Paving the way
UW-Eau Claire Offensive Line Coach Ben Halder said the Blugolds offensive lineman are nice guys off the field. Just don’t expect to see that side of them when they line up on Saturdays.
“All the guys up front are physical and they’re mean on the football field,” Halder said. “They have a switch they turn on and off, they’re nasty.”
This year, the Blugolds’ starting offensive line, made up of tackles Connor Carpenter and Josh Loken, guards Jake Holterman and Nate Koltis and center Paul Santi, have used their temperaments and physical style to pave the way for star running back Joel Sweeney. The team currently ranks second in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in team rushing offense and Sweeney is the individual
But the group’s success on the field this year was no sure thing.
Entering the 2012 season, the Blugolds had to replace three departed starters on the offensive line. The openings at left and right tackle and right guard left the coaching staff with some
concerns about the group.
“Everybody was nervous,” Halder said. “It was a question mark a little bit, how good we were truly going to be up front.”
Carpenter, a sophomore from Appleton, Wis. beat out two other lineman in training camp to win the starting left tackle job. Halder praised
Carpenter’s ability and potential while stressing the importance of solid play from the left tackle, a position which protects quarterback Austin Neu’s blind side.
Carpenter said he felt comfortable with the position after working in spring ball and
training camp in the summer and said he has been able to hold his own on the field.
“I feel good about (my performance) so far,” Carpenter said. “I know there are a lot of things I need to work on for the next couple years … overall, I feel OK about how I’ve done.”
Loken and Coltis, both juniors, had two years of experience in the program before joining the starting lineup this year. Loken is the
smallest member of the line, but a player who Halder said has quick feet and plays with impressive physicality. Loken said the two years of practice
repetitions, weight room work and film study helped prepare him for his transition into a
starting role at right tackle.
“I had a lot of experience, and I was following a couple of older guys who are really good at what they do,” Loken said. He credited Santi as his mentor on the team and the man he models his
As for Koltis, Halder said he has shown the most improvement from last spring of the five starters. He also said the coaching staff gave Koltis a list of improvements to make and things to work on and that he has followed through on each of them.
Blugolds Head Coach Todd Glaser said this year’s offensive line has skills that allow the team to move the ball on the ground
“The group is really
talented athletically, they have great footwork, which helps in the run game tremendously,”
Having three new starters in one unit can be a huge challenge for a football team. But Glaser and Halder both said the two holdover starters for the Blugolds, senior left guard Jake Holterman and junior center Paul Santi, have made the new additions that
Halder said Santi, a second-team All-Conference performer last season, makes the pre-snap calls for the line. Halder also said having one voice for the unit, especially one as respected as Santi’s, makes communication and accountability much easier.
Glaser said both Holterman and Santi have taken their status as elder statesmen of the group very
seriously. Halder said the duo’s work ethic and intensity on the practice field have rubbed off on both the new starters and the
“Those two guys have played a lot of football for us and they kind of take the leadership role on the
offensive line,” Glaser said.
Holterman, a native of Muskego, Wis. said he considers it part of his and Santi’s role on the team to mentor and help the other lineman in any way they can.
“I played as a freshman, so I know what it’s like to be a first-year player,” Holterman said. “For me, it’s a big deal to try and take them under our wing a little bit and show them the ropes, show them how to watch film, how to do the little things right.”
The makeup of the line was not the only thing that needed to be figured out on the offensive side of the football for the Blugolds entering the season. Sweeney, who leads the WIAC with 807 rushing yards on the season, said the team needed to figure out its playing style.
After starting the season with three consecutive losses, despite Sweeney rushing for 100 or more yards in all three, the Blugolds have won three of their last four games and are 3-1 in conference play. The team has run the ball more than passed it in every game this season, including a staggering 118 combined rushes in victories over UW-La Crosse and UW-Stevens Point the past two weeks.
Sweeney said the team has learned how to be most
successful on offense.
“Now we know who we are: a strong run team,” Sweeney said. “That’s our identity.”
Halder and Glaser both said offensive lineman relish playing a more smash-mouth, straight ahead style of offense. Holterman, Loken and Carpenter all echoed that sentiment, often with smiles on their faces.
“This is what we love,” Carpenter said. “We love getting after it up front, burying our heads sometimes and going across from a guy and saying ‘We’re better than you and we’re going to show you all game.’”
Holterman had similar comments.
“Football is not a sport for nice people. You’ve got to want to go after people for four quarters,” Holterman said. “When they’re starting to get worn out, you’ve just got to keep plugging away.”
Sweeney and the offensive line will look to continue their rushing success Saturday with a home game against UW-Platteville. The Blugolds lost to the Pioneers earlier this year by a score of 49-19. In that game, Sweeney carried the ball 23 times for 100 yards and a touchdown.
If recent history is any indication, look for an even heavier dose of Sweeney and the five nasty guys in front of him this time around.