Moose Lake-Willow River's Szczyrbak dominated on offense, defense
Offensive and defensive linemen don't get a lot of love.
They're respected, valued and -- for the really good ones -- even lauded, but when the superlatives start flying and the awards start flowing, they become football's forgotten class, perpetually relegated to the background.
After all, it's easy to overlook the blue-collar big guys. If an offensive lineman does his job well, he goes unnoticed. Likewise for a defensive lineman, whose MO often is to clog up the interior while linebackers collect all the tackles.
It's a thankless existence.
Moose Lake-Willow River's Ezra Szczyrbak compounds the problem -- at least on offense -- by blocking his defenders so violently and so far from the play that it's hard to notice the muscle-bound 6-foot-5, 240-pounder. Most fans follow the ball, and there's Szczyrbak, hammering an overmatched opponent into the turf a few counties over.
"He continues with his block until there's a whistle or until that kid is on his back, and that may be 20 yards down the field," Rebels coach Dave Louzek said.
He's just as dominant on defense, which is why Szczyrbak is the News Tribune's All-Area Player of the Year.
In soliciting nominations from Northland coaches, the process became devoid of drama early on as Szczyrbak's name kept popping up.
A sampling of the praise:
"... was a monster and one of the best linemen in our area in a while," said one coach.
"... ornery, tough, physical, game changer as an O and D linemen," another said.
"... he was very dominant when we played them last year and is a great player," added a third.
Even more remarkable? In addition to being the defensive MVP of the Great Polar Alliance White Division, Szczyrbak also garnered the offensive MVP award -- an accolade typically reserved for running backs and quarterbacks.
"It's awesome to know that a bunch of coaches saw me as a great player and just noticed how dominant I was," he said.
A second-team All-State selection and one of 10 finalists for the Minnesota Mr. Football award that was given out Sunday, Szczyrbak already has Division I scholarship offers from North Dakota State and North Dakota (where former MLWR teammate Jake Disterhaupt plays).
Others are sure to follow, and for good reason. Affable and unassuming off the field, Szczyrbak is anything but on it. His motor never stops while carrying out MLWR's credo of playing to the whistle. Not surprisingly, the 26 "big block" stickers Szczyrbak tallied this fall were far more in a single season than any other Rebel since Louzek began handing out the helmet decals.
"When he's involved in an activity, intensity-wise I've never coached a kid that's wanted to dominate the way Ezra does," said Louzek, whose program has produced three straight News Tribune players of the year and five of the past seven.
That may or may not include singing.
Szczyrbak is reported to have an excellent baritone voice.
"That's questionable," he joked.
He made some sweet music for the MLWR defense in three years as a starter, during which the Rebels went a combined 36-3 and appeared in two Class AA state championship games. Szczyrbak, who lives in Moose Lake, capped his prep career by making 56 tackles and 7.5 sacks this year.
And while he never unveiled a Jared Allen-like sack celebration -- "I don't think Coach Louzek would like that too much," he said -- Szczyrbak wasn't afraid to show some emotion. He says that likely stems from his father, who originally is from Philadelphia.
Whatever the case, it worked, and now the Rebels are left to replace a lineman who did the unthinkable: stole the spotlight from the skill-position guys.
"As a team, we're really going to miss his presence," Louzek said. "Obviously, he's physically dominating, but he's a great leader, he's respectful, he's hard-working. And we're going to miss that field presence and locker-room presence."