September 15, 2006

Offensive Line Returns Four of Five Starters

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It’s hard to believe that at this time last year, the offensive line was considered somewhat of a question mark. But, before last season, only two of the five starters had played a varsity snap, raising concern about how their play would translate to the game speed of the regular season. After leading both junior Luke Siwula and Ryan Kuhn ’05 to 1,000-yard campaigns and first team All-Ivy selections, those concerns are nowhere to be found.

The Red will return four senior starters in left guard Kevin Marchut (6-5, 311), center Ted Sonnenburg (6-4, 281), right guard Brian McGuire (6-2, 308), and right tackle Eric Miller (6-5, 304). Both Sonnenburg and Miller earned honorable mention All-Ivy honors and it is likely that all four will experience similar success this year if they stay healthy and perform up to their potential.

“We’re expecting to be the best offensive line in the Ivy League,” Sonnenburg said. “We expect to play well night in and night out.”

All of this confidence comes despite losing first team All-Ivy left tackle Kevin Boothe ’05, who was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in this past April’s NFL draft. Along with Boothe, the unit paved the way for a Red rushing attack that was ranked No. 8 in the country and first in the Ivy League in yards last season.

“We feel so confident about our offensive line,” said Jim Knowles ’87. “We lose possibly the best offensive lineman in the history of the Ivy League in Kevin Boothe, but he elevated the play of the rest of those guys. Our offensive line is extremely strong.”

In addition, each member of the big four played in every single game a year ago, developing a cohesion that can only be acquired through building experience by way of playing together.

“We all started 10 games last year,” Sonnenburg said. “That’s really important because you know what the guy next to you is going to do on every single play.”

The only newcomer of the group will be sophomore left tackle Steve Valenta, a highly touted recruit who saw action in four games last season. At 6-5 and 295 pounds, Valenta should fit in nicely next to the three 300-pounders to his right.

“Steve Valenta is going to step in at left tackle and be great for us,” Sonnenburg said.

Behind the starting unit are seniors Patrick Wu, juniors Matt Cosh and Loren Rosenberg, sophomores Justin Mortensen, Babak Motamedi, Josh Barvin, Matt Lundy, Billy Schuh and Rob Zingale, and freshmen Quentin Bernhard III, Ben Neighbor, and Jordan Tuttel. The large group, in more way than one, forms a unique group on the practice field.

“Offensive linemen are a different kind of species,” Knowles said. “They’re like their own tribe. They go down and practice in one corner of the field. They have their own lingo and their own talk. It’s a tribe. It’s just different than any other position. Offensive line coaches are different than any other coaches. We consider that position the strength of our squad, which is indicative of the success of our program.”

As Knowles and the coaching staff have been able to develop the offensive line over the past two plus years, the program has improved dramatically — further supporting the popular belief that games are won in the trenches. If that trend continues, the Red could be in for a memorable season.