Snapping Like Mad

Changing positions early in his college career may not have been what one WVU offensive lineman had in mind, but having adapted now, it may mean he gets to see the field sooner than would have otherwise been possible.

Redshirt freshman Joey Madsen was approached by his position coach with a simple question. The answer changed the shape of both the Mountaineer depth chart at offensive line and Madsen's playing career.

"Pretty much as soon as we got here and ran a few spring practices, he (second-year assistant Dave Johnson) came up to me and asked me if I could snap," Madsen said. "I was like, ‘Let's see.' I threw a few back there and did pretty good, so I transferred right from there."

That doesn't mean that snapping came too easily to the Chardon, Ohio native, who struggled early with the fundamentals of the motion and felt the pressure that came with having the ball to start every play.

"I didn't feel comfortable having the ball in my hand," he said. "I didn't know if I could get it back there."

"I don't know how many up-downs I did for just rolling it back there. (Johnson) was like, ‘What are you doing?' I'm thinking, ‘God, I'm never going to get this.'"

But as with most any other tough task in life, practice made perfect for Madsen.

After each practice, he opted to stay a bit late just to get in an extra 25 to 50 snaps. He learned to properly follow through the release and not to panic about rising to block the opposing nose guard (which he said led to snaps that were either too quick or too high).

"It's practice, practice, practice," he said. "Now I feel really comfortable. I've only had one bad snap so far this camp, so I'm doing alright."

And with that comfort has come something that Madsen didn't think he would get out of the position switch initially -- enjoyment.

"I like (center) now," said the 6-foot-4, 291-pounder. "I didn't really like it in the beginning because I've always been a tackle or a guard."

"(Now) I'm a lot more comfortable at center. I know all of the plays now. (Before) the plays were just rough because the center has to make all of the calls for everybody, and my head was spinning. I've finally got my feet under me and I feel comfortable."

Indeed, possessing the proper mechanics to snap the ball is only part of what an offensive lineman must have to make a good center. As the de factor quarterback of men at the line of scrimmage, Madsen and other centers must learn to read defenses and adjust which blocking responsibilities fall to which linemen accordingly.

While the sport management major, as only a second-year player, is still quite young, he has received plenty of extra assistance from starting center Eric Jobe.

"We're all a big family," Madsen said of his teammates on the offensive line. "Coming in, I figured (Jobe) would get his reps and probably wouldn't really help me, but it's not like that at all. We're all brothers."

But as much as the mental side may be important, it still takes a certain degree of physical prowess to quickly rise after making a proper snap and swiftly engage an already-moving nose tackle.

"Our centers have to be some of the most athletic people on the team, because you've got to get up fast and get around the nose -- and he's hitting you right after you snap the ball," Madsen explained. "You're already a step behind almost."

Madsen has had plenty of chances to refine his skills in that area against West Virginia nose tackle Chris Neild, who is one of the better players at that position in the country.

While Neild may be a bit more apt to expose the weaknesses in Madsen or anyone else's techniques, the center believes that the practice has helped prepare him to face just about anyone else.

"He's a monster," Madsen said with a laugh. "Neild is a big boy. He's 300-plus and one of the fastest big guys I've ever seen in my life. He's just an athlete. That's rough, going against him one-on-one. He teaches me by hitting me in the face."

All of the hard work at learning a new position and dealing with the occasional shot from a "monster" like Neild may be about to pay off.

Madsen is currently listed as the No. 2 center on the WVU depth chart, right behind Jobe. After sitting through a redshirt year and wondering if he would ever learn to snap the ball properly, he will almost certainly see the field often in 2009 to spell the team's senior center.

What that experience will be like is something the young lineman thinks of often.

"I've thought about that every day," Madsen said. "I get up and I'm like, ‘What would it be like to be out there in front of 60,000?' When I came as a recruit and I was on the field, I looked around and I just couldn't even process it."

"(Last year) I still got chills down my spine, because when we do that whole run around the circle and they start playing that music, it's just one of the best feelings of your life."

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