Injury Thrusts Gerhart into Starting Role

For redshirt freshman center Garth Gerhart, the last several months have been eventful. With starting center Thomas Altieri out with a concussion, Gerhart is working these days with the first team. The Norco (Calif.) product hopes to capitalize on his summer audition and be the starter for the 2008 season opener.

When the 2007 season ended, All-Conference center Mike Pollak had exhausted his eligibility and was off the NFL leaving a big hole on an offensive line that struggled. The two candidates heavily favored to replace Pollak were a couple of unknowns, Gerhart and junior Thomas Altieri.

After a heated spring ball battle, the more experienced Altieri walked away with the starting job in hand. Altieri maintained his first team status until suffering a concussion Monday morning. The head injury to the junior opened the door for Gerhart. While the idea of starting is exciting for the freshman, he remained poised and focused when talking about his opportunity.

"I just have to keep working hard and competing," commented Gerhart. "The coaches say it's all about competing. I get a shot with the 1's right now and I just want to see what I can do."

Spring practice was frustrating for Gerhart. Not only did he have to watch Altieri outperform him and win the starting job, he had to deal with a shoulder injury that altered his game and bothered him all of camp. However, the young center used his experiences in the spring and hard work over the summer to improve his game.

"Summer has been pretty good, I feel like I'm a lot better than I was in spring," said Gerhart. "In spring everything felt so new, I had to convert from snapping left handed to right handed. So all my steps, everything felt different. Now coming out here in the fall I feel like everything is getting better. My pass sets are getting better and my run blocking is getting better. I just have to keep working hard and hope it pays off."

Most freshmen come in knowing that they will likely redshirt and dread doing so. Although the experience of redshirting usually proves to be beneficial, players still find the year of sitting on the bench to be a challenge. Gerhart had a refreshingly different take on his redshirt season.

"It was real good because it was a learning process," he recalled. "I had to just learn the offense, we never passed blocked in high school so I had to learn how to do that. I had to learn how to locate linebackers, all of that stuff. So it was just a good learning process being on the scout team. Going against the 1's helped me out a lot and I got better."

If there was one thing that was tough for Gerhart during his first year, it was hearing all the criticism thrown at the offensive line. Despite not playing, the freshman took the negative press personally and hopes to use it to his advantage this year.

"(The criticism) motivates a lot actually," Gerhart admitted. "55 sacks last year kind of killed us, and all over all the news was just saying, ‘Oh is the offensive line good enough?' It pumped up our whole line. We just want to get better, way better, than last year. We have a lot more quick passes and sets that should help out."

It is encouraging to see the unit motivated, but one can not help but wonder if there is enough confidence among the players for the 2008 line to be a success. Fortunately, at least one member of the unit has confidence in what they are doing.

"I feel that we are going to be way better this year," said Gerhart. "We're doing well; we still have a lot of work. Everyone needs to communicate more, let everyone know where you're going, but we're doing well."

Perhaps the coaches agree with Gerhart that the offensive line, and team, need to communicate more. To promote this idea of better communication and to create somewhat of a camp atmosphere, coaches arranged for all players to live together during summer ball in the dorms.

"We're all staying in Palo Verde Main (dormitory) right now," said Gerhart. "It's pretty fun. All the team is bonding well, hanging out, playing video games at night. Everyone is getting closer, it's not just individuals, and everyone is together so it creates a team atmosphere."

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