Though junior quarterback Jeff Mathews may be the face of the Red this year, his offensive line lurks behind the scenes as his ever-important protection. Mathews has his line to thank for cutting its sacks allowed in half last season from 2010, giving the Red more opportunity to work its passing game. Made up of primarily returning players this season, the squad’s offensive line has another year of strength and experience to help them protect their quarterback.
“We were always a lot younger [on the line] in the past, and that makes it tougher to stop someone who’s bigger and stronger,” senior offensive lineman J.C. Tretter said. “We’ve gotten a lot more experience, we’ve been out there seeing everything the defense is going to throw at us.”
As a senior on the line, Tretter is not the only one that brings experience to the offensive line, though. Senior Bob Bullington started every game at center, while serving as a team captain last year. Junior Josh Grider, who was thrown into the lineup because of injuries, adjusted to his role well, and is versatile enough to play either guard or tackle.
“If we had given out awards, Josh would have been Most Improved Player in spring ball,” Tretter said.
Also returning to the line is junior Brad Wagner, who started all ten games at left tackle as a sophomore. Senior Dylan Cunningham and sophomore Ryan Pearce will be the relatively newest faces to the line this year. Neither of them saw much action last fall, only playing in seven games between the two of them, but according to Tretter, they have gained valuable experience through spring ball as well.
“Dylan is our right tackle right now, he’s very athletic, and Pearce has a lot on his plate because he’s got to know a lot of positions, but he’s handling it really well,” Tretter said.
In a contact position like the offensive line, injuries can happen at any time. According to Tretter, junior Matt Simmonds — who emerged as a starter on the line last season — has already gone down with a knee injury.
“You’re in the trenches, getting hit every play, it’s just part of the position,” Tretter said. “It’s big to keep the same five guys out there because when one guy goes down you don’t have the same chemistry.”
Although Tretter values the experience he and his teammates have under their belts, as a converted tight end he is relatively new to the position. Last year was actually his first on the line, and he had to struggle through an injury of his own to get accustomed to it.
“It was a difficult transition because I was limited on the time I could work that summer and spring because of my knee injury so I had to rely a lot on my athleticism,” Tretter said.
However, Tretter battled through, starting all 10 games as the Red’s left tackle and earning second-team All-Ivy honors in the process.
“Now I’ve seen anything a defense can throw at you and I feel 100 times more confident,” Tretter said. “I don’t have to actually think about where to go, what to do anymore, everything comes so much more naturally.”