Throughout the preseason, I will take a look at the Quincy University football team position-by-position as the Hawks prepare for their Sept. 4 season opener at Lindenwood-Belleville. We start up front with the offensive line …
Forgive Tom Pajic if he thinks it’s an illusion he sees.
When the Quincy University football coach watches the offensive linemen go through drills, particularly when they attack the blocking sled, there are 18 players participating. There’s actual depth up front and the ability to split into two groups during practice.
“For the two years we’ve been here, that hasn’t been the case,” Pajic said.
It’s a critical reason why the Hawks have won only five games in Pajic’s first two seasons. Last year, with an offensive line decimated by injury and illness, the Hawks struggled offensively. Twice, they failed to gain a single yard rushing in a game and finished the season averaging 3.4 yards per rush.
That’s a distant memory.
“You have to put that in the past,” senior left tackle Kyle Lomprez said. “This is a new season.”
And a new line.
Lomprez is the grizzled veteran, having started 19 games and played in 21 the past two seasons. The 6-foot-3, 305-pounder from Rochester, Ill., is an All-Great Lakes Valley Conference honorable mention selection and the only returnee with a full season of starting experience. Ryan McLaughlin, a 6-3, 285-pound senior guard, started four games last season after not seeing any action two years ago as he made the switch from defensive to offensive line. Les Sakaria, a 5-11, 320-pound sophomore guard, had his redshirt pulled last year and started five games. He likely will start at right guard.
Eli Thom, a junior college transfer, is taking over at center and becoming an anchor for the line.
“He’s fitting in great,” Lomprez said of Thom. “He came in and I worked with him in the spring, and throughout the summer, I was there with him some. He’s a really good guy and a great football player.”
Campus-wide, people are taking notice.
“I’ve had five people on campus go out of their way and say that Eli Thom is a great guy, a great kid,” Pajic said. “It’s unwarranted, unsolicited. Then he comes out here and he’s leading our offense. He’s the cog in the wheel that is making us go.”
His experience is helping the Hawks find some rhythm, although there is plenty of work to be done.
“We really need to start communicating better,” Lomprez said. “We’re really young. We have a really good recruiting class, but we’re young. Once we get them in a groove with everything and lerning all the plays, we’re going to gelling pretty good.”
Sophomore Sam Rohr has been taking snaps at right tackle, but he and others are going to be pushed for playing time by hungry freshmen. Ray Gieseo, Phillip Gegner and Jared Carlton have turned heads during the opening days of practice and could figure into the mix up front.
“Those are three freshmen I’m really impressed with,” Lomprez said.
It’s helping the Hawks build from the ground floor up.
“The future looks good,” Pajic said.
And it looks like the Hawks will have options.
“You look around and there’s more people,” Pajic said. “It looks like a football team.”
Maybe the best team Pajic has had yet.
“We’re better as a team in general,” Lomprez said. “We’re gelling better.”