"Fat City" - Members Only!

Popular columnist Greg Schindler, a former standout Stanford offensive lineman, is back for the 2009 season. Today Greg kicks off the current campaign with a look at the most exclusive of clubs. The group's requirement is usually a frame carrying at least 275, but as we learn, honorary membership is possible for those who make the extra effort to earn their way into the hearts of the big fellas!

"Fat City" - Members Only!

It was a seemingly innocuous photo, but it inspired one of the most apt, insightful and introspective comments I've ever read. On my Facebook page, I posted a post-practice snapshot of our 2001 Stanford offensive line. From left to right, the image featured me, Zack Quaccia, Kwame Harris, Kirk Chambers, Eric Heitmann and Paul Weinacht, standing shoulder-to-shoulder.

Diminutive wide receiver Luke Powell posed in front of our near-ton great wall, sporting folded arms and a menacing glare for comic contrast. But the picture's most poignant element lay subtly on the periphery, where standout fullback Casey Moore (now an offensive assistant at Stanford) trudged, alone and with head bowed, back to the locker room. The photo, uploaded nearly seven years after it was captured, prompted this response from Moore : "Check out the lonely fullback in the background. Not quite a running back, not quite an offensive lineman. Stuck in limbo, somewhere in between."

Though written in self-deprecating jest, Moore's comment hints at a greater truth: Stanford's offensive-line fraternity wasn't The Farm's sexiest, but it may have been its most exclusive. As painstaking as it can be for offensive linemen to gel on the field, it's equally effortless for them to meld off of it. Most linemen share an empathetic bond that can be traced back to childhood: They were never the star of any sport at any level. Whereas most quarterbacks and wide receivers hone their craft through several stages of youth football, most collegiate linemen were too heavy for Pop Warner and too slow or awkward to excel at baseball or basketball.

Offensive linemen are used to standing out only in class photos, which means they're unthreatened by one another's accolades when they meet in college, and aren't competing for precious touches of the football, as can threaten the cohesion of other position groups. Sit a few college hogs around a table of nitrates, add a few anecdotes about their neurotic coaches, and sit back as lifelong friendships are formed.

The irony is that offensive linemen are often esteemed for their selflessness, even though most have never tasted the personal glory requisite to be tempted by the spotlight's warm glow. But since they're also the most astute bunch on the field, hogs recognize when a so-called "skill player" - a term deemed offensive by most linemen - willingly exits the limelight for a taste of life in the trenches. It is in such blue-collar moments that perimeter prima donnas earn honorary keys to "Fat City" - as well as eternal respect from their fleshiest teammates.

Playing from 1999-2002, I was fortunate never to have an offensive teammate I truly disliked. And even if I had been forced to block for a back I disdained, I wouldn't have let it affect my effort. Still, just as backs and receivers get juiced up when one of their linemen lumbers downfield during a long gain, nothing fired me up more than seeing one of my undersized teammates stick his nose in big-boy business - even if it was an apparent Kamikaze mission.

Ryan Wells was a dependable wide receiver and fearless kick returner. But the aspect of his game that most enamored me was his tendency to transform his body into a heat-seeking missile, hell-bent on destroying burly defenders. Watching him streak across the field to nearly behead a Washington State linebacker in 2001 gave me chills. Seeing a 315-pound USC nose tackle crumble near my feet after Wells cracked back on him with every ounce of his 195-pound body inspired me to play one of my best games in 2002.

What made such plays so special was that Wells knew his efforts would likely go unnoticed, but he was willing to sacrifice his health to wear down larger defenders for his linemen. Ironically, Wells' ballsy block against the Trojans was so unselfish that it jumped off the screen during the next day's offensive position meetings. Veteran line coach Steve Morton had seen just about everything in his career, but the display excited him so much that he paused the tape, knocked on the door to the next meeting room and boisterously extolled Wells.

Wells wasn't alone. Powell earned his place in our O-line photo by using his 5-foot-8, 175-pound frame as a weapon, teeing off on defensive backs when he wasn't eluding them en route to the end zone. Wide receiver Nick Sebes earned his stripes as an honorary hog when I saw him writhe and scream in the training room during halftime of our 2002 opener at Boston College, only to quietly fight through the rest of the game and season with an agonizing foot injury.

Cocksure Teyo Johnson got under the skin of some fans and coaches, but I always had his back while watching him turn his statistically disappointing 2002 campaign into a seek-and-destroy mission, bullying defensive ends and linebackers to the point where Morton identified him as a wide receiver we linemen could call our own. Tight ends Russell Stewart, Brett Pierce and Matt Wright all embraced the amphibious nature of their position, blocking as tenaciously as most linemen when they weren't running routes.

When Frank Bauer took me and Moore to Sundance: The Steakhouse after our senior season, he was slightly surprised and intrigued. Bauer was a sports agent, hoping to add us to his new crop of clients. His daughter was friends with one of our Stanford athletic trainers, who told Bauer his best shot at signing us was recruiting us in tandem since Moore and I were such good friends. Bauer said it was rare for an offensive lineman to be so close with a star player. I gave Bauer a banal explanation: Moore and I were members of the same recruiting class, lived across the hallway from each other in Mirrielees, etc. But most of Moore's best buddies (including Weinacht and Heitmann) were offensive linemen — a fact I considered a ringing endorsement of Moore.

Moore found his way into Cardinal lore with two of the most dramatic plays in Big Game history, but he infiltrated the O-line club by approaching a lead block against Arizona with the same zeal as a 94-yard run against Cal. Strength and conditioning coach Mark Wateska was revered for setting demanding but attainable expectations for our workouts. That's why we were shocked when he suddenly blew his whistle during a grueling offseason run, ending our workout a few sprints early. I later asked Wateska why he let us off the hook, and he replied, "When I saw Casey struggling, I knew the rest of you were done."

Earning a place in a lineman's heart doesn't always require a reckless physical sacrifice; sometimes it just takes a simple acknowledgement of our plight. Before Coy Wire starred at linebacker, he buttered his bread in our offensive backfield. When a Wisconsin defensive end beat me inside on a quick pass play during the 2000 Rose Bowl, Wire stepped up from his tailback spot, stoned the Badger and slapped me on the butt without saying a word. Wire's block didn't particularly impress me — he was just doing his job. What won me over was that Wire confidently smiled at me in our next huddle, seemingly glad he could throw one block for me after I spent an entire season paving lanes for him.

Tank Williams was an intimidating safety with none of the obnoxious bravado that typically accompanies star defensive backs. When I was moved from tackle to guard between the 2000 and 2001 seasons, I initially interpreted the transition as a demotion and proof that I'd failed at my job. But Williams stopped by my room in Mirrielees on the night I was reassigned, making sure my spirits were up and telling me he knew the move was for the best. I doubt he even remembers the chat, but it was refreshing for a teammate with whom I never took the field to take interest in a dejected lineman's morale.

Tales of college running backs and quarterbacks treating their linemen to steak dinners are typically mythical. I never received such a gesture, and I never thought I should have. After all, all of us were "broke" college kids simply performing our assigned duties. But sincere expressions of gratitude were always welcomed and enough to endear backs to their front-line allies. After backup fullback Byron Glaspie scored his first collegiate touchdown at UCLA in 2000, he methodically made his way up the bench of offensive linemen, tearfully hugging and thanking each of us for his shining moment.

Jared Newberry won my respect in 2000 as a scout-team linebacker, giving our offense looks so authentic that games felt like déjà vu. But Newberry spent the 2001 season at fullback, registering a 19-yard touchdown against Arizona State on his first collegiate carry. A photo on Newberry's Facebook page immortalizes the moment when he saw the Sun Devil sea split, revealing the unobstructed end zone. Newberry is the only Cardinal player in the shot, but he "tagged" five others to the photo: me, Chambers, Harris, Quaccia and Heitmann. Newberry's comment below the photo wasn't a wry zinger like Moore's, but it was the type of remark that earns a ball-carrier a permanent seat at the O-line table: "Without QUESTION, all the credit goes to the beast offensive line we had … cuz I definitely went untouched!"

About the Author: Greg Schindler, LSJU '02, was a four-year starter and four-year letter-winner for the Cardinal from 1999-2002, starting 42 of 46 games. After redshirting as a true freshman in 1998, he was the team's starting right tackle in 1999-2000 and the team's starting right guard in 2001-02. Prior to Stanford, Schindler starred at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, CA and was named a First-Team All-American by Prepstar in 1997. Following his Stanford career, Schindler was signed by the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent after graduating in 2003 with an English major, which, as you can see, he puts to excellent use here at The Bootleg!

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