Basically, in every drill, every rep and every scrimmage since he's been on campus, sophomore Left Tackle Bradley Sowell has been looking at All-American Michael Oher's backside.
The only break Bradley has had from that dubious two-year duty was when he was called upon last season to take up some slack for injured Tight End David Traxler, which Sowell handled very efficiently.
It's called paying your dues and Sowell has done it diligently and without complaint.
Now, the shoe is on the other foot.
Sowell will now be at the front of the line at left tackle as spring training approaches.
"It's kind of odd right now. When we line up in offseason drills and (Strength & Conditioning) Coach (Don) Decker says 'first group,' I'm still looking around for Michael," Sowell smiled. "I'm having to pinch myself a little as (LG) Rishaw (Johnson) and I adapt to being with that first group."
Bradley knew this day was coming and he has prepared for it, but it's really here now.
"I'm going through a reality check now. It's me now, just me," he continued. "I know I've done everything I need to do to get ready, but it's an entirely different role that I have to adjust to. I have to be like one of the leaders now."
His experience at tight end last year has helped ease the transition to first-team status.
"You can only do so much in practice, but you really don't know what it's like in an SEC game until you actually play in one extensively," he commented. "It's the real deal in games, a whole different speed and intensity level.
"The first game I was a little nervous, but as the games clicked by, I was fine. I think getting that playing time is going to help me a lot with my new challenge. I am glad I got to play some before the LT job was mine."
When the tight end task came about, Bradley had to change his mindset and his body. He lost some weight and had to start thinking like a tight end. During the offseason, he's been trying to put some of that weight back on.
"I got down to 295 during the regular season, but I got back to about 305 at the Cotton Bowl. I'm looking to be 310 or 315 when the season rolls around," Sowell explained. "That would be a good weight for me with my frame."
Besides putting on some weight, Bradley has been dealing with the basics in the offseason - stronger and faster.
"I'm quicker than I have ever been right now, but I'm trying to get stronger in my upper body. My lower body is strong, but I want to get stronger up top," he explained. "My squat is high, but I need to improve my bench press. I think my power clean is going to be near 300 pounds, which is good.
"Guys with long arm like I have sometimes struggle with the bench, but I've got to keep working hard and improve it for my upper body strength."
This spring, Bradley will be trying to solidify his spot as the starting LT.
"I know I have to prove myself in spring. Some people look at me as a question mark on the OL, but I don't look at it like that. I just want to prove myself as the number one LT," he noted.
There's a lot of responsibility on Sowell's shoulders. Left tackle is, arguably, the most important position on the offensive line. He's the guy who will have to protect QB Jevan Snead's blind side and he will, most of the time, be on an island in one-on-one battles with the SEC's fleet defensive ends.
"I just have to study film and keep working. I have studied Michael for two years now, so I have no excuses. Either I do it or I don't. I'm not overwhelmed, but I understand the responsibility I have," he added.
To compound the issue, Sowell will be playing next to Johnson, who is in the same boat as him - a two-year career of being a backup waiting his turn to shine.
"(OL) Coach (Mike) Markuson will just have to look one way and yell since they moved Rishaw to the left side instead of having to look both ways and yell," Sowell laughed. "He'll have both his newcomers to the first group on the same side.
"Rishaw and I are the young side of the line, but we like that. Reid (Neely) and John (Jerry) will be the power side and we'll be the ones holding up the backside."
Sowell feels his apprenticeship under Oher has paid dividends he will reap now that his quest has advanced to a new level.
"He came to work every day. He worked hard every day. He never complained and was humble. Mike helped me a lot in learning how to play the position and just how to conduct yourself overall and I appreciate it," said Sowell. "My goal for spring is to do like Mike - stay with it every play. Don't get down, don't get lazy."
Sowell didn't want to talk much about the team and the high expectations, but there are positive vibes in the Rebel camp these days.
"We're not going to say much about next year. We know what we have and how hard we are working," he closed. "Just put it this way, we are expecting big things. I'll leave it at that."
Some of the "big things" will hinge on the left tackle slot and Bradley.
He's ready for the challenge.
Bradley Sowell -
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