They are the Great Protectors.
Elite offensive linemen Bobby Heyward of East Islip and Sean Christie of Patchogue-Medford put themselves in the line of fire week in and week out and were virtually impenetrable in helping their teams earn playoff berths this season.
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"In 13 years that I've been the head coach, we haven't had a lineman that was more dominant than he was," East Islip coach Sal Ciampi Jr. said of Heyward, a 5-10, 265-pound senior guard.
"We threw the ball 250 times this year and Sean didn't allow a single sack," Patchogue-Medford coach Gary Marangi said of Christie, a 6-5, 280-pound senior left tackle.
Heyward and Christie Monday night were named co-winners of the Zellner Award, presented annually since 1981 to the county's top lineman, at the Suffolk County Football Coaches Association dinner in Hauppauge.
Heyward, a powerful hole-opening guard who also excelled on the d-line, contributed a key sack in a playoff win over Smithtown West as East Islip reached the Suffolk II final. He switched from center to guard and, according to Ciampi, had a near-perfect season. "Every single one of his game films, especially on offense, was completely dominant. There was no slippage from game to game. He was that good all year."
Because he lacks height, Heyward has not attracted major-college interest. "If he was 6-foot-3, he'd have BCS schools beating down his door," Ciampi said. "He's the total package. He's just four or five inches too short." Therefore, Ciampi said, Heyward is "probably looking to go the military route. He's looking at Navy or Kings Point."
Christie doesn't face that obstacle. Because of his size, Marangi said Christie has already been offered a full ride to Albany and is drawing interest from Maryland, Temple, Maine and Rhode Island. "He's an excellent college prospect. He's got good feet and long arms," Marangi said. "He's 6-5, 280 but if you look at him, you'd never believe that in a million years. He looks like an athlete."
Like Heyward, Christie also had a good season on defense, moving from left tackle to nose tackle because of an injury. "That really wasn't his position but he went there because we needed him and did a good job," Marangi said.
They not only protect, but they serve, too.