Despite a very limited on-field collegiate resume, the 6-2, 300-pound Altieri has had the opportunity to learn from his more experience offensive line teammates, all the while remaining patient for his opportunity to showcase his talents.
"My mentality has always been that I'm just one snap away from getting in the game," says Altieri. "Mike (Pollak) taught me that this game takes patience; everything's not going to happen overnight. It takes dedication, time and effort and it is a learning process and the key is learning to accept that process and work with what I'm trying to improve."
Far from the unquestioned heir apparent to the throne held by Pollak, a second-round NFL Draft selection this past spring, Altieri had to ward off redshirt freshman Garth Gerhart during the spring to enter fall camp atop the depth chart. After having earned consistent reps with the first-team, the main objective was to begin to develop a fluid relationship with Rudy Carpenter, who has never had anyone but Pollak start at center during Carpenter's 31-game career as ASU's starting quarterback.
"Rudy and I have established a great relationship already," says Altieri. "We talk quite a bit and understand each other very well. He's already very comfortable with me, and when he fully trusts me to assume that leadership role that a center needs to, we'll have an even better relationship."
Now that Altieri has worked his way into the starting lineup, he takes the good and the bad that comes with the promotion, including the bombardment of concerns and criticism of last year's – and this year's – offensive front.
"(Hearing the criticism) is motivating to me because I don't want to forget that kind of stuff," says Altieri. "That's only a form of motivation for me which will help me make myself better and for the other offensive linemen to become better as well."
Despite the difficulties suffered by the Sun Devil line last season, the center position has been an area of strength, spearheaded by the aforementioned All-Conference linemen, which have fathered a fraternity that Altieri is eager to earn entrance into.
"Following a line of great centers is a role I'm ready to accept and an opportunity I'm ready to take advantage of," declares Altieri. "I'm excited for the season and I look forward to coming out and consistently improving every down of every game and working to become a dominant center."
Aware of the standard set by his predecessors, Thomas Altieri embraces the opportunity before him to not only place his name among the recent greats of the Sun Devil offensive line, but to also help vindicate an often publicly berated position group.
"I have very big shoes to fill, really big shoes," confesses Altieri. "The coaches expect me to play to the best of my ability but they don't expect me to be another Mike Pollak. They want me to be myself and to be a leader, because that's what the role requires. Once I earn that trust and earn my fellow offensive linemen's trust, I can meet those expectations."
Joe Healey is a 2006 graduate of Arizona State University and a guest contributor to Devils Digest. He is also a feature writer each month in Maroon and Gold Illustrated and has contributed to ASU media guides, press releases and other official athletic publications. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com.