Lance Reynolds, the longtime BYU assistant coach and former NFL lineman, should be used to it by now, but he's not. There are times when he finds himself perusing the sizes of college offensive linemen and wondering what the football world has come to.
"It's amazing what's happened," he says. "Oh, heavens, these guys are huge."
In 1972, LaVell Edwards' first year as head coach, BYU's offensive line averaged 6-foot-2, 226 pounds; this year's line checks in at just under 6-foot-6, 326 pounds 100 pounds heavier per man. The runt of the litter is right tackle Travis Bright a mere 313 pounds.
Study the chart that accompanies this column. The height and weight of linemen have climbed at a phenomenal rate.
BYU's linemen are big even by today's standards, but the proliferation of gargantuan linemen is not just a BYU phenomenon; it's nationwide. Thirty years ago, the University of Utah had 14 offensive linemen on its roster; they averaged 243 pounds. This year's Utah linemen (there are 14 again) average 303 pounds. They weigh a total of 4,247 pounds more than two tons.
According to ESPN, 25 years ago there was one player in the NFL who weighed more than 300 pounds; in 2005, there were 403 of them in fall camp.
In today's college game, every team has at least a handful of 300-pound linemen, and there are quarterbacks (Heisman winner Tim Tebow, for one), wide receivers and running backs who are as big or bigger than BYU's offensive linemen of 30 years ago.
Even just 20 years ago, BYU didn't have a single offensive lineman in the starting lineup who weighed more than 280 pounds. Today the Cougars have 16 of them on their roster. What's even more startling is these players are relatively solid, athletic-looking specimens.
"Our guys are physically good looking, well-proportioned guys," says Reynolds. "Don't get me wrong they've got some fat on them, and so do the NFL guys. But take our five starters out there on the field and walk by them, and you'd see they're athletic, nice-looking bodies."
If the weight gains were merely fat, it would not explain the increase in strength.
"We used to have nobody on the team who could bench press 400 (pounds)," says Reynolds. "Now almost every lineman we have does it. The weight training programs now are better able to put good weight on the players."
Still, almost in the next breath Reynolds says, "All these things are factors, but there still seems to be something missing, something that would explain the addition of so much size."
He's right about that. The growth on the football field, for instance, outstrips the growth among the general population since 1960 (48 years ago), the average American man has gone from 5-foot-8, 166 pounds, to 5-9, 191 pounds.
Sophisticated weightlifting programs and the use of legal supplements (protein drinks, etc.) have probably played some role. So have the abundance of good food and the American-phenomenon of super-sized portions.
In any discussion of wholesale size increases, it would be naive not to at least acknowledge the potential factor of steroids in this era. But, again, how can that account for the gains not only in height but in the remarkable increase in weight in so many players across the board?
Genetics does not adequately explain the phenomenon, either, unless you believe in rapidly accelerated evolution. Reynolds was an all-conference tackle for BYU in the '70s, and both he and guard Keith Uperesa were by far the biggest linemen on the team during their senior seasons in 1978. Reynolds was 6-foot-2 1/2, 275 pounds.
Reynolds' four football-playing sons are all much bigger than their father was during his playing days. Lance Jr., who graduated two years ago after starting at center for two seasons at BYU, was 6-2, 300; Dallas, who starts at center for BYU this year, is 6-5, 325; Matt, who starts at left tackle, is 6-6, 320; Houston, who will play for the Cougars when he returns from a church mission, is 6-3, 300.
"Players are just getting bigger," says Coach Reynolds. "I remember that in the mid-1980s, I didn't think anyone could play at 300. ... Sete (Aulai), our center last year, was 298, but other than that, now I can't remember when guys were under 300 and able to play for us."
Reynolds wasn't alone in his belief that the extra-large kids couldn't play football. They were once considered too slow and unathletic to contribute on the gridiron, but that has changed, either because coaches finally gave them opportunities and better prepared them for it, and/or because there are simply so many more of them.
"Everybody's players are bigger," says Reynolds. "Size helps, if it's the right kind of size. It helps you to control the line of scrimmage for the run game defensive tackles are mountain size now. It helps you to get a push up front. It's more mass, more push, more strength. But you've got to be able to move or you can't get to the next level to the linebackers, and you can't pull or pass protect."The only question now is where it will all end. Four-hundred-pound players have already begun showing up on football fields.