RedRaiderSports - Stawarz's cerebral approach could make him a natural fit at center
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Stawarz's cerebral approach could make him a natural fit at center

You'd probably never categorize a position change on the offensive line as "fish out of water," but it certainly can be just that if you're sliding in from tackle or guard to center.

Sure, your primary goal is still the same. You're still trying to road grade Defender A and move him to Spot B in the run game, and you still want to stonewall Pass Rusher B from getting to the quarterback.

But as a center, you aren't just worried about taking care of yourself or helping out the man next to you. You're responsible for all five players in the unit. It ultimately falls on your shoulders to be the conductor, to create a symphony of destruction wherein five men are all in sync. If even one player in the unit miscommunicates, if something is lost in translation, it ultimately falls on the center's shoulders.

As a center, you're air traffic control for five jumbo jets. If even one of them isn't in the loop with what the four others are doing, it can lead to big time disaster.

All of that said to make it very clear: The transition to center at the collegiate level from guard or tackle is no small undertaking.

Junior Paul Stawarz is doing just that, sliding in from guard to take the reins for the big boys up front this fall under first year O-line coach - and former Red Raider center himself - Brandon Jones.

"I guess I'd played center in little league up until high school, but it's only recently that I've been thrown back into it," said Stawarz. "But, it's good to be back playing center. It's a little different. I'm getting used to things now, and it's really going well."

If you're going to succeed as a center at this level, you obviously need the physical skill set just like any other O-lineman. On top of that, you better have some razor sharp smarts and your quick wits about you when it comes to X's and O's, as it's up to you to identify defenses and set up the blocking for the entire unit, and all in the few seconds between snaps.

Left tackle Travis Bruffy certainly doesn't seem worried about Stawarz being able to handle that load and has seen the former JUCO transfer roll into the new duties naturally.

"He's the smartest guy on the football field at any time. He'll probably never say that because he's super humble, but Paul is the smartest guy I've ever seen that plays football. He's a great orchestrator. He's the best person I've ever seen that. He can analyze a defense better than anyone I've ever seen. He can make the adjustments super quick, check the plays, and he's the guy I definitely want in charge of my offensive line."

On top of communicating with his line, the center better be on the same page with his quarterback, too. Someone has to snap the ball to the QB, and the duo better be on the same wavelength with protections. If they aren't, the signal caller could get mauled off the snap from a free running defender, or a tailback could get stuffed for a loss. This relationship is paramount for the offense to get moving.

That being said, senior quarterback Nic Shimonek has been impressed with Starwarz and how he's handled the transition thus far. Now the quarterback is eager to see him shine.

"Paul is a goofy guy, but he's probably one of the most intelligent guys on the team. He's moved around in the pass, guard, tackle, now center, has played it all. But now that he's moved to center, it usually takes some time to get the calls and this and that, but it really seemed like he picked it up from day one. So, looking forward to seeing what he can do. He's the leader up front. He used to be kind of shy, but they've started to really get him out of that, broken him out of his shell a little bit. But, he's been big for us."

Stawarz thinks similarly of his quarterback, too.

"There are so many good things you could say about Nic. He makes my life easier, the whole O-line's life easier. He's obviously a great player, great quarterback, and I don't think many people really realize how smart he truly is. He's done a really good job."

Undoubtedly, as already touched on, the transition to center can be daunting. The good thing for the Channahon, Illinois native, however, is that his coach was a center himself in college, and a really good one at that. The wealth of street knowledge that Stawarz can access simply by talking to Coach Jones has been a major key in his early development.

"It's great having him. Just the scheme he has in place for us has set us up for success and to execute. He's obviously been there and done that playing center himself, so just learning from him and what he's gone through, knowing what works, what doesn't work, that's very valuable for me."

Now that he has a base understanding and is really getting the hang of his new role, Stawarz is widening his focus to the big picture. He wants to know Coach Kingsbury's offense inside and out while also trying to turn over every rock to uncover whatever opposing defenses might throw at him.

"I think I was really good at identifying defenses already, but what I'm really trying to work on understanding this offense as best as I possibly can, learning about other defenses as much as possible, looking at different situations, knowing how to adjust to them and get everyone targeted properly."