During the past two seasons, the University of Richmond football team has won a National Championship and a Colonial Athletic Association conference championship, produced the two leading rushers and touchdown scorers in team history and set the team record for most rushing yards during a single game.
Fifth-year seniors Matt McCracken, Mike Silva, Chris Kondorossy and Jared Decker, along with junior Drew Lachenmayer, have helped produce these record-breaking statistics and will try to improve their already impressive resumes on the offensive line this season.
The line is led by McCracken, a three-time All-American left guard, who is also one of the team's captains this season. After redshirting his freshman year, McCracken has helped lead the Spiders to a record of 30-11 during the past three seasons.
"Matt's our captain," Silva said of his line mate. "He's been starting for four years, so he has the most experience, and he's the NFL prospect out of the group."
Silva has started for the last two seasons and will start this season as the right tackle. Last year, he earned honorable mention All-American and second team all-CAA honors. He also scored the only touchdown of the linemen when he returned a fumble for a score against the College of William & Mary.
Decker took his place on the line during the second game of the 2007 season - after an injury to former All-American Tim Silver - and he hasn't left since. This season, he will line up at left tackle.
Kondorossy suffered a torn ACL that kept him out for much of last season, but he played in 21 games during his first two seasons. He would have started at center last season if not for his injury, but this season he will move to right guard.
After losing Kondorossy during the preseason last year, Lachenmayer stepped in to start at center. He started all 16 games of last season and earned a College Sporting News second-team preseason All-America selection this year.
"There was a little bit of pressure [replacing Kondorossy]," Lachenmayer said. "I didn't want to be the reason we weren't operating effectively, but all the other guys helped me out if I ever slacked."
Though all of the linemen have had personal success during their careers, the key to good offensive line play is cooperation, Kondorossy said.
"It's five guys working as one," he said. "You have to have a short memory. If someone messes up, you have to forget that on the next play and keep going."
Lachenmayer also said technique on the line is more important than sheer size.
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"It's a lot more technical than people think it is," Lachenmayer said. "It's not just big guys trying to push each other around."
Silva said: "It's attention to detail. It's all about first and second steps. Where you're stepping, where you're placing your hands, where you're placing your helmet, it's all important."
Offensive linemen are also practically the only players other than the quarterback who play nearly every offensive down, which means they have to be well-conditioned and tough enough to handle the play-to-play stress of the game.
"There's no formation where the offensive linemen come out," Silva said. "You have to play every down. There's no subbing out."
The linemen agreed that they prefered run blocking to pass blocking, and this year the running game will be different than it has been for the last few years.
Former Spider running backs Tim Hightower and Josh Vaughan have both moved on to the NFL after record-breaking careers at Richmond. This year, senior Justin Forte and sophomore Garrett Wilkins, two smaller running backs, will be expected to lead the running game.
"If the offensive line can open up holes, it shouldn't matter who's running the ball," McCracken said. "Everyone likes to run-block a little bit more than pass-block, so the numbers that the running back picks up are also representative of the offensive line."
The numbers for Vaughan and Hightower show just how successful this offensive line has been for the Spiders during recent years. The running backs hold the top two spots in team history for career rushing yards, rushing attempts, touchdowns and rushing yards per game.
The line will also be in charge of protecting senior quarterback Eric Ward. Opponents sacked Ward 15 times during the first five games last season, but only 11 times during the final 11 games.
"Eric is more of a silent leader," Silva said. "He leads by his actions. He might not verbalize how much he appreciates us, but we know."
Away from the field, the offensive linemen have a weekly tradition that helps them prepare for every game: Thursday nights at Olive Garden.
"It started in 2007, the year we won the [CAA] conference championship," Silva said. "We went one night, and we won the first game after. We started it and haven't stopped since."
The tradition is so entrenched that even holidays don't get in the way.
"Even on the week of Thanksgiving, we go on Wednesday," Kondorossy said.
The group takes advantage of Olive Garden's never-ending-pasta special, Kondorossy said.
"We usually keep it around three bowls each," he said. "You've got to mix up what you get."
The linemen said that they didn't usually compete to see who could eat the most pasta, but occasionally there were challengers. Sophomore lineman Ryan Goss holds the record for most bowls in one sitting, with nine, Silva said.
"We don't really have competitions except for when Goss came," he said. "He's definitely the eating champ."
The players also said they liked to relax by playing video games and card games in their free time, as well as an activity they called Fat Fest.
"It starts in the spring," McCracken said of Fat Fest. "It's 'bring your own meat' and we watch NASCAR on Saturdays. Lots of various chips and dips ... It revolves around food."
As much fun as they have off the field, the linemen agreed that they have more fun doing what they do best.
"We like to mash people," Kondorossy said.
The linemen will get their chance to mash people for the first time this season, when the Spiders travel to Durham, N.C., to play Duke University at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
Contact staff writer Reilly Moore at email@example.com
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