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Archive for Friday, October 28, 2005

Former centers find home on O-line

October 28, 2005

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One is a converted center. The other has extensive experience as a center -- on a basketball court.

No matter, freshmen Ryan Cantrell and Anthony Collins are finding their niche on the right side of the Kansas University football team's offensive line.

Not the center.

The two spent most of Saturday's 44-13 loss to Colorado on the field, protecting quarterback Jason Swanson and giving time for the offense to have its best performance in weeks.

Each gave himself a passing grade, but the one who benefits most from Cantrell and Collins' play was more impressed than that.

"I have a lot of confidence in them," Swanson said. "They know what they're doing, they practice hard, they work hard. They build my confidence every day."

Cantrell was the only one of the two to start against CU, and that might be the case again at noon Saturday when KU tangles with Missouri.

But Collins is impressing teammates and the KU coaching staff alike more and more, bringing a new dimension to KU's young offensive line -- size.

"He's bigger, he's more physical and that's something that we do need," KU coach Mark Mangino said of the 6-foot-6, 290-pound Collins. "He brings an attitude with him and it's hard to overlook that.

"In any case, he'll play an enormous amount of snaps whether he starts or not."

Collins, a native of Beaumont, Texas, didn't start playing football until his senior year of high school. Before that, he saw his future in basketball, where he excelled as a center at Central Senior High.

"I really played football because of my friends," Collins said. "I didn't want to be the only one not playing football."

Collins played defensive end at Central, naturally an easier position to learn than offensive line because of the simple mission: go get the guy with the ball. KU recruited Collins as a defensive lineman, and later switched him to offense based on necessity and potential.

It didn't take long to crack the two-deep, and eventually, the playing field. Matt Thompson started at right tackle against Colorado on Saturday, but Collins moved in and played most of the night.

"I fed off him for the middle parts of the game," Swanson said. "He's real hungry to go out there and make plays and establish himself as a great offensive lineman. That's the kind of hunger we need."

Rare, considering Collins wasn't even thought of to be an offensive linemen until after his redshirt season.

"It was tough," Collins said of the move. "But my coaches got me ready. A lot of overtime and a lot of workouts and stuff. They got me ready."

Cantrell didn't have it so hard. He was a center -- a football center -- in high school, and was recruited and groomed as such during his redshirt season. But with team captain David Ochoa holding down the position and playing solid there, Cantrell was tried out at right guard, and soon became KU's third starter at the position this season.

"He's one of the strongest guys we have," Mangino said of the 6-3, 285-pound Cantrell. "He's not a real tall guy, but he's powerful."

Saturday's game was Cantrell's first in college, and Collins' first extensive action at KU. They both agreed that, while KU's fourth straight loss wasn't desirable, playing Big 12 Conference football certainly was.

That made the night one to remember.

"It was amazing," Cantrell said. "It was the most fun I've had playing in a long time."

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