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April 8, 2012For the fourth straight season Cincinnati will run out a new starting center.
From Chris Jurek to Jason Kelce to Evan Davis the Bearcats have graduated their center every year since 2009.
Only Jurek ascended to the role prior to his final campaign. Now introducing redshirt junior out of Worthington Kilbourne High School, Dan Sprague.
"When I was recruited I knew basically my fourth year would be my time, said Sprague. "If Evan (Davis) were to go down I would be ready to step in. Other guys have been snapping so it is definitely not just my spot, but I had the mind frame it was mine."
Barring a huge flip Sprague will be the man snapping to Munchie Legaux when UC kicks off play this fall. There is a challenger in Ohio State transfer Sam Longo.
"I think it was bowl practice that he started doing it," recalls Sprague. "He came in as a left tackle and slowly bumped his way down. He is so athletic he can really play anywhere on the football field. He is so good."
Longo has great timing, but Cincinnati is unlikely to switch centers during fall camp. The only time in recent memory the Bearcats swapped centers after week one was Evan Davis/Jason Kelce in 2010.
"I couldn't just go out there and think, 'Oh, if I don't work I will be fine,'" said Sprague. "I had to bring it every day because there are guys out here busting their butt just to play if something happens."
Unlike current redshirt freshman Daniel Murray Sprague was not recruited to play center specifically.
Former UC Running Backs Coach Tim Hinton liked him as a "power player" on either side of the line. Rivals.com rated him a two-star. Based on his spring it appears he was undervalued.
Sprague has been the most consistent piece across the front with Sean Hooey ramping up to 100% and Austen Bujnoch missing practices. Eric Lefeld and Sean McClellan fill out the quintet.
The sweet harmony of McClellan and Sprague dates back years to a very particular day, in fact. On June 19th, 2008 both verbally committed to University of Cincinnati. This fall they will finally get their first sniff of realizing that dream.
After a year off followed by squad team reps both assumed starting spots in March.
"We are a really tight group both off the field and during the play," said Sprague. "Really the fact that we are so close, the trust factor is there. That definitely makes it easier to transition when the new guys have to step up."
The offensive line was a turbulent place two years ago. That they settled down for QB Zach Collaros in 2011 speaks to the disciplined individuals plugged in.
"We have all been really tight knit so last year when (Sean) Hooey got hurt (Eric) Lefeld came in," said Sprague. "Basically we are only replacing two, for the most part. Me and Austen (Bujnoch) are like best friends, like he has always been encouraging me to watch more film and stuff. We have really formed a tight bond. We are all like brothers."
With a steady August Sprague should begin a string of the most consecutive center starts since Chris Jurek.