Originally created 09/17/99

Tech line paves the way for explosive offense



ATLANTA -- The Georgia Tech offensive linemen know their role. Just in case they forget, Joe Hamilton's mother is there to remind them.

"She told me, `You've got to protect my baby,"' center Noah King said, chuckling. "Now that's pressure."

While Hamilton gets most of the headlines for the 12th-ranked Yellow Jackets, none of his Heisman-worthy exploits at quarterback would be possible without those five massive guys who stand in front of him.

Coaches like to say that everything starts up front, and that's certainly the case with Tech's explosive offense, which is averaging 42 points and 494 yards per game.

King is flanked by guards Jason Burks and Bill Madigan and tackles Chris Brown and Jon Carman, making up a talented, experienced unit that is 6 feet 5 and 300 pounds on average.

"I've tried to make sure we don't have a small football team," said coach George O'Leary, his goal clearly accomplished.

The linemen know their role, leaving the headlines to Hamilton, Dez White and company. They're satisfied with a pat on the back from a teammate or an encouraging word from the coaching staff.

"Everybody gets their name in the paper except them," O'Leary said. "And they're a major reason for our success."

When O'Leary was named Tech's coach during a disastrous one-win season in 1994, he made a conscious decision to rebuild the program on the shoulders of the offensive line.

Tech won't recruit a high school tackle who is under 6-5 because "you just can't put enough weight on them," O'Leary said. "You see these 6-3 tackles who have so much weight on them, they can't move."

Carman is 6-8, 335 pounds -- and he's lost about 50 pounds since arriving at Tech -- and Brown is 6-6, 315.

The height restrictions are a little more relaxed on the interior of the line, where the Yellow Jackets are looking for more quickness than girth. King (6-2, 277), Madigan (6-5, 298) and Burks (6-5, 275) fit the mold.

Once a lineman arrives at Tech, position coach Doug Marone instills a sense of toughness. It's not enough for a lineman to hold his own; he must get the defense moving in the opposite direction.

"They like to hit people," O'Leary said. "There are some lineman who don't like to hit people. They want you to throw on every down."

Tech (1-1), which plays host to Central Florida on Saturday night, has shown its offensive diversity in the first two weeks of the season. Against Navy, the Yellow Jackets ran for 341 yards in a 49-14 victory. Last weekend, Hamilton completed 22-of-25 passes for 387 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-35 loss to No. 1 Florida State.

Even though Joe Burns, the team's leading rusher last season, suffered a broken leg against the Seminoles, the linemen don't seem concerned.

"We have a sense of confidence in ourselves," King said. "We do believe if we block hard and make holes, it doesn't matter who's running the ball."

Florida State can attest to that after last week's thrilling game, in which the Seminoles surrendered 501 yards.

"We could definitely see a sense of frustration," King said. "We would look over there and see the defense talking among themselves, saying things like `What's going on? This is not supposed to happen to us.' I think we took them by surprise."

Hamilton, who leads the nation in passing efficiency, certainly appreciates the guys who allow him to do his job.

"They're fabulous," the quarterback said. "They don't need the glamor. They understand their role, they understand their job."

Clearly, they don't want to endure the wrath of Hamilton's mother.

"We all take pride in protecting Joe," King said. "We don't like to see him get hit."