Aug. 18, 2001
TURLOCK - Offensive line ... your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to protect quarterback Kyle Boller and create an ever expanding hole for tailback Joe Igber en route to a winning record and a New Year's bowl game.
Many so-called college football pundits think that such a request is pretty much a "Mission Impossible" for the Bears in 2001. But try saying that to Brandon Ludwig, Cal's senior center.
Do these o-linemen have the killer instincts of a secret double agent that will give them some type of distinct edge? Do they have the fierce and aggressive reputation of their counterparts, the defensive lineman?
No. They're still perceived by many as huggable, gentle giants that take care of their star quarterback the way a father would protect his children. "Nolan Bluntzer, I love that guy," Ludwig says, speaking so fondly and fatherly of the sophomore guard. "Langston Walker, we've been here four years together - we're so tight."
The paternal tendencies of Ludwig and the rest of the Bears offensive lineman may be the key to the success of the Cal football team this fall. A lot of the burden for the Bears to win this season rests on the broad shoulders of this native of Groveland.
Ludwig is one of the strongest and most talented linemen on the team. That's why offensive line coach Ed White moved him to center this past spring although Ludwig played most of the first three years of his college career at guard. The fact that he is one of the best linemen in the conference was made apparent when he was selected to second team All-Pac-10 in 2000.
"It was because the `center' of everything is right in the middle of the line," White said of the switch in positions. "And he's so powerful and strong, he can help our other guards with his power, strength and quickness. He's just blossomed into a leader on top of that. He's the nucleus of what we've got going right now and we've got a pretty good group of offensive linemen."
"It hasn't been that big of a change," said Ludwig, taking it all in stride. "I've got to make all the calls, and all of the line starts with me. So once I decide where I'm going, then everyone else can decide where they're going."
So this change really doesn't phase Ludwig at all.
And why should it? It seems as though everyone has good things to say about him. One of his biggest fans is White, an All-American defensive lineman at Cal in the 1960s who went onto a long NFL career on the offensive side of the ball. "I think he's certainly one of the best centers I've had the opportunity to work with," said White, who has tutored more than a fair share of NFL-caliber players in his coaching career. "He's got good talent. I think he could be one of the finest centers in the nation this year."
The only thing is, Ludwig doesn't want the individual spotlight. Like many great offensive linemen, whose excellent play usually go unnoticed, he's just happy to see the team win.
"Right now, I just want to go to a bowl game," he says. "I want the team to go to a bowl game. I've never experienced going to a bowl game and I've never beaten Stanford - I want to beat Stanford. I've got more team goals right now. If the personal stuff happens, it happens."
With this type of focus and desire to win, Ludwig and his teammates may just turn the impossible mission into ... well ... reality.
By David Song