Posted: September 25, 2007
Every time you see former NFL offensive lineman and current ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth, he’ll be talking about one of two things: how he got his nickname, “Stink,” or how smart offensive linemen are. Sure enough, last week on SportsCenter, Schlereth was at it again. “When it comes down to it, quarterbacks and offensive linemen are the smartest athletes out on the field,” he said. “They have to be for a unit to be successful.”
Fortunately for Lehigh fans, they have their own Schlereth in fifth-year senior center John Reese.
A captain for the second consecutive year, Reese is working toward his master’s degree in management science while suiting up for one final season for Lehigh football. He earned his undergraduate degree in supply chain management last year.
“It’s a really busy schedule during the fall,” said Reese. “But, even though it’s a huge time commitment, being able to play football and get my master’s are both important to me.”
Just listen to Reese’s schedule and you’ll get the idea.
“I get up in the morning, and go to my classes,” he begins. “The afternoon is spent going over film and getting ready for practice. And then after practice, I come back and get my work done for the next day.”
Of course, Reese hasn’t only excelled in reaching for his master’s goal as the Sports Network named him a Preseason Third-Team All-American before the 2007 season, as well as the number-three center in all of Football Championship Subdivision football (formerly I-AA). Through the past two seasons, Reese has started all of Lehigh’s contests, and has become the quiet leader along the offensive line. In 2006, he was named to the First-Team All-Patriot League team and the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll.
“He’s a pretty quiet kid,” said Mountain Hawks head coach Andy Coen. “But he really works hard and is a fierce competitor, and I think he receives a lot of respect from his peers because of the way he holds himself. His teammates voted him as their captain because he comes to play every week and leads by example. They look up to him.”
Coen has done a lot to change the mentality of the Lehigh offensive line since coming to South Mountain last season.
“We’re still a work in progress,” he said. “But when I came here, I looked at the tape of our line and I realized the guys weren’t being taught how to run-block. They were used to a different philosophy of protecting the quarterback, and so we wanted to change that. Our linemen bought into that strategy from the beginning, and it’s starting to work for us. And since the leaders like John have stuck around and changed their play, we’re going to get even better as the season continues.”
Reese was thankful for the change. “As offensive linemen, we really enjoy going out and hitting somebody, especially when the run game is working,” he said. “It’s great to have Coach Coen here since he was a lineman, and he knows what we go through to get ready to play. Coach is a great competitor and he challenges us to be the best. He’s helping us become a better offensive line.”
“We really want to establish the run,” said Reese. “We take a lot of pride in the offense’s play, especially when we’re creating lanes for our guys to run through. We have a sense of accomplishment when things go well and our running backs are getting further down the field.”
As the center, though, Reese is responsible for much more than getting a great block.
“There’s so much you have to do when you play center,” he said. “You have to call out the defense and make sure your line sets up the protection in the right way. If you don’t do that, there’ll be big gaps in the line.”
Reese also stressed interaction. “We’re a really close unit to begin with,” he said. “We work extremely hard and take pride in our jobs. If we’re playing well, that means we’re meshing together, and all on the same page. It’s really a mental game, so if we can understand the defense as a unit and be able to adjust correctly, we’ll have a great game and a great season.”
One issue for the offensive lineman this year is the schedule. The Mountain Hawks opened this season with a bye, meaning that they’ll play on eleven straight Saturdays to finish out the year. Even with that looming in front of them, Reese believes that the bye came at the right time.
“[The bye] worked for us,” he said. “We had a lot of guys pull up with injuries in camp, and to get them all better took an extra week. As a team, though, we train hard during the off-season to combat a schedule like this, we’ll be fine.”
While the injuries hurt, Coen thinks that his line will be ready when Lehigh opens Patriot League play Oct. 6 at Fordham.
“We’re going to be very good along our offensive line,” he said. “If we can get a little continuity going between the guys and get them playing together for a few more weeks we should be fine.”
While Reese enjoys hitting the players in front of him every week, he admits he doesn’t have any personal rivals on the gridiron.
“I enjoy football,” he said. “I enjoy getting out there with one hundred or so of my closest friends and just getting after the game. It doesn’t matter who I’m hitting, It’s just fun.”
Story by Matt Shelosky ’08, Lehigh Sports Media Relations Assistant