Time to give KU's much maligned O-Line some love
They were torn apart when things were not going well, so now that the tables have turned a little bit, it's time to praise them.
We're talking about the Kansas University offensive line, of course, a group that, anchored by center Gavin Howard and buoyed by head coach Charlie Weis' willingness to keep tinkering until he found the right combination, has hit its stride during recent weeks and has allowed KU to return to an impressive identity of power football that, last week, led to the program's first Big 12 victory in three years.
There are plenty of people in the program who deserve credit for the line's resurgence. But the five guys who are out there playing most of the snaps and blowing open most of the holes deserve the most credit. So here's a quick, player-by-player breakdown of who they are and what makes them tick.
LEFT TACKLE — Riley Spencer —
6-foot-6, 305-pound senior from Hesston, Kan.
Spencer is one of those program players who has been in Lawrence for five years and suffered through repeated injuries while trying to find his place on the KU line. He missed 2009 to red-shirt and all but one game last season because of injury and played mostly as a back-up during the seasons in between.
Spencer also played basketball in high school, where he was an all-state selection on the offensive line. He earned Academic All-Big 12 first team honors in 2010 and is majoring in exercise science. He plans to be a firefighter after graduating from KU.
Future fireman Spencer fights off defenders, injuries to make impact for KU:
Will Riley Spencer and Damon Martin make a difference for KU's offense?
LEFT GUARD — Ngalu Fusimalohi —
6-foot-2, 310-pound junior from Daly City, Calif.
Weis recently called Fusimalohi the most consistent KU offensive lineman this season, from start to finish. Thrust into a first-string role during his first season after transfering from City College of San Francisco, the man who resembles a road grader is physical and nasty at the point of attack and seems to have been born to run block.
Rated the 90th best junior college prospect in the country last season, Fusimalohi was a part of the 2011 NJCAA national champions and earned first team all-Nor Cal Conference honors last season.
He's majoring in history.
Juco offensive lineman picks Kansas:
CENTER — Gavin Howard —
6-foot-4, 300-pound senior from Owasso, Okla.
Howard is another one of those program guys who has been around Lawrence for a long time and played a lot of snaps, mostly in a back-up role. Thrust into the starting center spot after KU had exhausted all other options, Howard has done a fantastic job of settling the line down and helping provide an identity of physicality, toughness and intelligence.
A gifted athlete who starred in basketball and football in high school, Howard is one of the smartest players on the roster and has spent a lot of time tutoring his teammates during the academic portion of their lives as KU football players.
Howard recently landed a job with Conoco-Phillips and will get his post-football career started on Jan. 13, making the next 10 days his final days as a football player, which, he said Wednesday, inspired him to give all he's got to the finish.
Center Gavin Howard completes cycle:
Kansas center Gavin Howard not approaching new position gingerly:
Howard helps KU reduce snap snafus:
RIGHT GUARD — Damon Martin —
6-foot-3, 300-pound sophomore from Arlington, Texas.
Widely regarded as one of the strongest players in the program, Martin, like Spencer, has helped bring back the physicality to KU's offensive line that has led to some strong rushing performances during recent weeks.
A third-year sophomore who red-shirted in 2011, Martin made such a rapid rise during 2012 that he wound up starting a game late in the season before falling off as quickly as he climbed up. Weis has said throughout his two years in town that consistency has been Martin's biggest issue and earlier this week Weis said he believed Martin had turned the corner.
A quiet guy during interviews, Martin is majoring in sociology.
August crucial for these five football players:
Will Riley Spencer and Damon Martin make a difference for KU's offense?:
Offensive lineman commits to Kansas:
RIGHT TACKLE — Aslam Sterling —
6-foot-5, 315-pound senior from Springfield Gardens, N.Y.
After being moved into the all-important left tackle spot following an offseason body makeover, Sterling struggled in his new role early and quickly was moved back to the right tackle spot he held down during his first season in Lawrence in 2012.
Big, strong, athletic and with his best days still ahead of him, Sterling provided a much needed dose of experience for KU's offensive line early in the season and, lately, has merely been able to return to a more anonymous role and focus on nothing more than getting the job done.
Arrived from Nassau Community College with a big frame and big expectations, Sterling has been solid during his time at Kansas and likely will get a shot at pro football next fall.
Majoring in liberal arts and sciences.
KU offensive tackle Sterling a changed man:
Lineman Aslam Sterling has huge potential:
Don't count out KU's new-look offensive line yet: