Q&A with Coach Brent Myers

Aside form the running backs group, no one groupon ASU's team was hit with more adversity than the offensive line. Furthermore, the troubles of the running game definitely didn't make life easier for the hogs upfront. How does coach Myers rate the performance of his unit in 2004, and what does he think of its prospects this coming season? These topics and many more are discussed in this exclusive DevilsDigest interview with the team's offensive line coach and running game coordinator.

DevilsDigest: Coach, what can you tell us about the offensive linemen who signed in the 2005 class?

Brent Myers: Thomas Altieri - "Pure center. His brother played for us at Boise State, so we know the family real well. When we recruited his brother, we were told that out of all the three brothers he was the best player in the family, and both his brothers are great players. He also played defensive tackle. He runs very well. A very smart and strong player, who does the things I like from a running game standpoint. He didn't come from a big throwing team. Most of time when you recruit high school players you have to turn them into centers, so I was very impressed with him. He had a real good showing at the CaliFlorida game. I think the kid has a chance to be an anchor guy for a long time."

J.D. Walton – "He comes from a phenomenal high school program in Texas, and was very highly recruited. He was arguably the team's best player. In the molding of Grayling Love – can play every position on the line. As a junior he played center in as spread out shotgun spread offense. A very intelligent and athletic player. Has a bunch room to get better, and not as physically developed as the other guys we recruited, but a very tough guy who's all football. I'm very impressed with his versatility."

Shawn Lauvao – "Comes from an inner-city high school in Honolulu. Only started playing football in his junior year, and just turned 17 this past October. His Mom and Dad are Samoan high chiefs, and wardens at the prison in Honolulu. They work from 2-10 everyday, so Shawn has really raised himself and is extremely disciplined. It's his goal to be the first guy at school everyday, so here's there a 6AM doing homework and lifting weights. Then he goes to school, works out in the afternoon, and he's in bed by eight o'clock every night. A very good student, and a focused kid. He's really into being a great football player."

"I got a video tape of his during mid-season, from a non-profit group called the Pacific Islands Athletic Alliance, who also sent us a tape on Brandon Rodd. I watched the tape, immediately gave it to coach Koetter to watch, and we offered him right away and set up an official visit. And with all honesty, as soon as we offered him, all of sudden he gets offers from everywhere else. His mother wanted him to take all of his visits, but I'll tell you – when he visited here, and if his Mom would let him – he would commit on his trip. He already visited Cal by then, and after ASU visited BYU and Washington. He was going to visit Utah but cancelled, because he committed to us earlier that week. I think he's gonna have a great career, because he's such a workhorse. All he thinks about is football and being successful. To make himself faster and quicker, he joined the track team. He played tackle, but can play guard. A very special player."

Richard Tuitu'u – "We didn't offer him last spring because I wanted to see him practice, and when I saw him at practice, it took me only two minutes to say – Yes! That's how fast and athletic that kid is, and his best days are ahead of him. He had a great senior year. We introduced him to Brandon Rodd, and both of them hung out at every home game. I'll tell you what, Brandon is a great recruiter. I hate to say this, but Brandon being hurt helped because he spent so much time with him. Their relationship was a huge part in the recruiting. Richard saw Brandon's success, and saw himself fitting in very well."

"His brother is the assistant wrestling coach, so when Richard was done playing football in the state's semi-finals, his brother talks him into wrestling at the heavyweight division because they would have a chance at the state championship (this past weekend Tuitu'u did make it to the state 5A finals where he lost.) He dropped from 315 to 275 to wrestle. That's a complete credit to his discipline and work ethic, and doing all this for his school. Now he wants to get back to 300, but have it be all muscle. If he can do that, he'll really be a big time player because he can run. He's athletic a big kid as we had here in a while. He played tackle as a junior, and guard as a senior, so I look at him playing at either position. They sure chose the right guy, when they chose the Frank Kush winner (awarded to the best high school offensive lineman in the state). We are pumped about that kid."

DD: Since Hawaii is your recruiting territory, would you agree that the state is a true hotbed for offensive and defensive line recruits?

BM: "No question, there are a lot of good front guys there. Your issue there is academics, and I don't mean it as a general term. When you go there, that's one of the things you have to be ready for – you might have to wait for a kid to be eligible. In our case, because our kids have 16 core classes to meet we have to be very careful of who we recruit. Shawn was an easy case because he has a core GPA of 3.3 and 3.7 overall, so I knew I didn't have to wait on him academically."

"It will help us that the NCAA is going to increase the core requirements, because we're already doing it. It won't hurt us at all. It may be more difficult on other schools in the league. Each year, Hawaii will always have between 3-8 legitimate Division-I recruits. It's a pain in the neck getting there, but I really love recruiting there. Again, they were some other kids on the island that we liked but from an academic standpoint we had to be careful."

DD: How would you evaluate the offensive line in 2004?

BM: "They played solid, but we have to remember that it's never good enough. There are areas we can improve on. Given our running back situation, we did an admirable job running the ball. I think that if our running back situation was different, we would be running the ball much better, which would benefit our play action and we're a very good play action team. I also thought that for the most part they did a good job of pass protecting, but that's an area where you never ever good enough. So, there's room for improvement and I think we'll get better. The best part of it is that we have experience. With that experience, now you can advance and you can hang your hat on things you believe that you're good at. That's what we're doing now, looking at last season and finding the things we like and dislike."

"When our running backs do well, one thing is pretty evident – when Rudy Burgess is running the ball, he's a very good running back and we're a real good running team. That showed up on film. We have a great run defense, and we ran the ball on them pretty well (in practice). Rudy came in as tailback against Stanford and gashed them for 200 yards (186 officially), and we feel that we can run the football. We just have to get back to our guys again and stay healthy. We can be a very good team in that regard."

"The best thing about those kids is that they are perfectionists: Grayling Love, Andrew Carnahan, Stephen Berg, Brandon Rodd, Mike Pollak…you have a bunch of guys that really love to play and are very competitive. They don't like to lose and don't like to play bad – they are true students of the game and great examples for the young guys. But we have to get tougher, more physical, and more flexible – those are all things we need to work on in the off-season. It's very evident that we have some tough guys, but we also have some guys that need to tougher, which comes with time. With my personality, if you're not tough you're not playing. Those kids know that."

DD: Even though the offensive line had some many injuries, was it a blessing in disguise because it gave so many young players experience that they would normally not get?

BM: "The thing that we have that is unbelievable benefit for us is having Grayling Love. When something happens, and we have to move somebody – he can play efficiently at every position. Zack Krula goes down, Grayling plays guard. Zach comes back, Grayling plays left tackle. He's as good as anyone in the league at all those positions. I'm excited that hopefully he can end up at one place where he can direct everything, because he's a great leader. One thing you can etch in stone – you will always have injuries upfront. And you have to be able to put guys in different slots and play."

"I got to have that in mind, and know who can move in different situations. So, during the season in Thursday's practice, I'll take players, move them to a different position and make them play. I made Stephen Berg play right guard, I made Mike Pollak play guard, I made Carnahan play left tackle…our system is such that our linemen can do that. We just took the NFL Wonderlic test, and the offensive line scored the highest. Carnahan was the best on the team. My point is that these guys have to be like that to be successful in our system. Because of coach Koetter, our system is very offensive line friendly. We don't do things that they can't handle. If it's not easy for the O-line, and not easy for the quarterback, we're not doing it. That's what give us the opportunity to inner mix those guys."

DD: Speaking of inner mixing, do you envision Grayling Love lining up at center when you play Temple to open up the season?

BM: (laughs) "It's still up in the air. One thing I'm lucky is that Mike Pollak did such a great job when Drew Hodgdon was hurt. He's such a good athlete. He's another X-factor guy that we believe we can do different things with him. He has a very promising future. That guy is too good a football player not to be on the field. So, I don't have to play Grayling at center, although in my opinion that would be the best position for him and for his chances at the next level. That's where he wants to play. But that's something we have to experiment with."

DD: Can you talk about some of the reserves who seldom played on the offensive line, as well as the redshirt freshmen?

BM: "Let me start with Leo Talavou. He's a very talented kid. As everyone knows, he did come in very much out of shape (due to an injury). He came in at 380 pounds, and he's now under 350. His goal to be at spring football at 335, and if we can get there, we'll work on get him to 320 when the season starts, so he's that more athletic. I think he has a chance to be a solid backup, and possibly a guy that plays a lot."

"I really think that Bradis McGriff has a chance to be a big time player. He has all kinds of athletic ability for his size. He has some areas to work on because he's young. He has to get stronger, more flexible. He has done a real good job learning the system, but he hasn't been in the heat of the battle yet, so you can't make a statement in that regard yet."

"You know I love Brandon Rodd and I think he will be a great football player. It's all about his knee rehab. If he continues on the pace that he has, he'll come back for Camp T, and knowing him he'll come back stronger than before. He's currently jogging, which is ahead of schedule. He has a good feel for when it's sore versus when it hurts. He's a very committed kid."

"Julius Orieukwu has improved tremendously from bowl practice. I had a chance to work with him individually more than I normally do during the season. He improved his pass protection. He's still a tall angular guy that's not strong enough. But he's improving, and I hope he can get even better. You can tell during winter conditioning that he's working his tail off. I'm hoping that the light is flickering for the kid. He was a project when he came here. And he's starting to come out of that project stage. Maturity will help him."

"Brent Russum is another guy who improved a lot from bowl practice. He took it very seriously. He was lost in Camp T because he wasn't used to this level of football. He has lots of skills, works hard, and he will contribute here. He's still young and needs to grow up, but I hope that the bowl practices will help him have a good spring."

"Robert Gustavis improved from last spring to Camp T, and from Camp T to the bowl practices. He's maturing physically and getting stronger. It may take a little time, but he will work his butt off and get better. He will be a quality backup for now, and with maturity hopefully a guy that can compete for a starting job. He's a kid that's committed and works hard."

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