Pivot Man

Back in his comfort zone, local product Braxston Cave is competing for the starting center role this spring.

He was recruited at center and played 2:03 (roughly four snaps) in the '08 season-opener vs. San Diego State. He moved to guard for his sophomore season of '09, where he logged a total of 7:08 from scrimmage while serving as the team's short-snapper (field goals and PAT) in each of the 12 contests.

Braxston Cave has since returned to man the middle of Notre Dame's offensive line and has fought his way to the top of the depth chart through winter conditioning and four spring practice sessions.

But the junior-to-be who gained brief Media Day and message board fame as the team's weight room warrior last August knows his fight to win the starting center role against 5th-year senior Dan Wenger and classmate Mike Golic, Jr. is far from over.

To date, Cave's two seasons in the program have defined him as the next big thing – the player fans expected, or at least wanted to emerge along the No. 1 OL unit when the line struggled through 2008 and intermittently in 2009.

News of his 520-pound bench press max afforded Cave celebrity status and the chance to speak with the media along with his more celebrated, veteran teammates during the early interview periods last season.

Still, Cave was more novelty and athletic curiosity than football player. His off-the-field measurables never translated to on-field opportunity.

But there's a noticeable difference in the junior-to-be. And it's not the 9 minutes and 11 seconds of career playing time that has initiated the transformation from weight room wonder to potential starter and leader. Rather, consider Cave the beneficiary of the inherent challenge presented to most who play college football: the maturation process.

Every Snap Counts

For two seasons, Cave watched others play. He watched losses pile up. And he learned. Subsequent winter reflection over opportunities lost has improved Cave's attention to detail this spring and given him a singular focus: earn his spot on the field next fall, one snap at a time.

"I can't sit back and wait around anymore," Cave noted when asked about his approach this spring. "You only get four years of this, and I sat back in the off-season and really thought about it. It's my time to get out there and shine."

My pre-spring prediction that Cave would move from guard and start at center can be chalked up to supposition: I noted the previous play of his veteran competitor; coupled that with what I saw from Cave in brief practice segments last fall, and decided change could ensue.

After talking to Cave and watching him work (again, briefly) this spring, I'd be shocked if he doesn't win the job. Handily.

"Take everything one day at a time," Cave said of his newfound focus. "You can't rush through things, especially right now when we're getting a lot of stuff thrown at us. But one day at a time, continue to focus, and things will work themselves out."

"It's not an attitude change," he continued of his refreshed outlook. "That's always been my thing: being a tough, nasty player. I like to get after it. But being out here a couple of years, I've matured, and I know my part (as an offensive line teammate) and I know what to expect. It's really slowed the game down for me."

The 2010 Difference – On and Off the Field

Though Cave was not on the 28-man list of Irish players with noticeable weight gains/losses since last August's "official" listings, he did mention that he lost about 10 pounds over the off-season and, along with most of the offensive line, lowered his body fat by 4 percent.

Cave credited two differences: a new strength and conditioning coach, and the presence of an athletic training table.

"It's huge," Cave noted of the latter. "Getting out of practice late or workouts late (in the past) and running over to the dining hall…it's tough to get a good meal in when you're rushing.

"It's been nice to work here, finish practice, and just go up there and get good food. When you're working out hard and breaking your body down, eating the right food is what it's all about. 80 percent of getting your body right is your nutrition and 20 percent is your (lifting/workout) so it's played a huge role."

Another change for Cave and the bulk of the Irish roster has been the approach and long-term plan in the weight room. In other words, don't expect Cave to break, or attempt to break his 520-bench mark from last summer.

"It's not how much, it's how long you can last doing it," Cave stated of the team's new weight room mantra. "We're still throwing around some heavy weight, but not where we worry about one-rep max.

"Everybody's 'leaned out,'" was Cave's impression of his line mates. "We have an emphasis on preparing ourselves in terms of stamina and being able to last in the fourth quarter; to close people out.

"We've struggled with that in the past and its time to make some changes."

For Cave, the biggest difference to date has been in his overall quickness.

"I feel lighter on my feet and I (still) maintained my strength, that was the most important thing. I knew going in that if I was going to lose weight and lose body fat that I needed to maintain my strength.

"And Coach (Paul) Longo did a great job with that."

The Goal

Though versatility is a goal of both head coach Brian Kelly and offensive line coach Ed Warinner, the offense will nonetheless feature the standard starting positions. (For instance, senior Matt Romine has reportedly worked solely at left tackle.) And while Cave has both guard and center experience, he's currently locked in as the line's pivot.

"As of right now, yeah, center's my natural position; that's where I was recruited," Cave stated, while making certain to note he'd do anything the coaches asked of him. "(Center) feels good. If I have to play guard, that's what I have to do, but right now center is looking good for me."

11 spring practices and the Blue Gold Game remain; following that, a summer of conditioning and the opportunity for his competition to improve as well before the process and competition ramps up again in August training camp.

Why does Cave believe it's his time to shine?

"Just that I'm a tough player. I'm going to get after it on every play."

For Cave, Coach Kelly, and Irish fans starved for success, there's simply no other way.

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