Vadal Alexander, LSU (6-5, 336): Alexander started nine games at right tackle as a freshman, a total of 25 games at left guard as a sophomore and junior, then was back out to right tackle as a senior (with one start at left tackle). He was first-team all-conference and second-team All-American in 2015. By the coaches’ count, he had a career-high 115.5 knockdown blocks, including at least 10 in six games, and gave up two sacks. As a junior, he was second-team all-SEC with 75.5 knockdowns. He contemplated entering the NFL draft but decided to come back for his senior campaign. "My overall domination on the field has been improved. I'm glad I came back and improved as a player. You can definitely tell." In all, he started 46 games. "I would say I like tackle better but at guard I definitely think I can dominate. Wherever the team needs me at, I'll be happy to go work my butt off to succeed." Football has been his dream for most of his life. He started training when he was 7. But it wasn’t until he was 12, following a conversation with an LSU coach, that he got serious.
Joseph Cheek, Texas A&M (6-6, 310): Cheek was a two-year starter at right guard for the Aggies. He followed in the footsteps of his father, Louis Cheek, who was an all-conference tackle for the Aggies in the late 1980s, an eighth-round draft choice by the Dolphins in 1988 and a nine-game starter for the Packers in 1991. “I had to stay humble and keep working hard,” Cheek said. “I probably came to A&M at 255 pounds, and here I am four years later at 310 pounds. I had to really work at that.”
Joe Dahl, Washington State: Dahl redshirted at Montana and sat out the 2012 season after he transferred. He started his final three seasons — at left guard in 2013 and at left tackle during his final two seasons. As a senior, he earned some All-America accolades and was first-team all-Pac 12 despite missing four games due to a broken foot. He helped lead the nation’s second-ranked passing attack. “I didn’t find the same joy I had,” Dahl said. “I didn’t get that one game a week. You only get 12, 13 games a year for all this hard work. That was the toughest part, putting in all this time all year long and I just didn’t have the games to really show off what all the hard work was about and be out there with my teammates.” Dahl grew up in Spokane, Wash., but somehow wasn’t recruited by his hometown university. That’s why he wound up at Montana. One year later, Washington State wanted him. A year after that, he was in the starting lineup. “That first year,” Dahl recalls, “I started 13 games. I was paying my whole way (with student loans). That was a rough one. That hurt the pockets a little bit.” An injury earlier in his career fueled Dahl’s rise to the NFL. “After I transferred my freshman year, I hurt my back. I had three months where I could not do anything. This gave me a lot of time to think about how bad I missed the game and develop physically. It was a big point for me in my football career.”
Spencer Drango, Baylor (6-6, 320): Drango enters the draft as one of the most decorated prospects, regardless of position. The two-time consensus first-team All-American was the Big 12’s Offensive Lineman of the Year as a senior after sharing the honor in 2014, and a finalist for the Outland Trophy, which goes to the best lineman in the nation on either side of the ball. Drango also was one of 12 National Scholar Athletes and a finalist for the William Campbell Trophy, aka the Academic Heisman Trophy, in 2015. Drango started all 48 games of his career — all at left tackle — starting with earning Freshman All-America honors in 2012. The coaches credited him with 53 knockdowns as a senior and 39 as a junior. The academic accolades are especially impressive in light of his early struggles. “In fourth grade, it really became tough. I wasn’t where I needed to be with my reading. I was maybe a grade down in reading and was having trouble spelling and in all my classwork. It got to the point where my parents where like, ‘OK, maybe we should have him checked out. So we ran a few tests and it ended up that I had dyslexia.”
Parker Ehinger, Cincinnati (6-6, 302): Ehinger was a versatile four-year starter. He was a Freshman All-America at right tackle as a freshman, earned first-team all-conference at right guard as a junior and again at left tackle as a senior to key one of the most explosive offenses in the nation. In all, he started 50 consecutive games.
Joshua Garnett, Stanford (6-5, 317): As a senior, Garnett became the first Stanford offensive lineman to win the Outland Trophy, which goes to the nation’s top interior lineman (offense or defense). He also became the ninth unanimous first-team All-American in school history and won the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12’s best offensive lineman. Garnett, a two-year starter, had 82 pancake blocks entering the bowl game. Garnett is a punishing blocker. If whoever’s in his way gets hurt, at least he’ll be in good hands. Once his football career is over, he wants to become an emergency-room doctor. “The emergency department’s not going anywhere. In the NFL, you get the opportunity, you have to take it.” Garnett’s father, Scott Garnett, played on the defensive line for the Broncos, 49ers, Chargers and Bills from 1984 through 1987. “We joke every now and then who would have beaten who if we went head-up,” Scott laughed. “He’s a whole lot bigger kid than I was in high school, but I try to tell him I was a little bit meaner.”
Darrell Greene, San Diego State (6-3, 322): Greene was one of a handful of players suspended for the first six games of the season due to a violation of team rules. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, he tested positive for marijuana — snapping a 25-game starts streak at right guard. “After it happened, I knew I messed up,” said Greene, was considered the Mountain West’s top run blocker entering the season. “It was very hard to see my team struggling ... Thinking about the six games and not being out there with my teammates, I was very remorseful and very apologetic.” As a junior, he was an honorable mention on the all-conference team.
Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M (6-5, 325): Underclassman. Ifedi started at right guard as a redshirt freshman and at right tackle as a sophomore. The coaches wanted to move him to left tackle for this season but he struggled and remained on the right side, where he was named second-team all-SEC. He’s got a chance to extend the Aggies’ streak to four consecutive years with a first-round offensive tackle. His older brother, Martin, was a defensive tackle at Memphis. He was drafted in the seventh round by the Rams in 2015 and is on the Buccaneers’ roster. You might say Ifedi helped built A&M’s Kyle Field. The construction science major interned on the stadium’s renovation. “(Germain) absolutely loved Legos,” his father told the school’s 12th Man Magazine. “He would build any and everything with the abundance of Legos he had. When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, instead of giving the typical doctor, lawyer, police response, he said he wanted to be a construction man.”
Dominick Jackson, Alabama (6-6, 315): Jackson played two seasons at the College of San Mateo (Calif.), emerging as a five-star junior-college prospect. After serving as a backup for the Crimson Tide in 2014, he emerged as the starting right tackle as a senior. Jackson allowed two sacks and had 43 knockdowns, according to the coaches, to earn second-team all-SEC. He was able to pick the brain of hs high school coach, who took a similar path to Alabama. “He’s gotten himself in a good situation,” coach Milo Lewis said. “He was a good football player for me. ... Don’t go out there and mess anything up. He’s done everything right so far.” Part of doing everything right is honoring his stepbrother, Raymond Lewin-Phipps. The 19-year-old was shot and killed in August 2013. "Back in high school, all my brother kept telling me was get my education, keep pushing and try my hardest to put my family in a better position," Jackson said. "When I put those shoulder pads on, that's all I think about. Every time success comes my way, I look up to the sky and tell him, 'I wish you could see what's happening. I wish you could see this.'"
Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma: Kasitati overcame a season-ending knee injury in 2012 to start six games at right guard in 2013 and seven more in 2014. As a senior, he was named first-team all-Big 12 and to the Big 12’s all-academic team by starting all 13 games at right guard. The photo of this story, as well as the headline, is about the “Lives of Nila Kasitati.” Kasitati was driven to succeed. When he was a boy living in America Samoa, football practice ended at 6 p.m., the same time as the last bus departed toward his home. So, that meant a lot of three-hour walks home to think about life. "I don’t know what I was thinking, but I’d like to say that somehow, some way, I knew that this, that football could be something big for me,. Football is a team sport and I love that aspect of it that it takes a group to make it work. I saw it as a family. I treated it like a family, and football is what got me through in Samoa." The middle child in a big family, Kasitati had eight brothers and two sisters. At a young age, Kasitati’s older brothers taught him lessons, which he transferred to his younger siblings — helping them to grow in a family with little money. That translated to his football family. “I see this team as a family. It’s something that drives some for sure. . . . It is that push. When you’re tired, you realized you’re doing this, not only because this is my job, but this is my life and my brothers’ lives on the line. It’s not a selfish thing. It’s something when you have to think about others.”
ALSO IN THIS SERIES
Offensive tackles, Part 1
Offensive tackles, Part 2
Offensive guards, Part 1 (FREE)
Offensive guards, Part 2 (FREE)
Tight ends, Part 1 (FREE)
Tight ends, Part 2 (FREE)
Wide receivers, Part 1 (FREE)
Wide receivers, Part 2
Wide receivers, Part 3
Wide receivers, Part 4 (FREE)
Running backs, Part 1 (FREE)
Running backs, Part 2
Running backs, Part 3
Quarterbacks, Part 1 (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 2 (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 3 (FREE)
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.