Rissler Enjoys Responsibility At Center

After three springs of cross-training at both center and guard, Steven Rissler finally has a position he can call his own. He's a center now, no longer a guard that is the backup center, and with the switch to being a one-position kind of guy, there is plenty of responsibility and that suits him just fine. These are the moments he's dreamed of ever since he came to the University of Florida.

Rissler, a senior from Sarasota, got some starts at guard last year but he also had the double-duty of backing up Mike Degory at center. Degory was an iron-man at the position. After a redshirt year, Degory started every game for four years at center. Now Rissler is settling into the center position, learning on the job every day and enjoying the hard work and expectations that go with the job.

"As a center, you have to know a lot more and I'm still learning a lot but it's spring practice and it's coming along for me," said Rissler after Friday's practice. "I feel a lot better now. I have a position. I know I'm the center. I'm snapping the ball and I'm getting good working with [quarterback] Chris Leak."

The greatest adjustment from guard to center is making the calls for the entire offensive line. The position is a double-whammy when it comes to responsibility because first and foremost, there is the job of making the perfect snap to the quarterback every play, but there is also the job of protecting the quarterback and opening holes for the running backs. Every play begins with the center.

Making the calls on the line means knowing the playbook inside and out plus studying film constantly so there is instant recognition. Rissler is all too aware that if he doesn't get the calls right so the other four linemen know the blocking scheme that the play can blow up instantly. The greatest adjustment for him this spring is the full-time responsibility that goes with the position.

"Obviously as a center I'm making a lot more calls," he said. "Every time I walk up to the ball I'm making all the calls so all the other linemen know where they're going. As a guard, you really don't say much. You just block. You block the three technique. The biggest adjustment is making all the calls."

There is a benefit to making the line calls for a player that has natural leadership instincts. If the center is sharp, knows his stuff and communicates well with his mates on the line, there is plenty of respect and those guys will follow.

Being the leader means that Rissler has to stay one step ahead of his teammates on the line and that means he can't have an off-day mentally. He has to be sharp or the line play will be like a car with a cylinder that isn't firing.

"Center the leader of the offensive line," he said. "You're making all the calls and everybody else is listening to you. You definitely have to have your mental game going, you have to be on top of your game.

"I like it because I know what I'm doing and everybody has to listen to me. Once I know what I'm doing and everybody else knows what they're doing, they follow and we all come together as a group."

He is the only senior on a line that will be starting a redshirt freshman (Ronnie Wilson), a sophomore (Jim Tartt), and two juniors, tackles Phil Trautwein (two years as a backup) and Drew Miller (played guard last year). He understood that the line would be young and inexperienced so he made it a point to learn all the assignments including the line calls quickly.

"They're relying on me," he said. "If I don't know what I'm doing the whole line is going to be screwed up. I came and I paid attention right away, tried to get the calls down right away. I think I got them pretty good. That was the best thing, getting them down early."

When he played guard, he enjoyed the physical requirements of the position but there wasn't a lot of thinking going on. As a center, he has to be totally involved in every play. From a physical standpoint, things are pretty much the same. He still has to deal with the aches and pains of playing in the trenches.

"I felt involved as a guard, but I touch the ball every play now so in some respects I do feel more involved," he said. "You have to be tough as nails. As an offensive lineman you have to be real physical but if you have an injury you have to brush it off and keep going."

When he steps to the line, essentially he has three jobs to do --- (1) see the defense and recognize so he can make the calls; (2) make a good snap; and (3) locate and block the right defensive lineman or linebacker.

Once he makes the call, he knows the snap has to be there every single play. One bad snap can make the difference in a ball game so he works tirelessly to get the ball exactly where Chris Leak wants it.

"That's the biggest thing with center," he said. "You're snapping the ball and you have to have it right there. A bad snap and it's a bad play."

One advantage he sees to the position is that because he is the snapper, he can be the first lineman off the ball. It becomes one single motion --- he snaps the ball with his right hand and steps toward the man he's going to block.

"I like it at center because I'm snapping and stepping at the same time so I'll be the first one off the ball no matter what," he said. "So that's the biggest thing about center. I like that you can snap and step at the same time."

Spring football has meant plenty of hard work and responsibility for Rissler, but he's made the adjustments easily. He enjoys the new role of team leader. He's a member of a unit, but he's also the leader and the mentor.

"I know that I'm the team leader on the offensive line," he said. "That's been big for me. I've been working my butt off every day, keeping it up tempo. That's what I have to do as a leader."

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