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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Stevens center of attention for Utah

Contrary to popular belief, this job is not a snap.
Or, more accurately, it’s not just that.
This is why Tevita Stevens — the Hemet High graduate playing center for the Utah football team preparing to face Georgia Tech in Saturday’s Sun Bowl — is so vital, according to Utes offensive line coach Tim Davis.
“There was nobody else that could do it,” Davis said, “except for him. … We need him, and he’s a guy we can’t do without.”
Stevens, a 24-year-old junior — he served a Mormon church mission before beginning his collegiate career — has clearly done well at the position. In a rarity, Utah’s football notes include the season grades for its offensive linemen, and the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Stevens has the best mark among the starters. He’s credited with winning 83 percent of his plays.
It was news to Stevens that he had the best grade — he said Davis does not give players their grades — and that the stat was public. But he felt that nothing less should be expected of him.
“I should have that,” he said, “because I have to be the captain on the o-line. …
“If I’m messing up and not getting the best grades, that o-line is probably not going to be doing too good. I have to know my job and I have to know everybody else’s job on the line. That goes with the job description.”
It’s the complexity of that job description, as outlined by Davis, that makes Stevens’ work at center so impressive. The coach notes that every play “starts with the most important play in football, the center-quarterback exchange,” and notes that there’s no small amount of technique involved in placing the ball properly while preparing to move to execute a block.
“Right there, that narrows the field (of suitable players) down immensely,” Davis said.
The center and quarterback also need to be able to communicate about moving from under center to the shotgun, or the reverse. And, most crucially, the center calls the blocking scheme for the rest of the offensive line, based on the alignment of the defense.
“You’re always going to start with what the defense is in, what format,” Stevens said, running through the things he has to recognize as he goes to the line. “Is it an odd or even front? You’re always trying to locate the mike (middle) linebacker, because they’re making their blocks and adjustments from that.
“After that, while the play’s going, it’s finding blitzes, seeing whether safeties are rotating down. You’ve got linebackers trying to creep, trying to step out.
“You just try to read stuff, and that comes from film work on stuff you see from defenses, tendencies, to try to give you an edge.”
This all happens in an instant, because Stevens also has a responsibility to get the play off as quickly as possible.
“It definitely has to happen fast,” he says, “because with the type of offense we run, we want to get some tempo going. You don’t want to be waiting around to let the defense get set.”
Stevens enjoys these demands, so he’s glad to be back at center, a position he played in high school. But he knows it helped his development to play guard for the Utes the two previous seasons.
“I think it’s hard to come in and play center, and be a captain and a leader as a freshman,” he said. “You have to have the whole playbook in your mind.
“As a guard, I felt like I just listened to the center, and you know your job, and you just go hit people. It’s a lot less thinking, a lot more physical.”
Now, the job is both physical and mental, and Davis is effusive in his praise of the way Stevens handles it.
“He understands the offense, he’s got some athletic ability and some flexibility, some explosion in him,” Davis said, noting Stevens is among the team leaders in lower-body strength, “and he’s just got some tremendous finish.
“So he was kind of perfect for the job. He just knew what I needed and stepped in and did it.”

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