It All Starts - Purple Reign Preview - Part 2

It doesn't matter who plays Quarterback, Running Back or Wide Receiver, if they don't the ball, nothing happens.<br><br> Here's Part 2 of the Purple Reign 2003 Wildcat Preview as we look at the Middle of the NU Offensive Line and how we got to the replacement for <b>Tampa Bay's</b> newest Center, <b>NU</b> Alum <b>Austin King</b>.

It all starts with the Offensive Line - and the O-Line Starts with the Center
April first, everyone but Randy Walker thought fifth year senior Carl Matejka [NU Photo - right] was going to be the man in the middle for the Wildcats in 2003, with Matt Ulrich right beside him at Left Guard. He had understudied for the part as Austin King's backup all last year and had started five games at right guard when Jeff Roehl had to fill in at Tackle.

But just prior to heading out to the first weekend of practice, I heard from Carl's parents that Carl had "lost his desire" to play football and had left the team, something that was confirmed by Coach Walker when we got to Evanston. Red Shirt [RS] Freshman Defensive End Jim Devine [ 6-2 280/NU Photo - left] who had been #2 on the spring depth chart was now listed as #1 on the depth chart, backed up by RS Sophomore Vince Clarke [6-5 300].

Needless to say, things got a little dicey in the offensive backfield that first weekend, with more than a couple of missed snaps - although it was the long snaps that seemed to go astray, leading to a few tense moments for the green clad [no tackle] quarterbacks, as the D-Line and linebackers led by Colby Clark, Luis Castillo and Loren Howard came rumbling in. Still, Coach Walker didn't dismiss the efforts of either of his young centers out of hand after the Spring Game,
Now don't get me wrong, I think Jim Devine can be pretty good, he got some snaps prior to his injury. The same thing is true of Vince Clarke, Vince's got a chance to be a decent Center, but he missed some snaps - he missed some reps this Spring, he's out right now. [Randy Walker - Post Spring Game Interview]
So you have to wonder about who might have been be playing where if the injury bug hadn't struck the O-line during the spring drills.

In any case, Redshirt Junior Matt Ulrich [6-3 305/NU Photo right] has been moved over to center to start the season for the 2003 Wildcats.
I really thought we needed to have a veteran guy going at Center, and I was a little concerned about - then again I had a lot of confidence in the guys I just mentioned and Joe Tripodi [RS Fr 6-3 280] [also sitting out the spring with an injury] - but I'd just rather have a 4 or 5 year guy sitting in the middle.
And right now that 4th year "guy" is Junior Matt Ulrich, who is arguably the best lineman on the team. Remember that Ulrich had been a fixture at right guard, making sure that Trai Essex played to his potential and working with Austin King in the middle.
But, there is more depth on the horizon - the Wildcat's recruiting class of 2003 has 2 Division I Center Recruits... Trevor Rees AND Austin Matthews
Lets talk about Orange Park, Florida's Austin Matthews first - He's 6-5, 275, a big kid who can play all across the offensive line. He was first team all-everything except all state where he was second team - second best center in Florida. Hmm - not bad, and Prepstar had him Honorable Mention all- region. So we understand he's already in Evanston, in fact he's getting his physical today [Wednesday 6/4] so he can start working out with the other 2003 Center recruit, Trevor Rees [6-2 275] !

Now here's the kind of kid [Signing Day Photo Left] you'd like to recruit. He's hinted [in an interview with the Daily Northwestern] that he kinda expects to follow in Austin King's footsteps and be the next Northwestern 4 year starter at center, starting this year.

You read his High School record and you just might become a believer - in his last season, Pearland High School's first playoff game of 2002, they won 18-0. They scored on 3 Quarterback sneaks, you know the play that Mike Dunbar doesn't like, where the QB takes the snap and follows the center up the middle for the score?

They did that play 3 times, the last time for 10 yards. Trevor Rees is also a center with sub 5.0 times in the :40 and 65 Pancake blocks last year. He also never allowed a sack in 4 years of High School Football. He was the only O-lineman who was a finalist for the Houston Touchdown Club Player of the Year Award. I think Trevor is for real.

However, to quote Randy Walker when reminded that Austin King started at center as a freshman....
I think he's a very good football player, a good signee. I'd really rather not play Freshmen, but he might. He could be in there. I'd rather not play the freshmen, it happened, but we won 3 that year too.[Walker - after the Spring Game]
Trevor and Austin [and one of the linebacker recruits] are rooming together this summer in Evanston to get a jump on the summer drills and the Northwestern Football routine. I  happen to know both Trevor and Austin won't mind red-shirting if they are truly beaten out for a position because they're the kind of kids that you build a front 5 around for the future.

[Here's my totally off the wall prediction - if Trevor winds up at Center, watch Austin Matthewswind up as his left Guard some day- protecting his back.]
So to sum things up - I'll revert back to Larry Watt's question after the Spring Game:
And that talk about Trevor Rees being your starting center [this year]?

I like Matt Ulrich No doubt about it, he's just what we need there and we just need to build around him
[Walker - after the Spring Game]
I Learned a long time ago - you don't argue with the Head Coach...Matt Ulrich it is - at least until the Kenosha 2 Deep Comes Out and the Freshmen start the workouts.

Purple Reign Projected Starting Lineup so far:

C Matt Ulrich [6-2 305 Jr]

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