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September 18, 2009
Offensive line looks toward future
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Jeff Spikes didn't notice it until he got out of the locker room. He was watching his buddy, center Jeremiah Hatch, and something was, um, different. Hatch's eyes were bloodshot. His body was jittery. Spikes might not be a doctor, but he knew what was going to happen next.
"I was like 'oh man here it comes', then it all just started coming out," Spikes said.
Yea, Hatch vomited on the sideline. Then, for good measure, he went out and vomited on the field. Take that El Paso. Spikes said it was probably something Hatch ate before the game, but whatever the illness was, it wasn't going away.
Finally, Kansas coach Mark Mangino, a man not exactly known to possess motherly qualities during a game, had seen enough. Hatch was out. The switch was on.
Brad Thorson, who had played center most of his college career before being moved to left guard during fall camp, was going back to his old position. It also meant Sal Capra would move from right guard to left guard - which is no easy feat, and redshirt freshman Trevor Marrongelli would enter the game at right guard.
To make matters worse, most of those guys had never played against a 3-3-5 defense, which UTEP used as their base unit.
"Thankfully, the first snap out there we were communicating great. Certainly, we were on a little edge," Thorson said. "As soon as we got in that rhythm, things felt natural again."
The end result was an o-line that was a key part of an offense that put up 576 total yards. Not bad. Thorson said Capra - who was named the Kansas offensive player of the week - rightly deserved the honor.
"Sal had a bigger adjustment from right to left because your stance switches up and your reading the opposite side of the defense every play," Thorson said. "My assignments of whom I was blocking stayed the same. In a lot of ways, the structure didn't change a lot. The biggest thing was my snapping, which I struggled with a little bit."
Hopefully Thorson won't have to worry about his snapping for a while. Hatch was back at practice this week and should be back at center this Saturday when Kansas takes on Duke. Still, the fact that this group has quality depth and can adapt quickly when a player goes down is another positive sign for the future.
Next year, every player on the offensive line's two-deep returns. And while they are giving the usual "we're just focused on Duke," answer, Thorson did acknowledge that special things could be in store for the big guys up front.
"I don't know if I have ever been part of a team that has ever had that great of depth coming back with guys that care so much about being successful," Thorson said.
Though hope for the future also lies deeper than the faces you see on the field. Thorson said the three players on the scout team - Riley Spencer, Tom Mabry, and Gavin Howard - are showing progress as well.
Every freshman during the summer was given a "big brother," which is an older player assigned to help the younger player with their transition to college. Thorson was Spencer's big brother, and was impressed with the freshman's work ethic.
"That guy goes 100 percent all the time," Thorson said. "He had great technique during summer drills, he had great technique during fall camp and I have to imagine he is really making that defensive line better when he goes against them on the scout team."
It also helps that the group does everything together. Just before Saturday's game against UTEP, the linemen were huddled in Thorson's room as the ex-Badger told his teammates about the finer intricacies of Wisconsin football.
Besides that, the group eats together, watches extra film together, and in general, holds each other accountable.
"It is a family within a family," Thorson said. "It comes from experiencing the same things. The work we go through everyday in practice. It creates a special bond. Here, we have made such a commitment that it has carried over."
The group's chemistry was evident on Saturday.
"That is the way we practice," Spikes said. "Everybody gets rotations and everybody gets the same looks. If everybody is getting those reps, we can rotate like we did on Saturday."