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Offensive line shaping up to be Govs’ strength in 2011

APSU Sports: Men’s Football

Austin Peay State University GovernorsClarksville, TN – When J.P. Washington stepped off the scale, his face was filled with disappointment.

342 pounds.  A little more than a week ago, Washington left campus for his Nashville home weighing right near the 330 mark. In addition, he weighted in for physical just after returning from a large dinner at the cafeteria.

Quickly, Washington recovered from his disappointment. He knows it is just a small pothole in a road that saw him work diligently all spring and summer long to get his weight under control. If nothing else, it was a reminder to him to stay focused both on and off the field in preparation for the 2011 season.

APSU Football. (Courtesy: Austin Peay Sports Information)
APSU Football. (Courtesy: Austin Peay Sports Information)

“Even though I weighed in at 342, this is the lowest I have ever entered camp,” Washington said. “I think through camp and two-a-days I can lose another 20 pounds so I think I can be right back down in the 320s when the season starts,” Washington said. “I really think I am going to enter the season at a good weight.”

Washington’s offseason routine reflected a commitment from many of Austin Peay’s football players, in particular, the offensive linemen. Preseason All-Ohio Valley Conference center Tim Schmid moved from Nashville to Clarksville just to work out with his teammates.

Senior reserve guard Devon McVea, who weighed nearly 380 pounds a year ago, is now at 336-in fact, sprinted the last 50 yards of the Governors mile conditioning test, Monday morning. On the other side of it, James Barker, who formerly played tackle, is up to 306 pounds with some serious weight-room work after playing last season at 295 pounds.

“It’s my senior year, definitely I wanted to go out with a bang,” Washington said. “I worked out every day this summer, sometimes twice, just to make sure we have a good season in hopes of leaving my mark on Austin Peay. ”

“This year J.P. has done everything right to lose weight,” said APSU assistant athletic trainer Seth Billings, who works primarily with football. “He was consistent with his workouts and even came back to do the running with later groups even though he has already worked out that day.

“He set his mind to lose weight and was serious about it, therefore he has accomplished his goals.”

Last year, Washington played on the right side. In the spring he was shifted to left side, the blind side for quarterback Jake Ryan. That also served as a motivating factor for Washington.”

“Moving to left tackle I needed to be better with my footwork so I can be a better pass protector on Jake’s (Ryan) blindside.   That is why I came (this summer) and worked on my agility, the footwork and everything this summer. ”

Despite playing a young offensive line in 2010, the Governors ranked second in the OVC and eighth in FCS for fewest sacks allowed per game (0.82). In fact, the Governors nine sacks permitted were 12 fewer than in 2009. The Govs also ranked 42nd in FCS in rushing offense, averaging 167.09 per game.

The offensive line, at least in name, returns almost intact. Graduated senior Guard Kelvin Little, a three-year starter, is the only deletion. Although the deck has been slightly reshuffled, the Governors promise to have both talent and experience in 2011.

“Going into the season you hope the offensive line is one of the strengths (of the football team),” APSU coach Rick Christophel said.  “We do have some experience at every position.”

Joining Washington on the left side at tackle is redshirt sophomore Preston Frye, who had an impressive spring practice after gaining measurable playing time a year ago.

Inside at left guard is 6-5, 285-pound junior Jacob Langston, who split starting duties on the right side a year ago, and Barker, who started capably for two seasons at left tackle. Freshman Julian Virgo probably will back them up. 

“When you look at the left side we have a lot of experience,” Christophel said. “When Barker had to sit out this spring, we moved Jacob over there. Whether it is combination of Barker and Langston at that position or whether we have to use Jacob some on the right side, we have some more maturity and experience than we had a year ago.

“We got J.P. at the tackle and a guy like Frye, who has increased his flexibility and is coming off a good spring, is going to have a lot of snaps ahead of him in the future because we were able to redshirt him (in 2009).” 

At center is Schmid, a 6-2, 330-pound junior who beings his third season as a starter. Not only is he the anchor, but also the acknowledged leader of the guys up front. Behind him is a pair of redshirt freshmen, Zach Amis and Gavin Willisson.

Just right of Schmid will be sophomore guard Chris Hartman, who started the final five games at the position a year ago, along with redshirt freshman Nathan Sanders. Langston, who started early in 2010 at right guard, also could flip over if needed. McVea figures to offer help at guard.

At right tackle is 6-8, 284-pound sophomore Ben Stansfield, who started two games early in 2010, and was one of the Govs’ most consistent young linemen in his first season.  Behind him is another sophomore, Kyle Harrison, who gained valuable playing time a year ago despite battling some injuries.

“Ben and Kyle both gained great experience for us last year-they had to play,” Christophel said. “At guard, Chris ended up starting late in the season for us-he was another guy who we had to play early and by the end of the year started the last five games there. Jacob Langston also started at that position. So our depth and experience is so much better there than it was a year ago.”  

The one new face with the offensive is the person who is coaching them, Tyler Trent, who just two years ago was playing alongside Barker and Schmid.  He replaced his own mentor, Steve Haywood in the spring and the transition went relatively smooth.

“He already was respected by these guys as a player because of the way he played,” said APSU coach Rick Christophel during the spring. “Our new young coaches (Trent and J.D. Sellers) are going to make mistakes, but they are going to be mistakes because they don’t quite have the experience or that they are trying too hard.”

As a player, Trent was a technician who used his intelligence-he was a former academic All-America nominee-and competiveness to be one of Haywood’s most effective performers. Those traits are beginning to be reflected by his linemen.

“It’s like I said before,” Christophel said, “I really enjoyed coaching this football team in the spring and that was because of the competition we had. You can look at the offensive line as a prime example. We are so much better off right now than we were a year ago because of some of the young guys gaining experience last year and others being able to redshirt.”


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