CAROLINA: Center Of (No) Attention
by Lauren Brownlow, GoHeels.com
Quarterback gets sacked? Running game stalling? Blame the offensive line. If the running game is great and the quarterback doesn't get sacked, then the offensive line is great. But it's never as simple as all that, and it's rarely a situation where the offensive linemen are individually famous. It's the line as a whole.
"A lot of people probably wouldn't notice offensive linemen unless you do something completely obvious," junior center Russell Bodine said.
It takes a gregarious personality like Jonathan Cooper's, or a future matchup against a high-profile player like South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney to get extensive media attention. Not to mention talent, of course. But factors like those help.
Bodine, though, has been a starter for the past two years and is relatively unknown, particularly considering the importance of his position.
A lot of UNC fans, for instance, remember the first time Jonathan Cooper started at center. It was a short-lived experiment that began and ended with the LSU game in 2010 (and a few bad snaps).
So Bodine is kind of okay with people not remembered he's the starter. "I definitely try my best to stay under the radar. I definitely don't want the negative attention," Bodine said.
The best-kept secret, though, is that offensive linemen are perhaps the most interesting athletes in major sports. They're smart, often funny and generally open and honest. When they do get interviewed by the media-in a context that's not about how their team can't run the ball or why they keep allowing sacks-it's almost as if they're making up for lost time.
They've chosen their path of relative anonymity, and they're fine with that. But it's clear when they do get some attention from the media, they enjoy it.
Bodine is not that guy, though. "I'm just fine with people not knowing my name," he said.
It's not just Bodine's humility, although that's part of it. Bodine attended Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia (a private military boarding school) from sixth through 12th grade. In that kind of environment, individuality isn't important. It's all about the collective.
He redshirted his first year at North Carolina, but it wasn't because of needing to adjust to college. College was a snap compared to life at Fork Union, especially in terms of structure.
"There was a lot more freedom (at UNC) than there was there," Bodine said. "Everybody talks about how regimented a college football player's schedule is, and that's definitely true. But there wasn't a whole lot of adjustment there. I probably had more free time here than I did there."
Sometimes, players go to military school as a prep academy to get their grades up for a year or two. And they often rave about the benefits of the experience on making them tough and disciplined, or turning them into leaders.
Bodine's father started teaching at Fork Union the year after Bodine started going there, and he basically spent his formidable years at an all-boys' school in a hyper-strict environment. So it's understandable that he appreciates it more now than he did when he was there.
"There's a saying that it's a great place to be from, but not a great place to be at. I think that's definitely true," Bodine said. "I can't say I loved every minute of military school or even close to that. But now that I'm gone-and you have to admit it a little bit while you're there-it is good for you having that discipline and teaching you.
"Even if you don't like it, it's something you have to do. So you kind of put your head to the grindstone and get through it."
Bodine is in his second year as the full-time starter, and now that leaders like Cooper are gone, he's taken on a leadership role with a younger offensive line around him. But because of his military background, he's not your average leader.
Offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic said that he has to remind Bodine to take it easy on the younger guys.
"Russell can be a very good leader. He doesn't have any problems saying what he feels," Kapilovic said. "That's been good at times and I've also told him that a lot of times I need to be the bad guy and you need to encourage those young guys in a positive manner, and he's done a great job with that."
"It's kind of one of those things that you have to go out there and you have to be in charge. Sometimes, I go out there and try to play with an intensity that I'm accustomed to. So it is hard for me sometimes to kind of take a step back and realize that there's not necessarily a need to yell all the time," Bodine said.
"Sometimes, you've got to pick people up. But at the same time, I don't think that you can truly baby anyone along the way. We've got to go out there and play."
That kind of intensity works best with his quarterback. Bryn Renner is as intense and competitive as it gets, and the quarterback and center are a perfect match. "Every once in awhile, we'll get in one of those heat of the moment shouting matches back and forth," Bodine said. "We're both intense players, so sometimes you'll get that."
Like everyone else running Fedora's schemes on both sides of the ball, Bodine is excited and confident about what a second year running these schemes will bring. He has to make the calls at the line of scrimmage, and now that he feels fully adjusted to the tempo, he can do a lot more without thinking about it.
There was no room at Fork Union to be wishy-washy, and that's one of the best traits Bodine has-his decisiveness. Which is easier now that he's in year two.
"Honestly, the more comfortable you are running at that tempo, you just kind of realize that every once in awhile, we're going to hurt ourselves but make a call, stick with it. We're pushing the defense and that tempo is going to work out in our favor in the long haul," Bodine said.