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December 11, 2013

Trio of linemen reflect on 2013

Five days before his UVa football career came to an end, senior offensive tackle Morgan Moses sat in front of members of the media at John Paul Jones Arena. He came in flanked by perhaps the only two people in the building that day that he didn't dwarf in size.

It was one of the final lessons Moses said he had to teach freshmen tackles Sadiq Olanrewaju and Eric Smith.

Throughout the season, all three saw time on the line. Moses, a 6-foot-6, 335-pound left tackle, ended up being an All-ACC pick. Smith, a 6-foot-5, 280 pounder, got the nod at right tackle following an early-season shakeup. When Moses was forced to exit games, Smith would move to the left and Olanrewaju, a 6-foot-6, 280 pounder, would fill in on the right.

All told, both of the first-year Wahoos say they learned a lot from "Big Mo," who for his own money says he expects both players to use their early experience and continue a long tradition of quality offensive linemen in Charlottesville.

"It's hard to come into college and play offensive line right away, especially offensive tackle as a true freshman," Moses told CavsCorner. "You're facing arguably the best athletes on the field at defensive end and for these two guys to come in and play right and left at the same time, it's kind of amazing."

It wasn't easy, especially as UVa struggled throughout the season. In spite of it all, both Smith and Olanrewaju say they saw the way Moses led and they in turn tried their best to follow.

"I came into this experience at a school where there's a legacy for offensive linemen," Olanrewaju said. "And that can be overwhelming for a freshman. I heard Morgan was coming back and I just felt a rush of relief because I knew there was going to be somebody to help with whatever I might need."

Olanrewaju said he knew that there would moments where he'd struggle and times when his confidence would be shaken. But with Moses in the locker room and on the field, he also was sure he'd have someone to lean on.

"I knew I was going to hit places in the season where I might not be playing to my potential or I didn't know what I was doing, when the coaches are maybe getting after me," he added. "Knowing there was somebody you can look to for help, who sees it from your point of view, that was big for me. Morgan had to play early in his career as well and when you have somebody that knows exactly where you're coming from, they can really help you."

For Smith, who was thrust into a starting role and had to learn on the job, the bond the three tackles shared off the field was just as important.

"I'm the oldest of my family and Morgan is the youngest of his but he still acts like the big brother to us even though he's still kind of childish at times, joking around," Smith recalled. "But we all do. And I believe that's why we click so well, on and off the field. We experienced what brothers do almost on a daily basis."

Moses said that he was blown away by the way both Olanreqaju and Smith improved as the year wore on. Not only were they quick to pick up tips and tweaks to their games, either from the other linemen or from assistant coach Scott Wachenheim, but Moses says the first-year duo had the confidence to make mistakes and move on.

"They're out there learning how to identify blitzes and see the defense before guys move and that took me a year or two to do," Moses said. "For them to pick up that knowledge this fast is just huge. They're so, so coachable."

To hear Olanreqaju tell it, the three of them were around each other a great deal this season. With Moses having now exhausted his eligibility, it will be up to the two young erplayers to challenge for starting roles in 2014 and carry on the tradition. They want to make sure they keep the light-hearted nature they learned from their older "brother," as well as the ability to go to work when it's time.

"He's a goofy guy," Smith said of Moses, "but when it comes to football he can switch to another level. If he ever notices me and Sadiq not doing what we need to do, he's not scared. He'll get after us. He makes us focus."

Though the group gets along well and spends so much time together, the two freshmen tell very different "best of" stories about Moses.

For Olanrewaju, he says he'll always remember when he was about to play for the first time and how Moses was the one who calmed him down.

"The VMI game, my first time stepping on a college field, I just remember he came up to me and I was kind of scared," Olanrewaju said. "I was like shaking kind of and didn't know what to do, I was so nervous. He came to me and he said, 'You're prepared for this. You've been coached well. You've been doing this in practice.' Just knowing he had faith in me was huge. The coaches, that's what they're supposed to say to you, ya know? But also having him come up to me and genuinely tell me those things, I went out there with confidence."

For Smith, the story centers on football but is nowhere near as intense.

"My first time doing my pass set during camp," he said, "[Moses] said my kick step looked like the 'stanky leg.' It was horrible. And he said I needed to work on it right then. So we did and I've gotten a lot better."

As Moses wraps up his final interview of his final media day, he walks away with his two young apprentices following right along. They laugh as they walk, a freshman on either side with the senior tackle in the middle.

"They have so much potential," Moses said moments earlier. "They're going to be successful. I won't let them be anything other than that, ya know? They won't let me down. I know them too well."

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