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Nov. 09, 2001

by Trent Packer

As a fifth-year graduate student on the University of Virginia football team, offensive guard Evan Routzahn is quite familiar with the demands of playing on an offensive line in the college ranks. He has been an anchor on the Cavaliers’ offensive line since his red shirt freshman year, starting all 12 of the teams’ games in 1999 and 2000. Routzahn earned honorable mention All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors in 2000 after opening holes for the conference’s last two leading rushers, Antwoine Womack last season and Thomas Jones before that.

Even Routzahn’s abundant experience, however, could not completely prepare him for the transition to a new coaching staff. After the 2000 season, George Welsh relinquished the reins of Virginia football, handing them over to Al Groh and his staff. For Routzahn, as for many of the Cavaliers, the change was accompanied by significant adjustments, including changes in the offensive linemen’s roles.

“It is definitely an adjustment [getting used to a new staff], but it is a good change,” Routzhan says. “We needed to adjust to what they were asking us to do.”

For one thing, Routzahn and his teammates had to get used to a new offensive line coach after spending four years with former offensive line director Paul Schudel. Ron Prince joined the Virginia staff for the 2001 season, assuming responsibilities for the line and bringing with him a new approach to run and pass blocking.

“[Coach Prince] is very technical,” Routzahn says. “He always says his goal is to prepare us to play against the best player on our schedule. He wants us to learn the technique to be able to play against anybody.”

Along with Prince’s approach has come a shift in offensive scheme under the direction of Groh and new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. After losing returning All-ACC tailback Antwoine Womack in the first quarter of the first game of this season, Virginia has looked to generate offense through the air more than in previous seasons.

“[The passing] has changed some things,” Routzahn says. “Virginia has always been characterized as a running team. We really have to perfect our pass blocking skills. We aren’t just run blockers. [With the pass blocking] we just have had to really key in and work on moving our feet.”

Blocking for an offense predicated more on the pass than the run requires a number of adjustments along the offensive line. Instead of charging toward an area on the field and trying to open a hole for a tailback by blowing defenders off the line of scrimmage, pass blocking demands a more technical and thought-intensive approach.

“With run blocking you have a specific area to get to and you just put your head down and get there and keep going,” Routzahn says. “The pass block is more of a finesse block. You have to think more, move your feet, and cover a guy. You also have to key on the linebackers and keep track of where they are. It is a more technical block and it requires more thinking.”

As an offensive guard, Routzahn’s role is fundamental to the success of any given play. The guards are the two players on the line who have the best view of the field. The center often has his head down and the tackles are sometimes positioned in such a way that they are unable to see half the field. That leaves the guards responsible for identifying different defensive schemes and relaying messages along the line of scrimmage.

“We control everything in the middle, and help keep the middle from falling back,” Routzahn says. “We’re the ones who tell everyone where the linebackers are. The guards are the only ones who can relay all the different messages about what we are trying to do as a team.”

Routzahn’s responsibilities are not limited to game day. As a fifth-year, it is incumbent upon him to help pass his significant knowledge on to the younger linemen. Routzhan, along with fifth-year senior offensive guard Josh Lawson, understand the importance of getting younger players comfortable with the system and accustomed to dealing with the pressures of big-time college football.

“We definitely know that these kids are the future of Virginia football,” Routzahn says. “We try to keep them poised and under control. It is kind of like a big brother role. We try to get them going and get them to understand what it is they need to do.”

Oftentimes Routzahn and his elder teammates also help the younger players deal with coaches’ criticisms. It is in this capacity that Routzahn might be most at home. He is currently pursuing a course of graduate study geared towards a possible career in teaching.

“I’m still not sure [what I want to do],” Routzahn says. “I have been taking a lot of education classes, and I might want to work with schools in some way.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree in sociology, Routzahn moved on to the graduate ranks, where he is taking, among other classes, the anthropology of education and a course in human development. According to Routzahn, the graduate courses have given him a unique opportunity to expand his education while also allowing him more time during the day to focus on football.

“It is good to be in a graduate program,” Routzahn says. “It is a neat thing having night classes, so you can focus on football during the morning. It is kind of weird being one of the young kids in the classroom.”

The nighttime schedule also gives Routzahn time during the morning to pursue his other hobbies: hunting and fishing. He and teammates Lawson, Mike Abrams and Chris Luzar are looking forward to the upcoming rifle-hunting season, and Routzahn says he has, “gotten really into freshwater fishing.”

The morning hunting and fishing expeditions provide a diversion from football, something Routzahn has earned after close to five full seasons at UVa, and four seasons as a stalwart on the Cavaliers’ offensive line. His maturity and experience make Routzahn a valuable player on game day, and an equally important leader both on and off the field.

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