LOGAN – So much in life is about protecting the things important to us. From the people we love, to our valued possessions, to our credibility and reputations, we take care of the significant things around us.
That protective nature tends to be particularly prevalent on the football field. While the quarterback may be the most well-known and visible player on the field, there are 10 other players out there at the same time as him, working together to accomplish the mission the team has set. Among the teammates working around the quarterback, the offensive line is the first obstacle for the defending team. They create a barrier and do whatever it takes to keep the quarterback safe and provide options for him to move the ball down the field.
There’s a reason members of the O-Line, particularly the tackles, are among the highest paid members of NFL teams. Their role in guarding and protecting the quarterback keeps the team strong and healthy, working toward the goals of success.
It’s a simple concept, stopping the opponent, but to these seniors of Utah State’s offensive line, that concept is everything.
“We take pride in that protection,” center Tyler Larsen said. “Being offensive linemen, we’re a different breed. Being able to protect one guy gives us a lot of pride. It’s something special to be five guys on the same page.”
Larsen isn’t kidding when he admits to being a different breed. You can pick out an offensive lineman a mile away. They’re big and tall with a wide, strong stance, long arms, large hands and quick feet.
The offensive line at Utah State is a rare one. Between the five starters, they have 120 starts, the fourth-most of any O-Line in the country. They are one of the few teams to have the entire starting five returning for the 2013 season.
With the experience this line has comes an undeniable chemistry. The Aggie linemen have developed a relationship that leads to a fluid and seamless system on the line of scrimmage.
“Having these four guys with me is huge. We have great chemistry and bond together well,” guard Jamie Markosian said. “We know what each other is thinking and can work together without speaking. We have an easy way of communicating. It’s huge for us as a unit and it brings a good example to the team. We’re five guys that stick together and have been through a lot.”
Because of the chemistry and experience this line has, the rest of the team doesn’t have to worry about the management of the offense.
“The team doesn’t have to worry about the O-Line. They know what we’re going to do, they know what we’ve been through,” tackle Eric Schultz said. “They know they can count on us and not have any questions.”
From an uninformed perspective, the quarterback may be the most important guy on the field. He calls the plays, makes the big moves and even if he’s not the one scoring all the points, he is a huge part of helping them be scored.
With a deeper look though, the importance of the offensive line becomes clearer. The meaning behind their work plays a vital role in how the quarterback does or does not succeed. The team that does a better job of controlling the line of scrimmage generally has the better shot of winning. That control starts with the offensive linemen.
“It’s cool to be the point of attack on every play,” guard Kyle Whimpey said. “We know how important Chuckie (Keeton) is and that he’s a big reason for the success this program is having. It’s our responsibility, if we want to be successful, to keep him clean and free of injury.”
With four distinct individuals who play the same position on the field, there are many similarities between them all. However, there are also differences between them that bring them together.
Whimpey has played side by side with his twin brother Kevin, also a USU offensive lineman, since childhood. Larsen, Markosian and Whimpey are Utah natives, while Schultz came to Utah State from Washington. Larsen and Whimpey are married, with a daughter thrown into the mix for Whimpey. Schultz and Whimpey served missions for the LDS Church before their time at USU began. With that, Whimpey began his collegiate career at Idaho State before transferring to play for former head coach Gary Andersen.
“It comes with a lot of effort, a lot of making things work, a lot of understanding each other’s personalities, how we think and operate,” Markosian said. “Everyone is different. It’s a special thing. We all bond together and understand each other. We’re five guys doing one thing.”
With all their differing backgrounds and stories, so much of being a part of Aggie football is moving forward with the same goals and desires. As a group, each member wants to do everything he can to become a part of the best line in the nation.
“I don’t think this is a lofty goal. I want to be the best group in the nation. I think we can,” Whimpey said. “We may not be the most talented or the most this or the most that, but we’re a confident group. We’re tight-knit and that’s why we can be the best. It’s just a continuation of what we’ve been doing, grinding on the field every day.”
Larsen echoed that sentiment.
“We want to be the best in the nation,” he said. “I think we have the talent and strengths to do that.”
The team goal is no secret. As first-year Mountain West Conference members, the guys have a lot to prove. To them, the ultimate proof lies in a championship.
“I want to show that we can come into this league and be effective and productive,” Markosian said. “I want to show that we can hang with the big guys.”
While each lineman hopes to see this season end with their name being called by an NFL team, the future is bright no matter where they end up.
Schultz graduated last May with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and is currently taking additional undergraduate classes. He plans on pursuing a master’s degree whenever his football career ends. Markosian will graduate in May with a civil engineering degree, a career he plans to pursue. Whimpey will graduate with an interdisciplinary studies degree, and while his post-football plan isn’t set in stone, he plans to do whatever it takes to provide for his family. Larsen sees himself in the classroom for the long haul, with hopes of becoming an English and physical education teacher. He too will graduate from USU this fall with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies.
However, there is a backup plan among the line, a career that would keep their protective instincts sharp.
“If that doesn’t end up working out, we want to be in the Logan Police Department,” Larsen said. “We can go from protecting Chuckie to protecting the community that loves us.”
The seniors of the Aggie offensive line take their position seriously. They have a chemistry that leads to an indisputable success on the field. As one of the many lines in the nation, they have confidence and motivation to be the best they can be. As they move forward through their final season together, they hope to see continued improvement as they face opposing defenses and protect the men behind them.
“I take pride in getting the job done. I take pride in being the best I can be and doing the best for everyone and the team. It’s a huge responsibility, but we have the ability to do that,” Schultz said. “We don’t get a lot of glory, but it’s the pride of the offense moving. As a brotherhood, it keeps you going. You’re playing for the guy next to you.”
Doug Hoffman is the assistant athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company