With help from famous alum, Towson's offensive line forges new path

Bushrod's involvement in spring practice has helped Tigers in turnaround season

November 11, 2011|By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

For Towson University's offensive line, the NFL lockout earlier this year was, in the words of senior right tackle Henry Glackin, "a blessing in disguise."

For former Tigers star Jermon Bushrod, now in his fifth season with the New Orleans Saints, being a part of his former team's early-morning spring workouts was "inspiring."

A turnaround 2011 season continues Saturday afternoon for Towson (7-2, 5-1 Colonial Athletic Association) against New Hampshire (7-2, 5-1) at Johnny Unitas Stadium, and at the core of this remarkable reversal for the Tigers is what their offensive line learned from their most accomplished predecessor.

It has made veteran line coach John Donatelli's job much easier than it had been since Bushrod went from being a virtual unknown to becoming the fourth-round draft pick for the Saints in 2007 and a full-time starter during his second season.

Having Bushrod around for several spring workouts earlier this year was "validation" for much of what Donatelli has been trying to teach a young and talented group led by Glackin, a four-year starter, and sophomore left tackle Eric Pike, now one of the team's captains.

"I would preach and teach, and then when [Bushrod] came in, I would sit back and smile like the proud papa," Donatelli said. "He was saying everything I was saying to them without any prompting. They said, 'Oh yeah, I guess this does work, what he's teaching us.' ''

Said Glackin: "Coach D's a wonderful coach, he knows so much about football, and then to see that success at the next level with a player he taught solidifies everything. He's just trying to put us in the best position."

It has certainly worked this season for Towson, ranked 12th in the Football Championship Subdivision. Aside from being tied with No. 7 New Hampshire and No. 13 Maine for first place, the Tigers lead the CAA in rushing at more than 238 yards a game, 10th among FCS teams. Freshman tailback Terrance West (Northwestern) leads the FCS in touchdowns with 21.

"It truly is a group effort. There is no way one person can be outstanding," third-year Towson head coach Rob Ambrose said. "A good tailback can make an offensive line look good; a good offensive line can make any tailback look good. The fact that we've had success with numerous tailbacks, but with the same offensive line, speaks well to the group all the way around."

Said Glackin, "The guys running the ball — and Grant [Enders, Towson's redshirt sophomore quarterback] as well — they make us look good."

Ambrose credits much of the offensive line's success to Donatelli and strength and conditioning coach Jeremy Pick, but having Bushrod come back for the early-morning workouts certainly helped speed up the learning curve.

"How fast they trust what you're teaching them is really a strong indicator of how fast they would grow," Ambrose said. "When you bring a guy like Bushrod in, he's a poster child for what John has been teaching offensive linemen for a long time."

The Tigers were admittedly a little in awe when Bushrod showed up at his first pre-dawn session.

"At first it was kind of unreal when you stand next to a guy you know has a Super Bowl ring," said right guard Charles Johnson (Poly), one of three redshirt sophomores who start. "But then when he would show us things, we were listening to each and every word. It gave us a lot of motivation."

Redshirt sophomore center Doug Shaw (Loyola) said Bushrod was able to teach "incredible technique."

Bushrod said he returned to his alma mater for about two weeks during spring workouts and later for the annual spring game. He also joined the team for the Villanova game in early September after the Saints played the Green Bay Packers on the first Thursday night of the NFL season, and has since followed them on television when he can.

As impressed as the current linemen were with how humble and low-key Bushrod was, Bushrod was equally impressed with how hungry and motivated those who have followed him on Towson's offensive line were during those March workouts.

"Being out there with them and being able to help them as much as I could, they were eager to learn and you could see it in their eyes they want to get better," said Bushrod, who starts at left tackle for the Saints, protecting star quarterback Drew Brees. "When you're getting out there for a 5:30 a.m., you can moan and groan all you want, but they were all out there with a positive attitude, being physical and willing to learn."

Even last year, when the Tigers won only one game, Donatelli could see the offensive line growing.

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