Published: August 23, 2013
Austin Hayes and Michael Husar are great friends. A little competition for playing time isn't going to change that.
The two Air Force centers both saw action as starters last season as injuries thrust multiple players into larger roles on the line. The problem is that many of those players are back, so there are not enough spots to keep some of them from being demoted.
At least that would be a problem, if the players weren't so willing to accept their fate.
"I'm just thankful for what I got last year," said Hayes, who is working with the second team behind Husar. "I never expected that. After being scout team as a sophomore, to be playing in the games last year was just incredible."
Husar said he'd be fine if Hayes or anyone else ends up winning the spot.
"They're just going to put the best five out there," he said. "Whether that be Dave (Jones), me or Austin, it doesn't matter. Someone's going to be playing and they'll be the best one at that job."
Offensive line coach Clay Hendrix has a similar issue at guard, where returning starter Drew Kerber is trying to work into one of the starting spots currently taken by David Lore and Moshood Adeniji. All three players are seniors.
Fitting the personality generally required to play such an out-of-the-spotlight position, there hasn't been any grumbling.
"They've been a really low-maintenance group," Hendrix said. "They don't care what number they are. They just come to practice. They're as team-first guys as there are."
About the only thing Hendrix would change about the situation would be to mix a few more underclassmen into the fold. Of the five projected starters, only sophomore left tackle Matt Rochell is a non-senior. Husar is listed as a senior but will also return, having been granted a medical hardship after blowing out a knee in last season's opener.
"You'd rather not have it where a senior is backing up a senior," said Hendrix, with an eye toward future depth. "But they earned the right to be there, so they're going to be there."
Hendrix said possibilities will be considered throughout the season, including perhaps moving Husar to a guard if that's what it would take to get the best five on the field. He might also try a rotation of centers, though they wouldn't likely swap in and out as frequently as the guards.
These thoughts have been on his mind since well before the start of practice earlier this month.
"I was glad I wasn't in coach Hendrix's shoes, to tell you the truth," said Hayes, adding that he had "no idea" how the depth chart was going to play out when he arrived for the season.
Even though this is Hayes' final go-round with Air Force football, he doesn't want to see a repeat of the injuries that put him into the lineup last season. This group of linemen is the only senior-laden unit on the field for Air Force. They've been through three full seasons together and have formed a bond that will extend well beyond the next 13 games.
"Heaven fordid, I don't want anybody to get hurt out there," Hayes said. "Even if I have to sit the bench the whole year, I will do that over someone getting hurt. We're all close and we have each other's backs."