Sophomore Center Orlosky Progressing
Sometimes disappointment can be the best teacher.
Consider what sophomore Tyler Orlosky went through last year. He began the season as West Virginia’s starting center after a strong fall training camp, but two games into it the Mountaineers chose to move senior Pat Eger from guard to center to give the much younger Orlosky some additional time for seasoning.
Now, a year older and much, much wiser, Orlosky is ready to take another stab at becoming West Virginia’s regular snapper.
“I think I’ve come a long way since last year,” he said recently. “I think I have performed better than I did last spring, so that’s good.”
Orlosky was part of a WVU offensive line class in 2012 that included Adam Pankey, Tony Matteo and junior college transfer Mark Glowinski. Orlosky was a two-time area all-star and was considered one of the top prep prospects in the talent-rich Cleveland area during his senior season at St. Edward High.
Pankey, too, was a coveted recruit coming out of Hamilton, Ohio.
As true freshmen, the two were praised for their ability to pick things up quickly and both were seemingly on a fast track to starting berths. But then came the speed bumps. For Pankey, it was a knee injury sustained during his freshman season that required offseason surgery and eight month’s worth of rehabilitation. For Orlosky, it was the Oklahoma defensive line that forced a push on the reset button.
Yet despite that, Tyler managed to battle back to start the Maryland game and play 335 snaps in 2013. Now, he will have all of that experience to draw upon when West Virginia opens the 2014 season against Alabama in Atlanta.
“Starting those games did a lot for me,” Orlosky admitted. “I got to know what it’s like. It’s going to be very important for this first game because it’s Alabama. Playing in front of Oklahoma last year, (close to) 90,000 people, not many people get to do that or get to experience that. I think it was a great learning experience, and hopefully that will help me this year.”
It’s probably not a coincidence that Orlosky mentioned Oklahoma because it was the Sooners who soundly defeated the Crimson Tide, 45-31, in last year’s Sugar Bowl in New Orleans – the same Oklahoma team that had to fight and scratch out a 16-7 victory over West Virginia earlier in the year. At the time, the Mountaineers were playing a bunch of freshmen on both sides of the ball as the coaching staff was trying to figure out who could do what.
What players show in practice doesn’t always come out when 84,692 people are in the stands, and Orlosky admitted that it felt like the Oklahoma game was continuously stuck on fast-forward.
“The biggest thing was to slow things down,” he explained. “You come from high school, you sit out a year and you really don’t know what it’s like and then you’re thrown in there.
“It’s a much different game; it’s much faster,” he added. “Obviously there is a much bigger crowd and much more pressure on you. The most important thing as a player is you have to slow things down, be calm with it, and just take it as it comes to you.”
When things are flying around like that for a young center, it’s really hard for a team to function effectively on offense. No one handles the ball more than the center, and outside of the quarterback, there is no one on offense that has to be more aware of what’s going on around him than the center.
“I think it’s one of the most important positions on the offensive line,” said Orlosky. “Everyone talks about the blindside tackle being the most important, but the blindside tackle doesn’t have to call out all the fronts. I think it’s very important to have someone in that spot who can do all of that … and block at the same time.”
Orlosky says he can be pretty hard on himself and that’s something he has to get beyond if he wants to play effectively. Of course, a lot of that is the manifestation of being young and inexperienced, too.
“I get (upset) pretty easily,” he said. “Messing up the little things makes me mad. I try to limit those little things because you get (mad) when you’re not in the right mental state in the game.”
Aiding Orlosky’s transition into this season are two experienced players lining up next to him. Senior left guard Quinton Spain is the elder statesman of the offensive line and right guard Mark Glowinski has a year’s worth of starting experience under his belt. Those two should make up one of the strongest guard tandems in the Big 12 in 2014.
“They help me out a lot,” Orlosky admitted. “Spain is the most senior member of the group with the most starts and Mark started all 12 games last year, so he’s right there next to me. I will rely on them quite a bit to help me make my calls, knowing that I can trust them making their blocks.”
On the outside, it looks like Pankey and junior Marquis Lucas will man the two tackle spots with junior college transfer Sylvester Townes working as the No. 3 guy. The coaching staff is trying to develop additional offensive line depth with players such as Russell Haughton-James, Stone Underwood and Marcell Lazard possible candidates.
“I think the whole group is starting to jell,” said offensive line coach Ron Crook, following last Saturday’s practice. “There are so many young guys getting in there, taking reps and making improvement, so that’s what you are really looking for at this time of year.”
In four months, it will be interesting to see how much this group can grow because things will be getting real in a hurry with the Crimson Tide on the horizon.
Orlosky says he will be ready.
“I’m a lot more prepared,” he said. “Having not played a game hurts you, but now I played in very game last year, started some, so that has prepared me for this year and it mentally prepared me also.”
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