Toa Lobendahn has been thrown into the fire this year. He’s started every one of USC’s games and although the true freshman enrolled early in time for spring practice, nothing can emulate game-like conditions like actually playing in games.
In USC’s first eight games of the season, Lobendahn started at left guard. He’s been the only true freshman to consistently start every week and just as he was getting used to playing the position on a week-to-week basis, starting left tackle Chad Wheeler went down with an ACL injury. Lobendahn spent all of last week getting reps in at left tackle in preparation for Saturday’s game against WSU, and the true freshman was pleased with his first college start at left tackle.
“First, I just want to thank God for allowing me to go out there and play throughout the whole week and pick it up as quickly as I had to,” Lobendahn said. “Just getting the reps, that’s what really mattered. Getting the reps and feeling it and seeing it on tape, that’s what was really going to help me secure it in the game. I think I did pretty good out there. I had some errors that I need to work on. It doesn’t feel the same as it did at guard. Overall, I think it was pretty good.”
Lobendahn does not have the size of a prototypical left tackle and he knows it. However, that doesn’t stop him from doing what he needs to do. The true freshman was introduced to the position early on in the first half Saturday as a Washington State defensive end blew him up for a tackle in the backfield. Other than that, Lobendahn had no dark spots on his record. Considering it was his first time playing the position in college, he played well throughout Saturday afternoon and he used his lack of size as motivation.
“I mean, yeah, a little bit,” Lobendahn said. “I just have to go out there and block. You get the job done, you get the job done. I can’t worry about height and stuff like that. I just have to do what I have to do.”
Saying that high school defensive ends and college defensive ends are just a little bit different would probably be an understatement. Lobendahn played left tackle throughout his high school career, but he hadn’t gone up against defensive ends consistently on every play in a while. The true freshman experienced this difference from high school to college, along with a few other oddities.
“Definitely the d-ends are always rushing full speed, as fast as they can, making moves every time,” Lobendahn said. “In high school, we did more of a kick step, and here, we changed it up this year and it’s more of a short step so that was different too.”
With Chad Wheeler out for the year, Lobendahn will most likely start at left tackle for the remainder of the season. As all people do when trying things out for the first time in new situations, Lobendahn experienced some challenges Saturday afternoon and came away with some things he can improve on.
“Just really keep getting the reps and getting comfortable,” Lobendahn said. “Not getting off balance at times. It was pretty slippery out there. Just that, just getting a better feel for it.”
Despite some of those challenges he faced, Lobendahn was a happy man after the game and said he had a blast playing left tackle once again.
“Definitely was,” Lobendahn said. “Brought back a lot of memories.”