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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Redshirt year makes a difference for offensive linemen

    Sophomore quarterback Willie Tuitama shouts out the signals to his offensive linemen in Octobers loss to Oregon at Arizona Stadium. The lines future looks bright after three freshmen redshirted, got stronger and learned the system, including starting right tackle Eben Britton.
    Sophomore quarterback Willie Tuitama shouts out the signals to his offensive linemen in October’s loss to Oregon at Arizona Stadium. The line’s future looks bright after three freshmen redshirted, got stronger and learned the system, including starting right tackle Eben Britton.

    With blades of grass stuck to their faces, sweat dripping down their foreheads and bumps and bruises covering their bodies, the Arizona redshirt offensive linemen have shown that their hard work may be starting to pay off.

    What is possibly the hardest working unit on the team – and arguably the most important – the offensive line is typically the least appreciated. But these guys are more interested in winning football games than fame.

    For redshirt freshman offensive linemen Blake Kerley, Daniel Borg and Eben Britton – who played his way into a starting spot this fall – it is just about stepping in and helping the team in any way they can.

    And, thanks in large part to a year spent redshirting, it appears they’re ahead of schedule.

    “”It’s not very often that you are going to see a true freshman start at offensive line,”” Kerley said. “”It is ridiculous how much time we have to spend. It is more like a military job than anything else.””

    Both Borg and Britton agreed that last season redshirting was the best option.

    “”For me it was just one year under my belt without a loss of eligibility,”” Borg said. “”You know what is coming up in practice, you know what is coming up in the season and I was just more prepared.””

    Along with the experience gained, Britton also thought the physical advantages are key to his abilities this year.

    “”The way things turned out, I just wasn’t quite ready last year,”” Britton said. “”I took advantage of the redshirt year though. I learned the scheme, and I got much stronger and faster.””

    The group’s position coach, Eric Wolford, said he knows redshirting is typically a good choice for a freshman offensive lineman.

    “”Offensive line is such a physical position coming out of high school, and there are very few guys who are physically ready to compete and play that position,”” he said. “”There is also quite a bit of a learning curve as far as the amount of schemes and the things you see from defenses to become acquainted with.

    “”It also allows you to get guys in your system, and once they have been in your system for a year, they get to learn the expectations of the group and they can pick up the fundamentals, and once they get the fundamentals they can go out and be successful.””

    If there is one thing Wolford understands, it’s the offensive line. With 14 years of coaching under his belt, he has plenty of knowledge and experience.

    Just a few years back there was another young man who decided to redshirt his freshman year under Wolford. His name was Peter Graniello.

    The 6-foot-6 tackle, now a junior, has started the past two years mainly at tackle, where he earned honorable-mention All-Pacific 10 Conference honors last season.

    So did redshirting play a key part in helping Graniello earn a spot as one of the conference’s premier offensive linemen?

    “”It helped me learn about the program and the offensive stuff and also helped me get acclimated to the program,”” he said. “”It also helped me a lot physically in the offseason lifting weights, just getting bigger and stronger so I could compete at this level.””

    Now, not only is he the starting left tackle, but Graniello has also become a mentor to the young freshmen who hope to one day accomplish the same feats that he has.

    “”You just guide them and help them out,”” Graniello said. “”It is a tough transition from high school to college, so anytime you see something they need help with, just give them a hand.””

    His help is not going unnoticed.

    “”He helps me with day-to-day stuff, makes sure I am OK mentally,”” Kerley said. “”If he thinks that I am having problems with class or life or football or anything, he is going to make sure I get it right.””

    And what a difference it is making.

    As the season approaches, the three young linemen have made the best of camp and are looking to contribute this year.

    “”It all starts with the O-line,”” quarterback Willie Tuitama said. “”As long as they do what they do, our backs are going to run good, I’m going to have time to throw the ball, and I know that our wideouts will get open.””

    -Additional reporting by Tom Knauer

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