Aug. 19, 2007
The trenches. Offensively speaking, the line is a position where the only way athletes get recognized is if a quarterback gets dropped for a sack, or if a member of the line gets flagged for a penalty. A position that receives little to no respect, but trying to have a championship team without a descent offensive line is a near impossibility. A talented running back can be neutralized without an offensive front to create gaps. A superstar quarterback can be rendered ineffective with an inadequate line.
To take the lack of respect a step further, there are no stats for offensive lineman, except for pancake blocks, a stat kept by mostly offensive line coaches. Offensive linemen never get the good nicknames, and usually get stuck with "fat boys" or "big uglies." Score a touchdown and a seldom few remember, or ever saw, the key block that aided a running back's path to paydirt. Have a player dropped for a key loss, and every camera in the stadium finds the lineman that missed an assignment.
But for the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjack football team one phrase sums up the offensive line, "Oh, what a difference a year makes." Heading into the 2007 season, the Lumberjack offensive line was a big question mark at best. There was little to no experience at the NCAA Division I level, and two-year starter Scott Dover was switched to the defensive side of the ball. Along with that, SFA was pinning a lot of its hopes on Nebraska transfer Brock Pasteur, who joined the team less than a week prior to the season opener, and junior college transfer Mike Davis.
Entering the 2007 season that question mark has turned into an exclamation point. The Lumberjacks return all five starters from a year ago. Actually, it can be argued that SFA returns all seven starters. Along with the original starting five, SFA also welcomes back Dover, from the defensive side of the ball, and Davis from an injury.
Included among the returning starters are 2007 All-Southland Conference selections Brock Pasteur and Taylor Cobb. Both athletes are coming off impressive 2006 campaigns and enter their senior years as preseason first-team all-conference selections.
A calming influence on the 'Jacks' offensive line is Cobb. A 6-2, 305-pound senior from Conroe, Texas, Cobb has very quietly become a leader for the Lumberjacks, and arguably the top center in the league.
"It all starts with Cobb," said Truax. "He's the best center in the league in my opinion.
"Our offensive line is really starting to gel together, and that is due in large part to Taylor. He is a great leader on the field, and that is what you expect from your seniors," added SFA head coach J.C. Harper.
An imposing figure standing 6-6, 300-pounds, Pasteur started 10 of 11 games during his first season in Nacogdoches. He arrived in fall camp, from Nebraska, just days prior to the season opener against Tulsa, Pasteur's only appearance as a non-starter came against the Golden Hurricane, but he quickly won over the starting job.
"Brock is a hard working athlete that I think has NFL potential," said SFA offensive line coach Chris Truax. "He has a great work ethic in the weight room. We will really be leaning on him to lock down the left side and be our starter at tackle."
Pasteur's success on the field during his junior year has been the catalyst to him receiving some preseason recognition this year. Pasteur will enter the 2007 campaign as a preseason third-team All-America according to the Sports Network.
The Lumberjacks will turn to sophomore Karl Glimp to aid Pasteur in shutting down the left side of the line. Earning a starting role during his redshirt freshman season, Glimp opened the season as the starting left tackle before moving to guard to accommodate Pasteur. A durable athlete, Glimp started all 11 games during his first season on the varsity.
"Glimp is just a sophomore," said Truax. "But he has the potential to be as good as he wants to be. I feel very confident with those two guys on our left. Barring any setbacks, they should be our starters at left tackle and left guard."
Truax also welcomes back 6-5, 300-pound senior Scott Dover from the defensive side of the ball. A former starter on the offensive line, Dover was moved to defense last year to help shore up and extremely youthful defensive front. Dover returns to his original home for his final season, which should only strengthen the Lumberjacks' front line.
"Scott is going to be an asset to our line," said Truax. "He is a natural-born leader on the field. He has received some work at guard, but I believe he will outwork everyone at the tackle spot. Dover may not be the best athlete, but he is one of the hardest working guys I've been around."
Alongside Dover will be Clint LaTray. A 6-3, 328-pound product from Allen, LaTray returns from a sophomore season that saw him start all 11 games for SFA, and has started 15 games during his career.
"Clint is one of the best overall linemen on the team," said Truax. "He can play all positions on the field. He has a great football sense and really understands the playbook. We plan on him being our starter at the right guard spot, but he could also start anywhere on the line, if we needed him to."
Senior Mike Davis is another athlete who could figure into the mix as a starter. Davis is an incredibly talented athlete who transferred to SFA from the junior college ranks, but his time at SFA has been marred by injuries. Davis earned the starting spot at right guard last year before having a season-ending injury in the fourth game of the season.
Another senior who has seen time in a starting role is 6-3, 302, Brendan Flannery. A powerful guy from Converse Judson, Flannery has started 30 games during his career, including the final seven games of the 2006 season. Along with senior Tobi Kaiyewu, these guys bring a ton of experience, and more importantly added depth, to the 'Jacks' offensive front, which it hasn't seen in the past few years.
As we look beyond the Lumberjacks' starters, there is a ton of youth, but there may be a silver lining wrapped up in that youth. The guys fighting for the backup roles have worked together more by this point in camp, than last year's starting front had by this same time. And last year's starting line only continued to get better as the season wore on.
"Jesse Funk is a kid that we need to figure out what he can do," said Truax. "We need somebody to step up and solidify the back up role behind Cobb. Jesse hasn't had a lot of reps, but we need to make sure he can go in there and get the job done when called upon.
"Josh Steger is another young guy who we need to figure what he is capable of at this level. He is a redshirt freshman who hasn't been able to get into the game yet, but he has shown some progress. He has shown in practice that he can hang in there against our defensive line blocking guys like Tim Knicky. If he can do that on a consistent basis I feel good about him fitting at this league," added Truax.
Ennis, Texas, product Bradley Chmelar will also figure into the rotation. At 6-5, 300 pounds, Chmelar Has worked hard in the weight room to get stronger, and has shown vast improvement on the field.
The offensive line will also be aided by quarterback Danny Southall and running back Louie Runnels. The theory that a solid offensive line can give a young quarterback confidence can also work in reverse. Knowing that they will be protecting a veteran quarterback who understands the system and can make quick decisions makes their job slightly easier. Add to that a powerful all-conference running back that exploits every opportunity on the field and runs hard, the 2007 O-Line should be very productive.
"Danny has been working with these guys, and he knows who he wants blocking in front of him," said Truax. "It's a trust issue. He knows the protection is solid, and that our line knows the running game as well. Danny believes our line has a chance to be pretty good, and he also brings a confidence to the huddle, which becomes very contagious.
"Louie works hard at what he does, and we know any opening we give him he is going to hit it hard. Louie also does a great job of picking up his blocking assignments as well. He doesn't care about the individual honors, he is just a team guy."
Even with all this talent, Truax has had his work cut out for him during fall camp. Several of the members of the offensive line have missed some days do to injuries, which has had Truax busy filling in the gaps. The good news about that is, even with the injuries the line has been productive during preseason workouts. Not only that, it has given the younger guys more repetitions, and if the those slowed by injuries can get healthy and stay healthy, the SFA offense could put some big numbers in 2007.