In the Trenches with Brad Vanneman

Sept. 20, 2004

It's an old adage in football that the only time an offensive lineman gets noticed is when he's not doing his job. Perhaps it's good, then, that Husky junior Brad Vanneman gets little publicity. The statistics would certainly seem to back up the assertion that Vanneman, the Huskies' starting center, and his UW linemates have excelled so far in 2004. The traditional indicators of a line's success -- opponents' sack totals and the team's rushing average -- both favor the Huskies, whose two sacks against are second-fewest in the conference, and whose rushing average of 194.5 yards per game is the Pac-10's fourth best. reporter Mike Bruscas sat down with Vanneman over a pepperoni pizza to discuss the Issaquah, Wash., natives thoughts on the 2004 season, the team's upcoming trip to the Notre Dame, and his love of Greek and Roman history. Against Fresno State the offense struggled but the defense played solid, while against UCLA the opposite was true. What will it take to put it all together?
Brad Vanneman: 'I think we're due for a complete game. We're due to put something together and play well as a whole unit. Hopefully this week will be the time for that. It's a challenge we accept and are looking forward to.' What are your thoughts on going to Notre Dame, with all of its tradition?
Brad Vanneman: 'You should take a moment to realize where you are and appreciate the tradition. I've seen the stadium on TV and it's a magnificent stadium. But at the same time you can't let your emotions control you because if they control you, you won't be able to execute. Success in football lies in between emotion and execution. So it doesn't matter how pumped up you are, if you don't execute you're going to struggle.'

GH: Will you have a chance to see much of the campus?
BV: 'No. I really don't care about seeing the university. I want to see the inside of the football stadium and hopefully a happy visitor's locker room at the end.'

GH: What comes to mind when you hear 'Notre Dame?'
BV: 'I think of `Rudy' when I think of Notre Dame. It's certainly one of the places that you circle if you're a player or a fan that you want to either go to or play at. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't circled this game when I came here. We've all been looking forward to it, but we're not going to come in there wide-eyed and not be able to play well. We're going to go in there with a focus and a purpose.'

GH: Do you think about how special it would be to be to look back years from and say you beat Notre Dame in South Bend?
BV: 'Absolutely. But we have to go in and do it. Hopefully I'll look back and reflect on it, but I'll look back and reflect much more if we win.'

GH: How will this team respond to going on the road for the first time?
BV: 'I honestly think it will be good for us. I think this team has the ability to play well anywhere including Husky Stadium, including a back alley, it doesn't matter. We just have to go out and prove it.'

GH: How has it felt to step into the starting center role this season?
BV: 'It's been great. I love it. Coming into game-planning and knowing you're the guy is a really good feeling. I started a little bit last year, but it was at a different position. I'm comfortable now. Through these first two games my teammates have learned that they can trust my calls. They're starting to get their faith in me, and I in them, and we're slowly but surely building something pretty good. We improved from last week and hopefully we can improve again.'

GH: What types of calls are you making on the line?
BV: 'It's a directional call -- which way we're blocking, where the double-teams are, things like that. It varies from play to play. You have to be able to think and play hard at the same time, which is a difficult aspect. But we're all thinking and making calls, it's not just me telling everyone what to do like a dictator. It's a flowing kind of unit that makes calls and communicates with each other.'

GH: Is there anything that has surprised you about being a full-time starter?
BV: 'I'm a lot more sore during the season than I was before. I started four games last year but the other times I rotated in and out so I played probably half the plays that I do now. So I'm a lot more sore now than I was last year.'

GH: Is there a satisfying feeling to the soreness?
BV: 'Oh, it's great, the way you feel after a game and the next day. It's like if you win you love the feeling and never want it to go away. You worked yourself for something. You beat yourself up for a purpose, for a goal. Since we lost, I still have that feeling of gratification from working hard and trying my best, but when you win and you're sore it's like, `Who cares?' When you lose, you think it hurts pretty bad. It's one of those things where you love to hate it. If it takes me being a little sore for us to get a win, they can beat the daylights out of me.'

GH: How would you rate your performance so far?
BV: 'Average, I would say. I'm a pretty tough critic of myself. As far as my pulling, I think I've been doing that pretty well. But there's other things, like getting movement on one technique on a defensive lineman that I could do better, staying lower, stuff like that. But as far as grading myself, I'm too much of a critic to give myself anything more than average.'

GH: How would you assess the offense's play vs. UCLA?
BV: 'It looks like we had a good day, but I'll call it decent. It wasn't a great performance by us. We rushed the ball well, but we could have caught some balls better or blocked better. The numbers look like we had a really good day but I watched the replay and it wasn't as good as I thought it was.'

GH: What is the one area that needs the most improvement on the O-line?
BV: 'Getting movement on the defensive linemen upfield. Pushing them back and dominating the line of scrimmage a little more. We were tentative because they do a lot of slanting and sparking where they move down the line and I think we were kind of tentative to really fire off the ball because we didn't want to miss them. So that's a point of emphasis we're going to make.'

GH: How close is this team to turning it around?
BV: 'The proof's in the pudding but we're one game away. We really are. We're very close to being something special. Coach Gilbertson told that to us. We're very close to being a successful team, but then again, if we don't do it then we're always just going to be an unsuccessful `close' team.'

GH: Offensive linemen are notoriously big eaters. What one food could you eat the most of?
BV: 'I'd say something like shrimp. Something that I really enjoy and that's not that filling. I could probably eat a lot of shrimp if someone gave me the opportunity.'

GH: What's in your CD player right now?
BV: 'Incubus. I like Hoobastank. I like Jimmy Buffett. I listen to him when I'm having a rough day. Country stuff -- I like the Eagles. Anything rock or country.'

GH: What would you say is your favorite movie?
BV: ''Shawshank Redemption' is a great one. It's just a great story. The way the story unfolds; I always love that. He crawls through a sewage pipe to come out clean on the other side. That might be a metaphor for this season, crawl through a river of sludge to come out clean on the other side, we'll see. I'm also a fan of `The Usual Suspects,' just because that movie tricked me really bad and I don't get tricked very easily.'

GH: School starts next week. What classes are you taking?
BV: 'I'm a history major and possibly a communications major. I might try to double major. So two history classes and one communications.'

GH: What period of history most interests you?
BV: 'I like Greek and Roman history a lot, that whole era. The literature, architecture and war is really interesting to me. I've loved Greek and Roman mythology ever since I was a kid and studying that is really interesting to me.'

GH: Thanks for your time, Brad.
BV: 'Thanks a lot.'

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