Cranston East had put together six consecutive winning seasons in Division II when it got the call to the state's highest division in 2010. It was a no-brainer of a move — the school had the enrollment and the football program had the foundation.
One thing the 'Bolts didn't have was size.
"I think it was a big issue," head coach Tom Centore said. "My first year in D-I, we had some small, small kids. Teams can body on you and wear on you a little bit, and that hurt us."
The top division has spit up and chewed out plenty of programs. Ten years ago, Division I included Rogers, North Kingstown and Classical, who have since moved on. Even 2007 state champ St. Raphael dropped to D-II just three years after it won the title.
But the 'Bolts are there to stay, thanks to the strong foundation and a continued growth in numbers. And in the last two years, they've been there to contend.
Talent at the skill positions has propelled a surge. Just as important, size is no longer an issue.
"We finally have the D-I size with the guys we have now," said senior Austin Stadelbauer. "It helps us out a lot, in the run game, in the pass game. We can match up to what other teams have on the defensive line."
And the 'Bolts have made the most of it. They qualified for the playoffs last season — a major step forward — and are in the mix again this year. Their offense has been among the most prolific in the state, and the offensive line has certainly done its part.
"We're bigger," Centore said. "That's one thing we've had this year. We still haven't been a team that pounds the ball, but they've done a good job. I think their strength is more the run game and they've done well when they've had to. They've done a nice job for us this year. It's a veteran group, and that helps them."
The 'Bolts currently have Dale Rodriguez and Greg Scott at the tackle positions, Eric Almonte and Stadelbauer at the guard spots and Nick Sawaia at center. Ryan Lackey and Josh Santos have also chipped in.
They're part of a group that started with size and added versatility. They can get it done whether East is running the ball or taking to the air with senior quarterback Alex Corvese and his stable of receivers.
"We're averaging probably 25 pass attempts a game," Centore said. "They've got to be on."
East has had an up-and-down season, and the offensive linemen haven't been immune, with some injuries, changes in the lineup and performances that didn't meet expectations.
But they've also fought through it.
"It takes everyone to get it done," Lackey said. "We have to be together."
East has won two straight games, the biggest of which was a road victory over La Salle that kept its playoff hopes alive. The key ingredient in that game was a resurgence in the running game, with Marquem Monroe rushing for nearly 200 yards. The line helped make it happen.
"It's always important for the line to step up," Rodriguez said. "We have to run the ball and be physical up front."
The victories gave East newfound confidence.
"I think things are going great now," Stadelbauer said. "We had that patch where we did have some problems but we worked through it. We're getting back on track now."
Now the 'Bolts hope they can navigate the road ahead. They're set to go up against a talented West defense that could give them trouble.
The offensive line will just focus on doing its job. They've got the attribute that was once missing — and they've made good on it so far.
"Every year, you think about what works," Centore said. "That's public high school sports. We are what we are, we get what we get. We've been fortunate the past couple of years."
- William Geoghegan