A Leader in the Trenches

The components of a high-octane offense are much like that of a high performance racing team. Everyone knows about the driver and how big the engine is in the car, but few common fans check the pit crew and the job they do to help keep the car on course.

In the case of Arizona State, Crew Chief Dirk Koetter's offense is driven by Sam Keller, and fueled by the likes of Derek Hagan, Zach Miller, and Jamaal Lewis. The pit crew, aka the offensive line, is what helps keep the more visible stars on track towards success while remaining under the radar.

Unfortunately for the Sun Devils all vital members of the offensive line pit crew haven't been healthy as of late. Since struggling in the second half of the USC game, and failing to generate results fans are accustomed to against Oregon, only now is the attention being turned to a unit deemed the "Hell Hogs".

Averaging 196 yards on the ground through the first four games compiling a record of 3-1, the Devils have dropped their past two while managing only 121 yards total rushing.

"It's real difficult, this is my senior year and I'm only guaranteed 5 more games here," said Senior Grayling Love, one of the pistons that drive the Sun Devil machine. "The SC game was tough, but the Oregon game was tougher when it seems we weren't the same team out there. We didn't play with the same passion we could've, it just hurts because you want to make sure that everyone leaves it out there on the field." When asked about what he's been disappointed most about in his teams' past two games, ASU Coach Dirk Koetter was quick to respond: "That's easy, our inability to run the ball and to stop the run."

Love has been the anchor on a line which has lost junior Zach Krula for the season to a broken ankle, and junior Andrew Carnahan the last two games with a dislocated thumb and has taken his role as leader to heart with new players seeing significant game action for the first time.

"As far as it being on me I've got to make sure I've got the young guys up to speed. You've got Leo (Talavou) who's been starting and Mike (Pollack) who's been in there we've just got to make sure everyone's ready to play, make sure they know the game plan already and when we get into the game go out and get the job done."

There are few candidates on the team that would be more qualified to lead an inexperienced group of young players. Love was named a pre-season All-American by Sporting News and was also named to the watch list for the Rotary Lombardi and Outland trophies. Named second team All-Pac 10 in 2003, and first team in 2004, Love has overcome the voices of his past who doubted his abilities to become a dominating force in one of the nations' premier conferences.

"For me it was a big accomplishment making first team All-Pac 10 last year because I was told by some schools that recruited me that I couldn't play offensive line in the Pac-10, that I wasn't big enough to be able to get the job done," Love said, who is listed at 6-3, 296 pounds. "That's been a lot of motivation and I'm excited to be out here and compete and to have the great career that I've had so far."

Love is a leader not only on the football field but in the classroom as well. Sun Devils fans can only hope that his cerebral approach to the game can be communicated with the ease he takes care of oncoming blockers. Love learned the value of academics at a young age from his parents, as his mother is a third-grade school teacher in his hometown of Sacramento, California. He earned his degree this past May in Finance and is currently taking graduate classes to help supplement his knowledge on the football field. "School has always been instilled in me since I was younger. My parents always made sure I went to class and got good grades, so it was huge to be All-Pac 10 and All-Academic."

NFL Scouts have taken notice of Love's play as well. At one point earlier in the year, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. had him ranked in the top 5 at his position. He has since dropped off Kiper's list, but still hope's to play at the next level one day.

"That's definitely a huge dream of mine, I got my degree in May and if football doesn't work out I've got something to lean back on. I do want to make it to that next level. The only thing I can focus on is having a great senior year and everything else will take care of itself as long as I do things right here."

If football doesn't work out for him, Love says that he could see himself working in the financial world, or following in his mother's footsteps as a teacher in the future. Passionate about football, he hasn't ruled out a run at coaching either.

For now though, Sun Devils fans would love to see the biggest cog in the offensive line finish his last season at ASU on a winning note, taking home a checkered flag.

Sun Devil Source Top Stories