burst through. But foot­ball, like most sports, is a num­bers game, so it’s easy to fo­cus on the play­ers who put up the most points and for­get about those that make pos­sible those sexy of­fenses that fans every­where know and love.

John Lav­elle un­der­stands this, and he really is fine with it.

The 6-foot-3-inch, 280-pound May­fair res­id­ent is ready­ing for his much-an­ti­cip­ated seni­or year as the start­ing left guard for Di­vi­sion III Delaware Val­ley Col­lege. He’s a 2009 gradu­ate of Fath­er Judge, where he played varsity foot­ball for the Cru­saders in his ju­ni­or and seni­or years for teams that won a com­bined 18 games in those two sea­sons. And while he knows he plays a po­s­i­tion that doesn’t rack up any stat­ist­ics and isn’t the fo­cus of cas­u­al foot­ball fans, Lav­elle knows all the hard work he puts in on the field and in the weight room is worth it, mainly be­cause it has helped him earn the re­spect of those who really mat­ter: his coaches and team­mates.

“Even without the stats, you still have your team­mates,” Lav­elle said by phone Sunday, two days after cel­eb­rat­ing his 21st birth­day. “When you get in­to the end zone after a long drive down the field, the quar­ter­back or run­ning back is the first one to give the line­men cel­eb­rat­ory hugs and hand­shakes. Know­ing your team is pat­ting you on the back and sup­port­ing you…that’s a sign of re­spect, and it’s the only stat I need.”

It takes a cer­tain per­son­al­ity to be able to suc­ceed as an of­fens­ive line­man. Viewed as the big­ger, heav­ier “grunts” that aren’t fast enough to play an­oth­er po­s­i­tion, line­men are re­quired to put their own bod­ies on the line every play so that the quar­ter­back doesn’t end up bur­ied on his back in the dirt. Some might call it a thank­less job, but those in the know main­tain that this couldn’t be fur­ther from the truth.

“People who really watch foot­ball games, the people who see what goes on in prac­tice and how hard those guys work know that it’s not a thank­less job,” said Judge foot­ball coach Tom Coyle, who watched Lav­elle blos­som in­to a first-team All-Cath­ol­ic line­man se­lec­tion in his two varsity sea­sons. “They have the re­spect of every­one on the team be­cause they’re in­volved in com­bat in the trenches every play, and that’s where games are won and lost.”

As Lav­elle put it, “We’re out there bruis­ing, and when I line up for a play and put my hand in the dirt, it’s one of the greatest feel­ings in the world. I love every second I’m out there on the field, in prac­tice and in games.”

He got his start in foot­ball around first grade, play­ing for Cal­vary Ath­let­ic As­so­ci­ation un­der coach Mike Brem­ser. As a 6-year-old play­ing on a team full of 8-year-olds, Brem­ser put Lav­elle at line­back­er and full­back be­cause of the young­ster’s will­ing­ness to block for his team­mates. Lav­elle wouldn’t be­gin play­ing on the of­fens­ive line un­til he got to St. Mat­thew CYO as a sev­enth-grader, but his first coach al­ways knew his block-happy full­back would one day trans­ition in­to a fant­ast­ic line­man.

Brem­ser was right.

“By the time he was eight, Johnny didn’t even want the foot­ball in his hands any­more,” Brem­ser said. “Any­time we’d run a sweep he’d knock three kids down, and then he’d look over at the side­line and smile at us. He’s still like that to this day.”

After St. Matt’s, Lav­elle played for the fresh­man team at Judge, but his sea­son was cut short when he tore the men­is­cus in his knee. He star­ted on the JV team the fol­low­ing year and dressed for two varsity games be­fore ex­plod­ing onto the scene as a ju­ni­or. His suc­cess on the field, as well as his team’s suc­cess in the win column, led to an op­por­tun­ity to con­tin­ue his ca­reer at Delaware Val­ley in Doylestown.

“John is just a guy that loves to go to work every day,” Coyle said. “He had per­fect at­tend­ance at Judge, so he was used to work­ing hard every single day he was here. He rel­ishes the op­por­tun­ity of phys­ic­al con­front­a­tion on the field.”

Al­though the trans­ition from the high school to col­legi­ate level was a little rough at first, Lav­elle’s play on the field nev­er showed it. He earned Middle Ath­let­ic Con­fer­ence (MAC) Rook­ie of the Year hon­ors at left guard as a fresh­man, and was named a first team All MAC se­lec­tion the fol­low­ing two sea­sons.

As a ju­ni­or, Lav­elle was the only re­turn­ing starter on the Delaware Val­ley of­fens­ive line. Rather than buck­ling un­der the pres­sure, he rel­ished the op­por­tun­ity to take on more re­spons­ib­il­ity as a lead­er. As a res­ult, he earned a spot on the D3­foot­ball.com All-East Re­gion first team and was also named third-team All-Amer­ic­an. The Ag­gies flour­ished as well, post­ing a 10-0 reg­u­lar sea­son re­cord and mak­ing their third straight trip to the second round of the Di­vi­sion III play­offs.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve leaned on John for a few ex­tra yards,” said former George Wash­ing­ton quar­ter­back Aaron Wilmer, now the sig­nal-caller for the Ag­gies. “The work he puts in sets him apart, and he de­serves all of the ac­col­ades. His is a dirty busi­ness, but he just loves to knock the crap out of people. We’re all real thank­ful for what he does for us.”

As he enters his seni­or sea­son, the ac­col­ades and at­ten­tion keep com­ing for Lav­elle. The Ag­gies’ sea­son doesn’t be­gin un­til Sept. 1, but Lav­elle has already been named a pre­season All-Amer­ic­an se­lec­tion by D3­foot­ball.com, Bey­ond Sports Col­lege Net­work and Lindy’s. The four-time de­fend­ing MAC champs are ex­pec­ted to be a na­tion­al cham­pi­on­ship con­tender, and are ranked ninth in USA Today’s Di­vi­sion III pre­season poll.

“Seni­or year is go­ing to be fun, but it’s go­ing to be dif­fer­ent, too,” Lav­elle said. “I’m less fo­cused on in­di­vidu­al awards and more on that na­tion­al cham­pi­on­ship, be­cause that’s the biggest award there is. I’ll be all busi­ness out there giv­ing 110 per­cent every play.”

Lav­elle, a busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion ma­jor who is work­ing as an in­tern for Gem­ini Bakery Equip­ment Co. in Bustleton, hopes to keep play­ing foot­ball for as long as he has the op­por­tun­ity. However, he also real­izes the com­ing sea­son could be his last.

“Foot­ball is everything to me,” he said. “It’s ab­so­lutely been my life. I don’t want to think of my life without foot­ball, but it’s life and you have to move on at some point.”

When it is all over, Brem­ser said Lav­elle will be wel­comed back to Cal­vary with open arms, where he will one day be en­shrined as one of the more ac­com­plished ath­letes to come through the pro­gram.

“He’s played an in­teg­ral role on every team he’s been a part of, from Cal­vary all the way up through col­lege,” Brem­ser said. “I’ve been coach­ing for thirty-five years, and kids like John don’t come along very of­ten. I can’t tell you how proud I am of him, to see the level he’s el­ev­ated his game to.”

And even if this is the fi­nal foot­ball sea­son for Lav­elle, he’ll leave it all out there on the field the same way he al­ways has. When he’s fin­ished play­ing, he looks for­ward to com­ing back home to the North­east and re­min­is­cing with all of his former team­mates and coaches for years to come.

“Foot­ball plays such a big role in the neigh­bor­hoods of the North­east, and I’m just happy I stuck with it and can be a part of that fra­tern­ity forever,” he said. “You stay close to guys from the neigh­bor­hood be­cause you al­ways want to re­mem­ber those times.

“It’s go­ing to be awe­some to go back to Judge and St. Matt’s twenty years from now and still be able to talk to guys about when we won the city title in eighth grade, or how we came so close to win­ning a cham­pi­on­ship my seni­or year at Judge. We already do that now, and people look at us like we have three heads, be­cause they have no idea how we can re­mem­ber things so vividly. But for me, foot­ball is like life, and you al­ways re­mem­ber the things that pre­pare you for your life down the line.” ••


You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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