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November 11, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: O-Line learns to play no matter the pain

MORGANTOWN — Theirs is a world of hurt, and that is not just a figure of speech.

Offensive linemen, that is … the big guys on a football team. They are the ones first in the chow line, last to leave the training room.

These faceless behemoths who usually are on the north side of 300 pounds are anonymous in nature, unseen as they stand before 60,000 screaming fans whose eyes are riveted on the quarterback or the receiver. You might not even know their names, only their numbers, for the only time they are mentioned is when an official stands there and announces, “Holding, No. 75, offense, 10 yards, we’ll repeat first down.”

Never does that official stand there and announce, “Nice block, No. 75, offense, 10-yard gain, first down.”

They are a different breed, in a game where the stars have their own individualized touchdown dances, where their statistics are published in each game, the offensive linemen simply take and dish out punishment, getting their kicks out of the success the skill-position players enjoy.

But they pay a price for the live in that world of hurt.

Let us first mention a couple of them on the West Virginia University offensive line, men who will play a key role in this Saturday’s noon showdown with Big East-leading Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium. Don Barclay is the senior left tackle, Joey Madsen the indispensable junior center.

Think about this. … WVU has run 668 offensive plays this year. Barclay has played 663 of them, Madsen 661 of them.

At least that’s what the official West Virginia notes say, although Madsen sees it a different way. He doesn’t count the time spent when the second team was put in during a blowout, only missing time for injury.

“I missed one play in three years,” Madsen said. “That play was this week, and I was ashamed of myself.”

Not that he has anything to be ashamed of. He was cut and injured his left knee. He lay on the ground in that world of pain that offensive linemen come to know. Trainers arrived and eased the pain, but when a trainer comes on the field the player must leave the game.

Madsen left … for that one play.

And it bothered him.

“One play can change the whole course of the game.”

It even happened last week against Louisville, a blocked field goal turning what should have been a West Virginia victory into defeat. Fortunately, for Madsen, that was not the play he missed, so the only pain he has is from the injury, not the pain of guilt.

Barclay, like Madsen, is there all the time. He leads the team in snaps played, two more than Madsen with 663 plays.

You might not have believed that would have been the case this spring, when he missed the entire session recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. His spring practice was spent walking around the exterior of the field with left guard, Jeff Braun, third in snaps played, who also was recovering from shoulder surgery.

The shoulders, you see, take a beating when you are blocking and, considering that Barclay or Braun will block between 800 and 1,000 times in a season of 13 games, you know how vulnerable they are.

Barclay would have it no other way.

“Obviously, you come here to play a lot, to be good and get better,” he said.

To do that you have practice, too, and Tuesdays and Wednesdays are tradition days when you do a lot of hitting … more pounding on the body.

It’s no wonder they have to learn to live in a world of pain.

“Sunday morning it’s hard to sleep when your body is banged up,” Barclay said. “You get used to it after a couple of years of banging. You come to learn what you need to do to prepare yourself for the rest of the week.”

That begins with spending a lot of time in the cold tub, which takes some getting used to, staying off your feet as much as possible and getting a lot of sleep.

And Advil.

Barclay says the shoulder injury he is now recovered from what was the worst injury he ever suffered, although the broken fibia he received wasn’t exactly a limp in the park, either. It’s just that the fibia is healed while the shoulder is more long-term and continues to ache today.

Both Barclay and Madsen will be there this weekend for the Cincinnati game, hoping to do their thing without notice.

Except by the man across from them. Did we mention? Defensive linemen live in a world of pain, too.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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