Graham Pocic Earns Starting Center Berth

Every year players graduate from college football teams, giving younger ones a chance to compete for starting spots. The Illini lost two talented offensive linemen after last season, but this is an opportunity for players like Graham Pocic to step up. He is taking advantage of it.

Graham Pocic regrets seeing Jon Asamoah and Eric Block graduate, but he is also eager to secure a starting position.

"They were great guys, but we've got to move on and keep building up the line. There are some holes, but it's a good opportunity to compete. Competition makes everybody better."

Pocic was a highly touted tackle out of Lemont. He arrived on the Illinois campus a semester early to compete for playing time. It has taken him two years and a couple position changes, but he may be the starting center come fall.

"Right after the season ended, Coach Gilbert (Joe, offensive line coach) approached me about playing center. All this offseason I've worked on snapping, trying to get it down. It's trying to get the best five out there. They're giving me the opportunity to compete."

Pocic will be working for his third offensive coordinator. Paul Petrino has brought in a number of changes from the style used by Mike Locksley and Mike Schultz.

"Locksley's and Schultz's were similar. With this offense, it's a lot different. We have some similar plays, but a lot of it is checks at the line. It's definitely going to be a lot different.

"I feel we're changing it up a little bit with the offense. Coach Petrino demands a lot from us on an everyday basis, so we're trying to get better for the season."

It takes time and effort to learn a new system.

"It's about putting in time by yourself. You need to do extra if you want to pick it up, especially at center. It's hard, but its not impossible."

The 6'-7", 310 pounder may be the tallest center in the Big 10, but coaches say he is able to stay low enough to bang heads with defensive tackles. Whether that comes easily for Pocic or not, Petrino demands it from him.

"He's intense an guy. He reminds me of our old line coach Eric Wolford. He doesn't expect anything less than your best. If you're not willing to give it to him on a daily basis, then you're not going to play."

It will take more than 15 spring practices for the new offensive line to jell. The linemen will work together on their own all summer in preparation for Camp Rantoul and the 2010 season. Pocic believes they will eventually figure it all out.

"Its early, but we're getting better everyday. That's our goal. We'll come out everyday and get better as a unit."

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