Atholton senior running back Matt Winger said he planned to give his teammates a treat this week, just as he has done twice this season.

"I'm buying six dozen doughnuts," he said. "Everyone is going to get one, and as for seconds, everyone knows who gets them -- the offensive line. I need to be sure to take care of them because they're the ones who take care of me."

Winger said tackles Samson Doyle and Sonny Mazzullo, guards Stanley Onyimba and Adam Smith, and center Travis Fales are the major reason he has rushed for a county-leading 937 yards and eight touchdowns this season.

"If they don't block, I'm not going anywhere," he said. "They don't get the recognition or the stats, so buying them doughnuts is something I do to show how thankful I am. It's the best $50 I spend."

Throughout the league, offensive linemen aren't recognized in the same way as the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers who score touchdowns and pile up statistics. But they occasionally get doughnuts and other signs of appreciation from grateful teammates and coaches.

"Every one sees the running back scoring a touchdown, not the lineman who throws the block to make it happen," Doyle said. "So when Matt buys us doughnuts, it's a sign of respect."

The best offensive linemen -- big, physical kids who are good on their feet -- can make a difference on teams, coaches said. River Hill, Glenelg and Long Reach are a combined 17-1 this season, and they boast the county's three top rushing offenses.

"I haven't even been sacked yet," said River Hill junior quarterback Daniel Hostetler. "Our offensive line has played great. They're creating a lot of room for our running backs and giving me time to throw."

River Hill senior left guard B.J. Benning likes the physical challenge of moving an opponent away from the football. Glenelg senior center Colin Behe just likes to throw his body into another player.

"I have two jobs out there," Behe said. "The first is to hit somebody. The second is to make sure he falls on his butt."

Several coaches said they try to reward offensive linemen for their play, giving them helmet stickers for key blocks or commending them as they leave the field.

"Guys on offense get to score touchdowns and make big plays, and on defense it's about tackling and forcing turnovers," Glenelg Coach John Davis said. "If [offensive linemen] make a block to spring a running back for a touchdown, they get a sticker for their helmet. They're appreciated. If your offensive line can't block, you're not going to win."

"One of the biggest cliches is the big, dumb offensive lineman," Oakland Mills Coach Dick Hendershott said. "But in reality they are some of the smartest players on the field."

And it's not a position that's learned quickly. Linemen spend their entire high school careers perfecting the technique of stopping someone running at full speed without holding or tackling them.

"I think you have to have a different mentality," Wilde Lake senior right guard Jonathan Bannister said. "Not a lot of players want to play offensive line. It's not easy. You have to know every play. If you make a mistake, one of your teammates is going to pay for it by getting hit."

"I also play defense, and on defense you just run toward the football," Benning said. "But on offense, you have an assignment, and if you can blow your man off the ball, your team makes a big play."

"I don't need the fame or glory out there. I like being the unsung hero," Behe said. "For me, it's a personal challenge. I have to stop the guy in front of me from making the play. Our running backs thank us all the time for what we do, but our line knows if it did a good job if our team wins."

Atholton running back Matt Winger (3) leads the county in rushing thanks in part to his offensive linemen.Troy Gibson, left, is one of the Atholton players for whom senior Winger buys doughnuts. The main recipients are the offensive linemen.Above, the Atholton offensive line clears the way for senior Matt Winger to score a touchdown against Hammond. Winger has rushed for 937 yards and eight touchdowns. Left, senior Troy Gibson recovers an onside kick to secure Atholton's 29-21 win over the Golden Bears.