The Building Of A Lineman
Oct. 23, 2001
Norm Katnik used to have a weight problem. Or maybe, he had a problem with his weight.
Not so much anymore. The third-year sophomore offensive lineman checks in now at 6-foot-4, 275 pounds. It's big enough to start five times this year on USC's offensive line at both guard and center. It sounds like a lot. It is a lot. But when you look at the remaining linemen on USC's two-deep, all but Lenny Vandermade are at least 15 pounds bigger. Most are at least 300 pounds.
But Katnik is happy with 275. It's 120 pounds better than where he was as a freshman in high school, 50 pounds better than where he was as a prep senior and 30 pounds heavier than when he came to USC.
'I'm not a huge meal eater,' said Katnik. 'It always seemed my metabolism was moving faster than my mouth was and I could never catch up. But I finally have.'
He's come a long way from his days at Foothill High in Santa Ana, Calif. He joined the football team as a 6-foot, 155-pound offensive and defensive lineman. He grew to 6-foot-1, 170 pounds as a sophomore, 6-foot-2, 185 pounds as a junior and 6-foot-3, 225 pounds as a senior.
Generally recruited as an offensive lineman, Katnik's hopes were pinned to playing tackle. Left tackle. Though his dad, Norman, was a starting center at Arizona in 1978 and 1979, Katnik.s family was predominantly Trojan. His uncle, John, started at center for USC in 1986 and 1987. USC was a logical and very satisfying destination for Katnik. (And, for the record, Katnik says his dad will be cheering for USC on Saturday, and not for his alma mater).
Shortly into his first fall camp with USC in 1999, then-head coach Paul Hackett switched Katnik to tight end. It was a first for Katnik, who had had experience in high school playing all over the line, but mainly at tackle and never at tight end.
'I was moved to tight end after a week,' Katnik said. 'They liked how I was progressing with the offense and moved me with the hope that I could play. But I had never played there before. It seemed like the plays and the routes were in a foreign language.
'It wasn't like the line, which used more general terms. I need to do something to really learn it. That's what I could do on the line. But by the time I switched to tight end, it was near the end of fall camp and they were in game preparation and I couldn't get many reps in. It was hard to pick up.'
He remained at tight end until mid-season, when he was switched to center. That he had done, but never for a long time and never against this type of competition.
'I didn't like it at first,' Katnik said. 'It had to do with how light I was. I got pushed around by bigger guys. The center is set off from the rest. When the defensive line runs stunts, It's easy to get picked off. Your technique has to be more sound. I hadn't played that much and it was difficult.'
Katnik ultimately redshirted as a freshman in 1999 and remained at center heading into 2000. Now at 255, he also was the back-up long snapper, which is how he got into his first game as a Trojan against San Jose State. He also still dabbled at tight end, which is how he got into his other game last year, serving as a blocking tight end against Arizona.
He still wasn't a huge fan of playing center when the staff changed. When he met Norm Chow, he told him he wanted to play tackle.
'He told me if I got my weight up to at least 270, he'd give me a shot, and that's what happened,. Katnik said. 'They felt I performed well in camp and I won the tackle spot.'
For a while, at least. Injuries on the line forced Katnik to start the first game in 2001 at left guard. He did get to play a little right and left tackle against Kansas State. He made his first career start at center against Oregon and, after starting back at left guard against Stanford, he started again at center against Washington and Arizona State.
He's grown to truly like playing center. He enjoys the challenge. He feels like he's arrived.
'I've always had a lot of faith and was cocky about my ability,' Katnik said. 'I felt I was good, but my weight held me back.'
That's no longer a problem, but that's part of the reason Katnik has become such a stickler with his technique. It's the great equalizer on the line. It's also why he has always looked up to former Trojan All-American Tony Boselli.
'He's such a technician and I see myself like that,' said Katnik. 'Nothing can beat a good technician.
'I've always been the little guy. I've never been the super big guy. People are always taller and heavier. But it all comes down to how well you know the game and how much more you know than the other guy across from you. Someone else may be a little bigger or stronger, but if I've got the edge on technique and understand my role in the play, I've got the advantage.
'That's what got me here and gets me on the field. It's about the right footwork and being in the right places. That usually will prevent defenders from getting to the ball.'
And will keep you in the starting lineup.
By Paul Goldberg
Assistant Sports Information Director