Offensive Ironmen
Courtesy: Cal Athletics  
Release:  10/02/2012

Oct. 2, 2012

By Tim Miguel

Every time you see senior offensive lineman Matt Summers-Gavin take his helmet off, he always seems to reopen a scrape at the top of the bridge of his nose. That small, yet constant wound will probably always be a little battle scar - a badge of how hard he competes on the field whether it is in a game or practice.

Players like Summers-Gavin, fellow senior Brian Schwenke and the rest of the offensive line are the often over-looked yet key components of Cal's offense that has produced many nine 1,000-yard rushers in the first 10 seasons of the Jeff Tedford era. The lack of fame is actually something that Schwenke likes about the job.

"We take a lot of pride in how well our running backs do, and we also take a lot of pride in how we don't get any credit," Schwenke said. "That's kind of our thing."

Since they've been digging into the trenches in Berkeley, Summers-Gavin and Schwenke have been leading the way for some of Cal's most prolific tailbacks in recent years like Jahvid Best, Shane Vereen and Isi Sofele.

Now being the veterans on the line in 2012, it's their job to not only pave the way for 2012 tailbacks Sofele, C.J. Anderson, Brendan Bigelow and Daniel Lasco as well asprotect quarterback Zach Maynard, but they also need to prepare the future Cal offensive linemen to pick up where they left off after they graduate.

Despite being a veteran on the offensive line, Schwenke is still learning new lessons and adding skills to his repertoire. After not playing a single snap at the position prior to last spring, Schwenke has moved over from left guard to center. The new challenge is something he's been excited about - something new to learn in his final campaign.

The lessons of being an offensive lineman at the collegiate level can take some time to learn.

Schwenke has noticed how many times he sees freshmen offensive linemen trying to go above and beyond when they start practicing in the Cal football program. They're accustomed to how things were in high school when they were always being watched by recruiters. Letting go of that constant attention is one of the first lessons you have to learn in order to be a successful collegiate offensive linemen.

"The younger guys will be exhausted and losing it during practice," Schwenke said. "They have to get used to that. In high school, they get all the recruiting attention, but that's not happening here. It takes time to get used to. I think you can be a really good offensive lineman if you take on that `all work, no reward' tough man mentality."

The expertise and knowledge that comes with being a senior is something that offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Jim Michalczik sees in Summers-Gavin and Schwenke, and is grateful to have for his younger linemen

"In a lot of ways it's like having two more coaches on the field," Michalczik said. "We have some good young offensive linemen here, and they're always working with those guys. That's their legacy. When they're gone, their tie back here for a while is going to be those young guys, and they do a great job of helping them out."

Before Summers-Gavin became the experienced veteran, one of his reasons in deciding to come to Cal after graduating from St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco was he loved the idea of staying close to home while he was in college.

Like most student-athletes at Cal say, the combination of elite academics that have made Cal the No. 1 public university and the high-level athletics are what drives people to Berkeley. But it means more than that to Summers-Gavin. After signing his national letter of intent in February 2007 and delaying his enrollment at Cal to January of 2008 after an injury, he has had a lot of time to take in everything about his future alma mater. Since he's one of the longest-tenured student-athletes on the squad, Summers-Gavin often gets playfully ridiculed by his teammates for being an "old man" on the team.

"I've been here for a while and seen a lot of stuff," Summers-Gavin said. "It's been a great experience, though. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. It's a great academic institution and a top-notch football program. All the coaches are great. Coming to practice, I visited a lot of schools, and the practices here were the best that I saw. The toughest people I saw playing were here, and I knew [offensive line] coach [Jim] Michalczik was a great coach. I just wanted to be a part of it."

With all of the daily grind and punishing workloads that come with being an offensive lineman, one would assume that these linemen would have missed a few games with nagging injuries. On the contrary, at the outset of the 2012 season Summers-Gavin had started the most games of any player on Cal's active roster with Schwenke one behind him. Schwenke is now two ahead of Summers-Gavin, 28-26, after Summers-Gavin missed the past three games due to an injury suffered in the opening game of the campaign. Summers-Gavin could potentially be back for today's game against Arizona State.

In order to stay healthy, Schwenke said the worst thing you can do is play softer with the interest of purposely trying to stay healthy. The only way to give yourself the best chance of staying on the field is to just go as hard as you can.

There is no doubt that's exactly what both of these guys do day in and day out.