Towing the line

In 1997, Michigan won the national title with an opportunistic defense, led by Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson, and an offense that was often overshadowed. Quarterback Brian Griese outplayed Ryan Leaf in the Rose Bowl. And the Wolverines' offensive line was a dominate force. Today, the M line is young, but strong enough to throw its weight around in the trenches. Matt Lentz and Adam Stenavich are two of the best young bucks.

At Michigan, the tradition of producing NFL-caliber offensive linemen is almost as old and storied as the tradition of the Wolverines' winged helmets.

Fritz Crisler wanted to dress his Michigan football teams in style when he arrived in Ann Arbor as head coach in 1938. So, he painted maize and blue stripes on the Wolverines' then-black helmets, following a design he first created at Princeton.

Mervin Pregulman, a guard, was the first Michigan offensive lineman selected in the NFL draft. He was picked by the Green Pay Packers in 1944. Since then, the Wolverines have established themselves as the winningest team in college football history by following the blocks of Tom Mack and Bill Yearby, Dan Dierdorf and Reggie McKenzie, Jumbo Elliott and Jon Jansen, et. al.

Matt Lentz, a redshirt freshman from Ortonville, Mich., is on a path to follow in their footsteps some day. Lentz has alternated with fifth-year senior Dave Petruziello at right guard in the Wolverines' first five games, four of them victories, including Saturday's 45-28 rout of Illinois in Champaign.

During that time, Lentz has established himself as one of the top young players on Michigan's roster. He stands 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 301 pounds. He bench presses almost 350 pounds and often leg presses 770 pounds 15 to 20 times in succession, depending on his mood.

"My father started me on lifting weights when I was in seventh grade," Lentz said. "If I started earlier, he was worried I might have had some joint problems. I liked it, and I had a lot of fun with it."

Lentz also had fun pushing around a truck on the family farm and strengthening his legs with all sorts of funky drills designed by his dad.

"I used to bear crawl from our barn to the house, which was about 100 yards or so uphill," he said. "I built up my shoulders, and it taught me to stay low on defensive line in high school. Everything he did was with football in mind. Pushing the truck was good about getting your head low and learning how to get leverage.

"Every now and then, he would tap on the brake to make sure I was still going. That craziness sort of led to what we do now, so it doesn't seem so bizarre when we go out and do different things for workouts."

Lentz has become a big part of a Michigan offensive line that has the potential to turn into something special, even by the Wolverines' lofty standards. Courtney Morgan and Tony Pape start in the two tackle slots. Adam Stenavich, another redshirt freshman, rotates at left tackle with Morgan.

In fact, Stenavich started against Illinois.

"I think whoever practices better every week will be the starter," he said. "Every day you have to be ready and show up."

Petruziello and David Bass are listed No. 1 on the depth chart in the two guard positions. Dave Pearson, a converted defensive lineman, is the center.

Pape is a fourth-year junior and the leader of the bunch. His teammates call him "Fat Elvis" because of his Elvis Presley-like sideburns and his penchant for delivering the big hits. Stenavich is the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the bunch.

On campus, he is known as a soft-spoken boy from Marshfield, Wis. -- population 20,000. On the football field, he is known as a motor-mouth.

"When you are out there playing, it's the competitive spirit of the game," Stenavich said of his trash talk. "It helps you get focused."

The fact he is left-handed might provide further insight into his personality and his job description. He is a left tackle for a reason.

"I think it does," Stenavich said of whether being left-handed helps him play on the left side of the line and protect quarterback John Navarre's blind side. "I've always played on the left side and never really on the right side. Whenever I go over to the right side, it feels weird."

Up front, the Wolverines' offensive line has left opponents feeling battered by the time the fourth quarter rolls around. Michigan consistently has been the stronger team in the trenches, even in a loss at Notre Dame, and the foundation is there for the Wolverines' line to grow into a tower of power.

Petruziello, who has played in 36 games and started 17, is the only one of Michigan's regulars up front scheduled to depart at the end of the season.

"It's nice to look to the future and say that next year or two years from now we are going to have a lot of experience to lead younger guys who are coming up," Stenavich said.

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