Hustling Linemen Give Inspiration to Fason

He squirms, he worms, he wiggles and next thing you know he's broken free. That's Ciatrick Fason once he's popped through a hole provided by his offensive line. Next on his agenda is to find open space where he can use his speed to distance himself from opposing tacklers, and if necessary, do what Channing Crowder calls the "no backbone" routine to avoid a big hit.

It's all part of a never ending arsenal of moves and speed for Florida's junior tailback who leads the Southeastern Conference in rushing with 458 yards. He is the most consistent breakaway threat in the league, already with five rushing plays in excess of 27 yards this season plus a pass play that went for 21.

Breaking free has become part of Fason's routine but the more he electrifies the crowds with his game breaking abilities, the more he appreciates his personal escort service. At some point, once he breaks past the line of scrimmage, he figures he'll see Lance Butler, Randy Hand, Mike Degory, Mo Mitchell or Jon Colon a good ten yards ahead of him mauling a potential tackler with yet another devastating downfield block. He gets inspired when his linemen hustle to get out in front of him, almost feeling embarrassed or guilty if he doesn't reward them by scoring a touchdown

"When I'm making a big run, I'll look and there they are, leading the way," Fason said. "They'll be 20 yards downfield and if I let myself get tackled, I get upset because my blockers were out there working hard for me."

Last Saturday, Fason didn't break a big run against an Arkansas defense geared to stop Fason with a package of run blitzes. While he didn't get his usual big run, Bubba Caldwell broke one, a 61-yarder on a reverse, the Gators' longest running play of the season. Caldwell's touchdown was made possible by a hustling Butler, 6-7, 300 pounds, who launched himself at a Razorback defender, giving Bubba the crease he needed to take it the distance.

When he got to the end zone he turned around and saw Butler sprinting toward him. When he got the block to spring Caldwell, he scrambled to his feet then continued downfield, looking for someone else to hit.

"I thought dang, he's still looking to make a block," Caldwell recalled.

Butler's hustling is just part of a season of outstanding play from Florida's offensive line. Thought to be a strength coming into the season, Coach Joe Wickline's big uglies have shown consistency in their play, improving each week.

"Joe Wickline has done a great job," said Coach Ron Zook. "He is a very demanding coach and those guys have all bought into what he wants."

Tackles Colon (6-7, 315) and Hand (6-305) have been outstanding in handling opposing defensive ends. They have gotten steady relief from Anthony Guerrero (6-1, 334), whose squatty body and quick feet have allowed him to compensate for a lack of height. In the middle, Degory at center (6-6, 306) and Butler and Mitchell (6-7, 370) have provided a powerful push up the middle. Guerrero sometimes backs up at guard along with Steve Rissler (6-3, 300) and Degory gets spelled by Billy Griffin (6-3, 290).

"We're having a lot of fun out there," said Degory. "It's always a lot of fun when you're playing well. I think we're an improved offensive line. For most of us, this is our third year in the system and even though we've switched offensive coordinators (Larry Fedora replacing Ed Zaunbrecher), it is the same terminology.

"We have some new wrinkles in the offense but it's pretty much the same as the past two years. I think our experience is showing, and we know the system well. We're improved, too. I think we've improved each year."

Degory and his mates realize the skill players for whom they protect or open holes are among the best in the nation. That motivates them to play harder and hustle more.

"We've got wide receivers who I think are among the best," he said. "They're all making plays and that breeds competition among them, which I think is a good thing. We've got two of the best backs in the nation (Fason and DeShawn Wynn) and Skyler (Thornton) is right there, too."

Quarterback Chris Leak is the trigger man of the offense. Colon says Leak inspires the line to hold that block just an extra split second.

"We know if we hold our guys off, he'll make a play," said Colon. "You hold your guy out and then you see the ball flying over your head to one of our receivers and you know every time you see it, we could get a touchdown."

Fason says there is an infectious attitude of success on the line this year.

"It's the whole offensive line," he said. "If it's a two yard gain, they come back to the line saying we gotta get more yards. If it's a 20-yard gain, they're back complaining that they got to do better so we can get more yards.

"Guys like Lance (Butler) or Randy Hand will run 100 yards down the field if they think they can get a shot at someone. On Andre Caldwell's reverse, Lance cut his man, got up and started sprinting to the end zone. It makes us want to score touchdowns because we know they (the offensive linemen) want it as bad as we do."

Butler says the line has been helped tremendously by having Colon healthy all season and the return of Mitchell to the O-line after a year's exile to the defensive side of the ball.

"I'm glad those guys are doing good because it's really helped our line improve," said Butler. "They're both good guys, great football players. They're doing a great job of contributing on the field and helping the young guys out. They've made us a deeper and obviously more experienced unit."

Degory added, "Those two guys are seniors now. They realize this is their last hurrah, so they've stepped up their play on the field and they've stepped it up as real team leaders. The knock on them has always been they are trouble makers but they have been little angels as of late. They're doing a wonderful job on the line but they're also showing the young guys here what it takes to be a great offensive line."

The great attitude shows up in the way they hustle said Fason.

"At the beginning of the year, a lot of people were doubting our offensive line," he said. "We heard everyone talking about Mike Degory, but we've got a lot of good linemen. They've got the attitude that if you're not hustling, you're hurting the team.

"The way those guys are playing, it makes all of us want to do better."

The only thing that Zook has concerned is what happens after a touchdown.

"I told Mo the other day he needs to be careful when we score," said Zook, noting Mitchell's hyperactivity after a touchdown, "because he is going to hurt somebody (one of our own)."

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