Center of Success

It has been a cruel Déjà vu for ASU's offensive line. Just like last year, the Sun Devils' front five has been ravaged by injuries, forcing many if his veterans to watch various portions of the season from the sidelines. There was however one player, that has been the rock of the Hell Hogs in both his health and leadership – center Mike Pollak.

Paul Fanaika, Julius Orieukwu, Richard Tuitu'u are just some of the younger Sun Devils that were forced into early and often action this season. Mike Pollak notes that the fact that those linemen logged large amounts of playing time was extremely rewarding. "They have done a great job," he said. "Coach Myers has done a great job this year getting them to ready to play. Whenever somebody went down, someone else was there to step in their shoes."

The Hawaii bowl game may be on the bottom of the totem pole as far as Pac-10 bowl games go. On the other hand, enhancing the skills of a fairly young offensive line is one benefit that the center is more than glad to have. "To have a couple more weeks with those guys," he explains, "continuing to gel and enhance our relationship…that's just gonna solidify the offensive line for years to come."

The junior has played in 34 games thus far, and started all 12 games this season. In 2004, as a redshirt freshman, he started the team's first four games of the season when then senior Drew Hodgdon was injured in training camp, and saw more time later that year when Hodgdon was injured again. "Having that experience then meant everything to me," recalled Pollak. "Because of that I gained a lot of confidence and poise, and that's something very important to have later on in your career. When you play that early, it shows you that you can step in at anytime and play against any competition. I've gotten stronger and bigger since then, and I learned how to handle players bigger and stronger than me."

Another trait that the center has enhanced is his leadership, which was only natural since he was literally the last man standing among the veterans on the offensive line. "When our two seniors (Andrew Carnahan and Stephen Berg) went down, and I was the most experienced guy in the line, I took that upon myself that I had to right the ship and take that role."

Pollack admitted that if you told him at the beginning of the year, that Carnahan, Berg, and Rodd would collectively miss several games, and the offensive line would still perform at a fairly highly level during the year, that he would be somewhat surprised. "I would have thought last year was a fluke with all the injuries," he commented, "and it happened even worse this year. It's just ridiculous. But I'm so proud of all the young guys. They were thrown into the lineup and showed right away what they could do. I'm not really that surprised. Coach Myers expects that from us and he tell us that at the beginning of the season that when we get our chance to shine, we better do the job. He told me that when I first got here, and I in turn told that to our young players coming in."

The 2006 passing game struggles of the Sun Devil have been well documented, while their running game has been excellent this season. Consequently, Pollak feels that the offensive line's performance was in a direct correlation to those trends. "We really stressed on our run blocking this year and we have improved a lot," he said. "We really just didn't have the receiving core we had last year – we have a lot of young guys and we have to give Rudy (Carpenter) that extra time to throw. That puts more pressure on us. We didn't do that good of a job in the passing game this year, but hopefully we'll get better at it."

In the meantime, the Hell Hogs are certainly going to lose Andrew Carnahan and Stephen Berg due to eligibility exhaustion, and chanced right now seem good that Zach Krula will gain that sixth year of eligibility after missing all of this season due to an ankle injury. "Every year we know we have good guys coming back, and next year we'll have great competition on the offensive line," remarked Pollak. "So it's gonna be great if Krula comes back, you have Paul Fanaika who earned Pac-10 honors coming back…we'll really have the whole line coming back."

And if past success is any prelude to the future, this is one are of the team that could be a building block to a more potent offense in 2007.

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