The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

August 17, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN - More to Mountaineer center than funny nickname

MORGANTOWN — Joey Madsen has been hearing it ever since he got to West Virginia University. It came from coaches and teammates, a nickname, of sorts, you could call it.

T-Rex.

That was what they were calling him, and it had nothing to do with the British rock band from the 1960s and ’70s that gave us “Jeepster,” “Ride On a Swan” and “Get It On,” among other hits.

No, this was T-Rex as in Tyrannosaurus rex, the rather fearsome looking dinosaur with the massive skull, the razor-sharp teeth, the long, heavy tail, and a pair of ridiculously short “arms.”

Indeed, one look at Madsen’s powerful build and short arms and ... well, let’s just say that his new coach not only made note of it, but brought it up in a recent press conference.

“He runs around like T-Rex sometimes,” Dana Holgorsen said.

Madsen laughs about it, shaking his head — which is large, yes, but hardly massive — and says, “I just have short arms.”

In a way, this is troublesome, and Holgorsen, quite frankly, is somewhat surprised that he is as capable a center as he has ever worked with.

“It is ironic that he doesn’t have very long arms, because that is something we normally look for in an offensive lineman,” the coach remarked.

In a way, the short arms have helped Madsen in that he says when in pass protection, since they don’t extend very far, the defense seldom can knock them away.

And as for holding by wrapping them around a nose guard ... well, forget it. They aren’t long enough to go around the nose guards, at least the way they are built today.

Now, before you get the wrong idea, Madsen’s arms aren’t so short that he has to buy short-sleeved shirts. They just are short for his size.

“I’m 6-4 and my wing span is 5-11,” he said.

It is a wing span that isn’t small, but it also isn’t the 8 feet, 6 inch wing span that Manute Bol possessed, the longest of any NBA player ever.

The point is, his shorter arms do not limit his play or make snapping different. It’s kind of the same as a tall guy and a short guy’s legs ... as long as they are long enough to reach the ground, he can walk and run.

“His snaps are good,” Holgorsen said, but that is only part of the story.

The center is the on-field man in charge of the offensive blocking.

“You put the center in charge of making all the calls and the pre-snap stuff,” Holgorsen explained. “He has done well with that. With the nature of our defense (which they have been facing in practice), he is about to snap and the other dude’s head is right here (an inch from his head), which doesn’t faze.”

It shouldn’t. Not this year after going last year against All-Big East nose guard Chris Neild in practice all season.

“He is tough, has a quick first step and blocks people,” Holgorsen said.

Madsen also comes into this year driven.

“I’ve got a big chip on my shoulder. I’m ready to go,” he said.

The reason is that Madsen “blew the pooch” last year when he failed to qualify academically and missed the Mountaineers’ bowl date with North Carolina State, one in which the offensive line was pushed around and the offense ineffective.

“That’s always in the back of my mind now,” he admitted. “It was a mental mistake on my part.”

That might be the first time in history the term mental mistake was used correctly, for failing to make grades certainly qualifies as a mental mistake.

Madsen isn’t quite sure how it happened, for it wasn’t because he couldn’t handle the course load. In fact, he indicated it was just a matter of sort of losing track on what was important in his life.

“I just needed to grow up and take responsibility,” he said.

And that is what he seems to be doing, according to Holgorsen.

“That has been an ongoing problem,” Holgorsen said of the academics. He has given a lot of effort. I know he was ineligible for the bowl game, and we held him out of some of the workouts in the spring and a lot of the summer.

“He has done a lot to overcome the hole that he was in,” Holgorsen continued. “We are working with him, and he is working with us so we can get that rectified to where it doesn’t happen again.”

The offensive line is the great unknown this season, but there are a number of factors that may change that. Holgorsen’s offense, for example, does away with the power blocking schemes that this group was physically incapable of executing in favor of zone blocking.

“We’re able to run free and hurt people” is the way Madsen put it.

That’s an attitude you seldom saw a year ago when Dave Johnson, a laid-back coach who did not drive his players, was handling the line play. This year that job belongs to Bill Bedenbaugh, a large, imposing figure of a man who is more outgoing.

“No one ever got in your face last year, and I like it better when you do,” said Madsen. “There is just more intensity with Coach Bedenbaugh.”

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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