Big five paving the way for NAU

2012-10-06T05:00:00Z 2012-10-06T17:37:33Z Big five paving the way for NAUBILL HARRIS Sun Sports Editor Arizona Daily Sun
October 06, 2012 5:00 am  • 

They don't get a whole lot of credit for what they do, and quite frankly, they don't want credit.

The five starting members of the Northern Arizona football team's offensive line are no more than a group of talented, intelligent and hard-working friends who just so happen to get to do what they love to do the most. And they get to do it together.

Roy Garcia, Trey Gilleo, Joe Gurski, Shane Moniz and Kyle Walker are a big part of why the Lumberjacks offense has enjoyed a lot of the success it has in a 4-1 start to the season.

The linemen have opened huge holes for running back Zach Bauman, built walls of protection to let quarterback Cary Grossart have enough time to lead the offense, and have done it all with their noses to the grindstone.

"We've been playing hard to the ball, coming together and now we're playing really hard," said Garcia, a 6-foot 3-inch, 275-pound sophomore. "It feels good when you see your running back go for a touchdown, and it lets you know you've done your job. We're all really proud of Zach and what he's done with the ball this year."

Offensive line coach Eric Reid has put this line together and said he's collected a group of tough and blue collar kind of guys.

"They strap their work boots on every day and work together as a unit and they've put themselves in a position to be successful this season," he said. "We had a couple of freak injuries early in the year, but here we are in the bye week in week six and they're healthy and strong and the whole offense is back together."

Reid said the intelligence of the offensive line has shown right from the beginning of games. He said the coaching staff has simplified the offense, which allows the line and the offense to be more aggressive -- and that has led to a pair of game-opening 75-yard Bauman touchdown runs.

"They're very intelligent and have come out in the beginning of games and seen some looks and have been able to make adjustments," Reid said. "They pick up defensive line movement easier, but it's their intelligence that puts them over the top."

FRIENDS FIRST

All five of the Lumberjacks linemen said that the group's stability and coherence has stemmed from how close the guys are. They've spent every day together since the summer, and it's translated into how they work together on the field.

"We came together more as a unit because of the time we spent hanging out and working out over the summer," said Gurski, a 6-5, 315-pound sophomore. "We're all best friends and this year we're really close."

Knowing each other so well off the field has led to a line that's so in tune each player almost knows ahead of time where his teammates are going to be, and then knows, in turn, where he should be himself.

"We hang out all the time, every single day. We go to movies and eat, of course, and do everything together. We're a great group of best friends," said Walker, a 6-4, 290-pound junior. "So on the field, we almost know each other's thinking. We know where we need to be at the right time and it works great."

Moniz, a 6-3, 265-pound sophomore, said his closeness with the rest of the guys on the line -- and the offense as a whole -- made his transition to center more comfortable because of how the offense meshes together.

"We're for sure a family, and that's the best thing as an offensive line," Moniz said. "The great thing is they all trust me, and if I make a call that isn't right, someone else will make a call that will put us all on the same page."

THE WHOLE PACKAGE

The main five guys on the offensive line might form a three-quarters-of-a-ton wall of mass for defenses to deal with, but it also gets some help.

Reid said having such a strong corps of fullbacks, wide receivers and tight ends who put a lot of effort into blocking gives the offensive line that extra push needed to bust open the big plays.

"We've got one of the best blocking tight ends in the league in Drew Emanuel," Reid said. "He moves the line of scrimmage, he doesn't get a lot of balls thrown his way and he's kind of the surrogate offensive lineman."

Reid also said fullback Jake Hess is a huge part of correcting the offensive line and "making us right."

"When we miss a block, he cleans things up at the first and second level. He does a great job of cleaning up our dirty work," Reid said.

And then there's R.J. Rickert, another tight end. Reid said Rickert is a great offensive weapon because of his scoring ability, but includes him as an integral part of the line as well.

"He can run routes, play fullback and he's a dirt dog as well," Reid said.

Garcia talked about how much the offense owes to the wide receivers, especially in the running game.

"The wide receivers are really blocking hard and are getting us a lot of extra yardage with their blocks, so they deserve a lot of props," he said.

Gilleo added while it's the front five who get Bauman the little gains it's the whole offense that open up holes that get Bauman the 75-yarders.

"When the offense works as a whole that's when we break things open," Gilleo said. "The tight ends are a great help. R.J. and Drew are physical, and it really makes for a great and strong offensive line."

A LITTLE HELP FROM THEIR FRIENDS

Without a strong defense like NAU has this season, the offensive linemen don't think they'd be as good as they are.

Because they've had to face the "dark side" of the Lumberjacks all season since spring drills, the offensive linemen say they've improved.

"Our defense is great and real physical, and that's only going to help us throughout the year," Gilleo said. "We're seeing the best D-line in the country every day in practice and when we have to block them in practice, it helps us come Saturdays when we have to go out and do it for real."

Gurski said if he had to chose between the NAU defense and any other the offense has faced all season, the Lumberjacks are the toughest.

"Our defense does so many things with different looks and blitzes, and they get us sometimes in practice and do a great job making us better all year," he said. "We go against them all spring and in fall camp and with as physical as they are, it's tough not to be better because of it."

Moniz added that no matter how the offense and defense treat each other during practice -- they have to sometimes put friendships aside during drills in order to get business done as usual -- they're always teammates in the end.

"What happens in practice stays in practice, but at the end of the day we're all in the locker room joking around and we're all good friends," Moniz said. "That intensity helps make us better because when someone's out on the field talking mess it only makes you work harder and we all get after it."

STILL GROUND TO COVER

With just six weeks of the season gone by and plenty of games left to play, the offensive line isn't without its flaws.

Reid said if he had to grade his offensive line, he'd give it a B, because the season's not complete yet.

"We've given up eight sacks in five games and that's unacceptable," Reid said. "You can puff your chest out as an offensive line because you can run block, but we really need to pass block better. Once we do that, I'll up them up to an A."

Reid added that the offensive line wants to be one that's as good in the passing game and screen game as it is with the running game.

"Having one facet is great, but a real offensive lineman is judged on the whole offense," Reid said.

Gurski added that getting better with pass blocking comes with the season, and said it comes down to quick hands, good footwork and always improving on technique.

For Gilleo, the brightest part of the offensive line and the improvements that still need to be made is in the science of the line.

"It's all about our chemistry," Gilleo said. "Starting the same five guys every game helps continue to build that chemistry and it helps us stay efficient."

NAU is in the middle of its 13-day break during the bye week, but will be back in action at 1:05 next Saturday afternoon as the Jacks take on North Dakota.

Bill Harris can be reached at bharris@azdailysun.com or 556-2251.

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