By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
To many, including the man himself, the move of Tyler Orloski from guard to center by West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen was a surprise.
It shouldn’t have been.
He had been given a pretty good hint even before he came to West Virginia out of Cleveland’s St. Edward High.
He’d sort of been directed toward West Virginia by his high school line coach, Pat Conachan, who just happened to be a Mountaineer center himself in the ’70s.
His quarterback? Oliver Luck, now the athletic director at WVU.
“Being a center wasn’t my first plan,” Orloski admitted the other day, now No. 1 at the position on the depth chart. “I was told to learn to snap before I came here, so I had that in my pocket.”
It was Conachan who taught him how to snap the ball ... and it wasn’t easy.
It never is.
This spring, Pat Eger was tried at center, and he recalled his first attempts at snapping the ball.
“It was rough,” Eger admitted. “The first day my snaps were all over the place. You’ve got to be able to snap the ball, punch with your off hand and step at the same time.
“And you’ve got to do it while Shaq Rowell is drooling in his stance, ready to come off and smack you in the face.”
The last three years Joey Madsen was the Mountaineer center. He had started at the school as a tackle, too, before becoming a highly decorated center who wound up signing with an NFL team.
“Snapping the ball was the worst thing my redshirt freshman year. All through camp I just rolled it back to the quarterback,” he said.
Coaches prefer their quarterbacks get injured doing something other than bending over on every play to pick the ball up off the ground, so Madsen knew he had to find a way to make it work.
As it turned out, having uncommonly short arms gave him a solution.
“I worked on it every day,” Madsen said. “Finding out that with my shorter arms snapping as hard as I can makes them stop wherever they need to, so I’ve never had a bad snap after that.”
Orloski does not have the luxury of short arms, so he really has had to work on the snap.
“It’s hard and it’s still a work in progress,” he admitted. “Not every snap is perfect.”
It’s something he works on every day.
“He can be erratic, like anyone else,” said offensive line coach Ron Crook.
In many ways, the center’s position is the toughest, and most important, on the offensive line.
Guards and tackles have their own responsibilities, but the center is charged with first making the calls for the offensive line, then snapping the ball and then finally getting around to blocking a 290- to 320-pound nose guard.
“It’s been different, playing a different position that I’m not used to. I just have to get used to doing it,” Orloski said. “You
have to focus on more. First and foremost, the snap is the most important thing. Then the calls come into play. Then you execute the play.
“Once you get it down, once you do it a couple of hundred times, you get the feel of it and can do it over and consistently,” he said.
What, Orloski was asked, is the secret to making the ball go where you want it to go?
“The release point is the secret. You don’t want it to go high or too low or too wide. You have to release it just right,” he said, not knowing that it would be a whole lot easier with shorter arms.
The calls take a good bit of study to get down, depending upon the defensive alignment.
“The hardest thing is the calls because he is so young and learning the position is identifying who really is the Mike (middle linebacker) from everyone else,” Crook said. “That’s difficult because they change alignments. It doesn’t come natural so you have to be able to spot it and do it over and over.”
Does Orloski regret not having made the transition last year as a freshman?
“I think I was good where I was,” he said. “I learned a lot being behind Jeff Braun. I got to learn that position and how it was done. Now I’m learning how it is done at center. I think it was a good learning experience.”
Orloski believes he’s where he belongs.
“My future right now is at center,” he said.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.