By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It was one of those winter days when all is right with the world, Christmas just 11 days away. Adam Pankey was sitting in class in Hamilton, Ohio, his senior football season now behind him, a scholarship to Pitt in his pocket.
What could go wrong?
That’s when his phone began lighting up with text messages.
And that’s when his high school football coach, Bob Jacoby, came to the classroom door and pulled him out to tell him that Todd Graham had quit as head coach at Pitt and was leaving for Arizona State.
“You better call up there,” he said.
Pankey didn’t know quite what to do.
“It was almost surreal. You think, ‘No, he didn’t leave.’ He told me he would be there forever. That really opened my eyes to the business side of college football,” Pankey said Saturday after his final practice at West Virginia University’s summer camp and after spending a long time treating an injured left ankle in the training room.
It wasn’t much after that when another phone call came, that from WVU assistant Steve Dunlap.
Word travels fast in college football.
“He came down that day. It showed me I was really needed,” Pankey said.
And so he became a Mountaineer.
Fate, and Todd Graham’s greed, had delivered him to Morgantown, where he would find himself paired with another Ohioan, this one from Cleveland football power St. Edward’s, Tyler Orlosky, projected as the future anchors of the WVU offensive line.
Both of them came in with a lot to learn, a lot to get used to.
“It’s true — guys are bigger, faster, more agile here,” Orlosky said. “For offensive linemen coming from high school, you are used to facing high school players. Now you’re against 22- and 23-year-old men instead of high school boys. It’s different. It is definitely the most difficult position on the field.”
The adjustment is a difficult one.
“I came from a high school where I was one of the biggest kids at 285. Now I’m the smallest lineman on the line. Everyone else is over 300 almost,” Orlosky said. “Hopefully, I’ll get to the point where I’m 300 and as big as everyone else.”
The coaching staff would like to redshirt both of them — and may — but they also will play them if they think they can handle it.
“I feel like being redshirted is the best thing for an offensive lineman. It gives me another year to develop and see how things are done. Then I have four more years to do things,” Pankey said.
“If I redshirt, I will do my best to get the team ready by being on the scout team. Either way, I will be doing my best for the team,” Orlosky added.
That decision, however, probably won’t be made for another week. The offensive line is one of the strengths on this WVU team, deep with veterans across the front in tackles Pat Eger and Quinton Spain, guards Jeff Braun and Josh Jenkins and star center Joey Madsen.
Ability-wise, both Pankey and Orlosky can handle matters, but playing in the O-line is often more a matter of mental readiness than physical readiness.
“It’s going all right. It’s just difficult to learn,” Orlosky said. “You want to go back to your old ways, the way you were taught in high school, but you have to remember you aren’t playing there anymore. You have to do it the way your coach wants it done.”
“All the technique things are the hardest. I came from a veer offense where it was all downhill with not much passing,” Pankey noted.
Most high school linemen come out far better skilled in the running game than the passing game, and Pankey and Orlosky are no exceptions.
“Football in high school was different. We had a slow pace, ran the ball a lot. Here it’s fast paced and throw the ball a lot,” he said.
The difference between run blocking and pass blocking is like the difference between running a sprint and running a marathon. Both are running, but nothing is the same.
There is all the learning, all the adjusting, and at the same time there is another aspect of offensive line play that is necessary. Braun, the veteran guard, has been preaching that to them, and he said they are picking it up well.
“You have to be nasty,” Braun instructed.
“I think I’m nasty enough. You don’t have to be really nasty all the time. On the field you have to be nasty, not off it. When you are on two-minute drills or goal line, you have to be nasty,” Orlosky said.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.