"Fall camp is definitely a grind but it's something you have to go through," guard Dan Santucci said. "It's something that makes your team tough and physically in shape and gets you ready to play that first game. We got some work to do still. We're excited to get better and go play that first game on September 2nd."
Santucci was part of a group last year that had an interesting rotation. He, along with Bob Morton, John Sullivan and Dan Stevenson, were part of a four player group that held down the left guard, center and right guard positions. Santucci started 12 games last season at left guard, logging 288 minutes of playing. The four-for-three rotation had some positives and negatives.
"It was nice to know that when you came out of a game, there was a guy going in that was just as good and with a ton of experience who was a confident player," Santucci said. "You got a chance to get a little blow and go on to the next series. If you don't rotate, it's nice because you get to stay in the rhythm and the flow of the game. If you get a break, you might get stiff. There are advantages both ways."
With Stevenson graduated, there are enough positions to go around. Santucci will anchor the left guard spot while Sullivan will be at center with Morton just to his right. It's all part of the learning process on the offensive line.
"It's nice to concentrate on one specific position and get better and strive to be the best there without having to know other spots," Santucci said. "At the same time, Coach (John)Latina stresses to knowing the whole concept of the offense, even if you're playing left guard, you should know what the center is doing, what the tackle is doing and what the right side is doing. When people are moving on defense, you know what's going to happen."
The offensive line has had to be without one of their stalwarts the first few weeks of training camp. Left tackle Ryan Harris has been sidelined with an undisclosed injury and has spent most of the practice time riding an exercise bike. A good note is that the senior has been participating the past two days in drills and his full return is right around the corner. Harris's absence allowed other players, including the six freshmen, to get some additional reps. Santucci said the two week delay hasn't hurt the offensive line's cohesiveness one bit.
"I don't think we're behind at all," Santucci said. "Actually, it's been an advantage to us because we know that Ryan is a great player. He'll come back in and pick things up real fast. It's giving other guys out there a chance to come in and get some experience. In the long run, it's helped our team a lot. Guys came in and took the majority of snaps. If Ryan was in there, that wouldn't have happened. It's helped our depth out a lot."
Speaking of those six freshmen, they have been getting compliments from coaches and fellow players throughout camp. Sam Young, the huge, 6-7, 292-pound tackle, is in the race for the starting spot on the right side. Santucci has been impressed by their desire and work ethic these first two weeks.
"I think all the younger guys have done a good job right down the line," Santucci said. "They're playing hard. That was one thing we stressed before fall camp to go out there and try your best. Everyday, work on one specific technique and try to perfect it. I'm really happy with them."
Everyone always talks about how close the members of an offensive line are. Santucci said this group often goes to a local pizza restaurant on the south side of town to enjoy the all-you-can-eat buffet. But Santucci also has one of his buddies working in the trenches with him. Brian Mattes, a fifth-year senior, has been his roommate for the past three years.
"Brian is probably my best friend on the team," Santucci said. "We've been roommates for three years. He's a standup guy. He goes out there and tries his best on the field. He doesn't let anything else get in the way. If he's not playing, he'll say, ‘That guy is better than me.' I think that's an awesome person. He's doing a great job and he's a hard worker. I wish the best for him."
Mattes is currently embroiled in a battle for playing time. With Mark LeVoir gone to graduation, that leaves open the right tackle spot. Mattes and the freshman, Young, are the two names that keep popping up for the spot. Santucci wants his good buddy to earn the it but knows either choice will be for the good of the football squad.
"I hope he gets it," Santucci said. "But I want what's best for the team. Brian wants what's best for the team. If he's the guy, he'll go and be the guy. If he's not, he'll be comfortable with saying, ‘That guy is better than me.' He's a standup guy. As my friend, I hope things work out for him."