Lefeld's emergence solidified line, title run

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When a converted defensive lineman was forced to take over at right tackle midway through the season, the Bearcats offense could have been exposed. Instead, Sean Lefeld emerged as future stronghold on the line.

Chris Gundrum

Special to GoBearcats.com

CINCINNATI - Whenever a starting player is injured, how his team responds can say a lot about their character.

Do they respond to the challenge by blaming any lack of success on the fact that a player is injured? Or do they accept the hand they've been dealt and keep working towards their goal?

When starting right tackle Sean Hooey injured his right ankle before the game against Louisville in Week 6, the Bearcats needed someone to respond to the challenge that stood in front of them.

Redshirt freshman Eric Lefeld answered the call.

"I knew it was a great opportunity," said Lefeld. "Hooey's been in my right hip-pocket the whole time making sure I'm playing up to the standard the offensive line has set."

The remarkable nature of Lefeld's emergence doesn't stem from the fact he stepped in for an injured teammate, but how far he came to be in the position to do so.

Not only did Lefeld arrived at UC 16 months ago 65 pounds lighter, he arrived as a defensive lineman. He made enough progress and put on enough weight to work his way into the backup position.

"Here's a young man, a redshirt freshman at right tackle, helping us compete for a championship," Butch Jones said. "He's protecting one of the sides of the quarterback and he was a defensive lineman... You talk about the strength and conditioning program and he's taken great strides from his first game to his (last game)."

His progressions didn't come without hiccups. Lefeld's first memory as a starter will be of a false start he committed on his first series against Louisville.

He admitted he was nervous.

"I think after the first snap," said Lefeld. "After that, you know, I kind of got the jitters out and was ready to go."

Lefeld's success this year and the success of the entire offensive line is simply a reflection of the hard work and dedication they put in each day.

"It's the power of the unit," said Lefeld. "We practice everyday. We flip positions. Everybody knows more than one position on the offensive line and I had the opportunity to step in and hold the rope for the rest of the offensive line."

That line did more than hold the rope. They led the Big East conference in yards per rush and were second in the conference in sacks allowed per game.

Young players are going to make their share of mistakes. That's why the veterans on the offensive line have helped coach him along the way.

Veteran lineman Randy Martinez said it's tough to lose a guy like Hooey but Lefeld has done a good job in his place.

"Hooey has been real consistent in the offseason," Martinez said. "We spent a lot of time working with him, so when he went down it's hard to replace a guy like that. He's been helping Eric along the way, every step. Eric's young so we had to give him a little help teaching him the position. He got it down really quick and he's done a great job for us."

Lefeld has faced many challenges this year. As a redshirt freshman being asked to fill in for an upperclassman like Hooey is tough.

He could have buckled under the pressure. But he didn't. He responded to the call of his team.

"You can see the progression from day one until now," said Martinez. "In camp he was a little shaky, he just moved to the position from last camp. So he has one solid year of playing O-line in his life and to step in and do what he's done has been great."

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