DETROIT — For the first time since 2010, someone not named Zac Kerin will play center for the University of Toledo football team and anchor the offensive line.
But that’s OK, because Greg Mancz seems more than capable of taking over the position.
After spending the previous three years at right guard and right tackle, head coach Matt Campbell has said he anticipates the 6-6, 300-pound senior will be moving full time to center. He was placed on the preseason watch list for the Rimington trophy, awarded to the nation’s top center, despite only having 20 or 30 in-game snaps at that spot.
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“Concept wise, it’s not that much different,” he said at MAC Media Day. “Footwork-wise, it’s going to be a huge change because you’re right there snapping the ball and then you’ve got to stand up. Moving around has allowed me to learn all the positions, and I’m going to use everything I’ve learned the past three years.”
Mancz received a healthy dose of reps at center during spring practice to ready himself to play the position on a permanent basis.
It’s safe to say he had a great mentor.
Kerin — who began training camp this week with the Minnesota Vikings — started every game for the Rockets at center for the last three years. He was a first team All-MAC performer in 2011 and 2012, and received second-team honors in 2013.
Mancz played alongside him for each one of those 38 games and soaked up as much knowledge as possible.
“[Kerin] was a great player and he’s one of my best friends,” Mancz said. He was a calming force because when you’re a freshman, you’re jumping all around and he would calm me down. I learned a lot about film study, how to finish plays. I like to think he learned something from me too.”
Depth on the offensive line hasn’t been an issue for Toledo for several years, and this year shouldn’t be any different.
Seniors Josh Hendershot (left tackle), Jeff Myers (right guard), and Chase Nelson (right tackle) join Mancz as returning starters up front. Senior Robert Lisowski, who started the first three games at right guard last season, is in line to win the fifth and final starting spot.
But it’s Mancz who emerged as the prime candidate to man the middle.
“Greg could probably be the offensive coordinator at times for us,” Campbell said. “He has the ability to control the whole unit and has done it, even from his guard position. He probably could have been our center the entire time had it not been for a guy of the quality of Zac Kerin.”
Kerin leaves behind big shoes to fill on the field, but also from a leadership standpoint.
Mancz has that covered, too.
He’s been on the team’s leadership council every year he’s been a Rocket. He serves on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, a group that focuses on effective ways for college athletes to get involved in their communities. Last year, he served as vice president of Athletes in Action, a fellowship of Christian athletes.
“Coach Campbell’s phrase is ‘give more than you take from the program,’” Mancz said. “That involves the program, the community, everything you go through in life. A lot of us have taken that to heart.”
Campbell said Mancz’s selfless attitude has helped him get where he is today.
“From the day he walked on our campus, he has set his goals and he’s reached them,” Campbell said. “But it’s never been about him, it’s been about the team. Whether it’s helping a guy study for a test or pushing a guy in the weight room, he’s been the glue for a lot of our players.
“We couldn’t have a better representative to lead our team.”
When the Rockets begin their 2014 campaign Saturday, Aug. 30, against New Hampshire, Mancz will be the glue for an offensive line looking to repeat its dominant form from a year ago.
Toledo quarterbacks were sacked just six times in 2013, the best mark in the country. With as many as five seniors up front who all have starting experience, the unit is understandably expecting big things.
“On the offensive line, we have a huge mission to prove because we’ve heard a lot about how to replace Zac Kerin,” Mancz said. “That’s all we’ve heard in the offseason, so that’s more motivation for us. We have to prove that we’re a really good offensive line across the board.”