In the trenches: USU offensive line preview

<em>Editor’s note: This is part one of a nine part series that will highlight each position group of the USU football team leading up to the season opener on Aug. 30 against Southern Utah.</em>

<strong>LOGAN—</strong>The skills positions on offense get the majority of the media attention and fan adoration. After all, they’re the ones making big plays and scoring touchdowns. Offensive linemen are usually afterthoughts, but a good offense starts with a great offensive line.

In 2011, the Utah State football team was led by an experienced offensive line that anchored an offense that set school records in total offense, total touchdowns, total points, and rushing yards. With three returning starters and increased depth and experience in 2012, the boys in the trenches have high expectations again.

“The expectations are the exact same thing as we had last year. We’ve got the same type of scheme going on that we had last year, we’ve got the same mentality, we’ve got the same work ethic … our new motivation is to beat the records that we set last year,” junior center Tyler Larsen said.

With 25 consecutive starts under his belt, Larsen – who’s on the Rimington Trophy watch list, an award given annually to the nation’s best center – is the center of attention (pun intended) on the Aggies front line.

“It starts off with Tyler at the center position. He’s in the middle of it, and he’s one of the key guys,” USU head coach Gary Andersen said. “(He’s) a great leader, work ethic, and what he does on the field and off the field is tremendous, so he’s the mainstay.”

The other returning starters are senior tackle Oscar Molina-Sanchez, a two-year starter, and junior Eric Schultz. Both Andersen and offensive line coach T.J. Woods said Schultz is the most interchangeable lineman for the Aggies and can line up at any position. Shultz recently slid over from the right guard position to right tackle, with Molina-Sanchez manning the left tackle spot.  

Despite the returning experience, the Aggies did lose a lot with the graduation of starters Philip Gapelu and Funaki Asisi, along with reserve lineman Bobby Hill.

“Number one, we’ve got two big holes to fill losing Phil Gapelu and Funaki Asisi, and really Bobby Hill also, so I guess you could say three guys with a ton of experience,” Woods said. “I think some guys have stepped in – Jamie Markosian is doing a great job right now, Kyle Whimpey is doing a great job – I think they’ll be able to uphold the standard that’s been set.”

Andersen was also pleased with improvement of Markosian, and the Whimpey brothers (Kevin and Kyle).

“The Whimpey boys have really had a nice summer, worked on their deficiencies, and made their strengths stronger. We’ll see how they get into games and how they react to what happens to them, but I’m proud of those two kids,” Andersen said. “Jamie Markosian is a self-made guy. He’s a tough kid, he works unbelievably hard, and he’s developed himself into a heck of a player. He can play center, he can play both guard positions, so they’re versatile.”

Behind those six linemen are a host of players looking to make an impact. In the mix is freshman left tackle Logan Molohifo’ou and freshman Jake Simonich. Woods also expects 6 foot 8 inch sophomore Bryce Walker to be in the mix when he returns from injury.

“For me, I’m going to put the best five guys on the field. If that’s five guards, five tackles, that’s two twins, that’s five centers, it doesn’t matter to me. We’re going to play with the toughest five guys in my room, and that’s the bottom line,” Woods said. “There’s competition, and that’s a huge, huge thing that in past years, we haven’t really had that on the offensive line. These guys have to come to work every single day, and if they don’t, their jobs on the line. That’s what a good football team has is competition.”

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