While Shawnbrey McNeal might have been the star running back in the SMU offense, it was freshman Zach Line that kept things calm in the backfield. The Michigan product became the "last line of defense" for Kyle Padron and the SMU offense.
"I felt like I was pretty much in there every pass play this season. I don't mind it. I feel that if we are going to win games, we have to throw the ball. We need a guy back there protecting the quarterback," stated Line to PonyStampede.com.
It wasn't the freshman's idea to play running back for SMU. The Mustangs had recruited him as a linebacker coming out of Oxford high school. There, Line was an All-State defensive player, racking up 154 tackles with eight forced fumbles and four recoveries. But, it was his All-State wrestling ability that impressed the coaches even more.
"They recruited me as a linebacker, and that is obviously where I thought I was going to play. I was an All-State linebacker in high school before coming to SMU. But then I think they took into account that I was an All-State wrestler and had a good base for blocking," said Line. "At first I was pretty "gung ho" about it. But I was going to see the field as a freshman and that was pretty awesome to me. Eventually getting the first snap in the bowl game was pretty special."
It wasn't like the concept was foreign to the freshman, Line had rushed for 1,723 yards and 17 TDs as a senior, playing both sides of the football.
Now with the departure of McNeal, Line's presence in the backfield will become even more important next season. He will continue his role as main blocking running back, look to get even a few more carries than last season, and now be a leader, teaching the younger incoming running backs the ins and outs.
"With him leaving, I step into more of a leadership role in getting Darryl Fields ready to hit the field. I need to help him with the offense as much as I can, because I want to see him do well," said Line. "His highlight tape was pretty impressive. I watched it a couple times to see his running style. It's pretty similar to what my high school tape looked like after my senior year, but he is definitely a little more explosive and has the ability to break more tackles. You can't teach that."
While Fields is expected to get a bulk of McNeal's carries, Line is hoping that a few more come his way. He was able to rush for 189 yards on 49 carries, finding the end zone seven times.
"It would be great to get some more opportunities to carry the ball. To get a better understanding of how the offense works at game speed," said the freshman back. "(But) It's definitely it's more exciting for me to knock a linebacker back on his back. Touchdowns are great, but we are going to get it anyway. Whether we run or Kyle throws it. All that matters to me is the "W" or the "L" at the end. Obviously Kyle getting hurt is a bad mark on my back. I definitely like to knock a linebacker out."
As the blocking running back for the whole season, Line was able to see the subtle differences in former Mustang Bo Levi Mitchell and current starter Kyle Padron. For him, it came down to the small things.
"The way he took control in the huddle was a big thing for me. It was just the small things. He lifted up his helmet to call the play, so we could see his lips. He just seemed very calm and confident back there. You don't want someone that is shaken. He is definitely a leader out there, even as a young kid. He's in control."