Getting the big boys ready

Over spring camp, Coach Tujague took on the arduous task of developing the most important group within the offense: the offensive line. However, he can't continue that process over the summer because of NCAA rules limiting contact with players during the offseason. So, continuing that molding process – while a bunch of new guys come into the program – is laid upon the shoulders of the players.

Spring camp was a whirlwind for just about everybody involved, and much of that was born out of Coach Anae's motto: "Go hard and go fast." While most struggled to keep up with the expectations of Coach Anae, there was no group of players facing higher expectations than the offensive line.

Now that summer is here and coaches can no longer be involved in the molding process, those development expectations have been placed in players' hands.

"The only thing we can draw back to is to remember," said Coach Tujague. "We were fortunate enough in the spring to put together 8-, 10-, 12-play drives, and the offensive linemen and their near-death experiences towards the end of those drives are fun to watch on film. But [it's important] for us to understand and remember it was just one drive of many to come, so my key to them has been to remember the spring."

That makes it tough on coaches like Coach Tujague, who understands that the success of the team falls directly upon his shoulders.

"Again, one of the toughest things for me is, man, you work with your guys every day in the spring, so this disconnect in the summer has been hard for me because I love being with my guys to get them there," Coach Tujague said. "I know that the leadership of the council and teams is keeping them in the right spot.

"The rules and regulations don't allow me to actually coach them over the summer, or get reports on how they're doing athletically. I can get reports academically, but, you know, they know what they need to do, and if they follow the script they will be successful. I know that throughout the spring, throughout the recruiting process, and talking with them and getting goals and getting where they're meeting their goals and expectations of their timed runs and their lifts and all that, they're all ahead of schedule. So, that's a great indication. So is this going be a hodgepodge when they report? No. They're all here right now going through our summer bridge program, which is a great start."

The hectic pace of spring was just the beginning. When fall camp arrives, the players will be put through the spin cycle twice as much and just as fast.

"Spring was a taste of what fall entails," said Coach Tujague. "The thing that I'm trying to get them to know is we went Monday, Wednesday, Friday. But in fall camp, it's two on Monday, two on Wednesday and two on Friday, so magnify [spring camp] twofold. So, I think we're in a great spot."

At least those who participated in spring camp have some understanding of what's to come. This summer, a number of new linemen – whether freshmen or junior college transfers – will begin their journey as Cougar linemen. So what lies ahead of them?

"Baptism by fire," Tujague said. "They gotta get in and get their feet wet, and there's no standing off on the side and watching. You can be a vicarious learner and get into the film room, but it's to do it. You gotta get out there and do it. You know, I remember being a little kid and a commercial would come on of Michael Jordan doing a 360 dunk, and I remember going out to an eight-foot rim thinking, ‘Man, I'm going to do this.' After the first 10 attempts it didn't work out too well, so after a while the reps are what matter."

When it comes to integrating new offensive linemen with those more acclimated to the demands of a Division I program, Coach Tujague feels that was addressed early in the recruiting process.

"One of the key components of each one those guys coming in was they had to demonstrate that they had a hard edge, that they could go out and cross the line, and go out onto the field and get after it, and be a nasty football player within the rules of the game to set the tempo to command respect," said Tujague. "Many anybody can coach guys like that. You know, those are things we look for in a staff is to make sure they have those intangibles."

That makes assimilation much easier. However, nothing is certain, and Coach Tujague understands this.

"For you to say, ‘Hey, this guy is going to be the guy' is tough to say because they don't have anything to draw back on to remember," said Coach Tujague. "The reason is they weren't here in spring. They know the task that's set in front of them and they're going to be ready for it, but can they answer the bell? That's yet to be determined."

It often takes time to develop good offensive linemen, but helping junior college transfers such as Josh Carter, De'ondre Wesley, Tim Duran and Edward Fusi catch up to speed won't be an issue for Coach Tujague. As a junior college coach for many years, where players only have a few years to play, it's nothing new to him.

"You know, that's all I've done for 20-plus years is take guys for one year and get them ready in a short period of time, so I'm not overly worried about that part of it," he said. "We just need to make sure we have the right tools up front that we can use to be as successful as possible, and it starts up front."

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