Ohio State center Nick Mangold is a candidate to win the Rimington Award, which goes to the top offensive lineman.
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COLUMBUS - Don't let the Little House on the Prairie look fool you.
Nick Mangold may have the Amish beard, the shaggy hair and the reserved demeanor of the village blacksmith, but he does not need an anvil.
For the Ohio State offense, Mangold is himself the immovable object. The senior center for the Buckeyes is forged from fire and ore, and he is the cornerstone up front for an offense that rolled up 850 yards and scored 70 points in its final two games of 2004.
Mangold is one of 18 starters back for the Buckeyes, and a leading candidate for All-America honors. He is noted for his durability: Mangold has played more than 300 minutes in each of the past two years and has made 21 starts.
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"Nick is always there up on the line taking charge of things and leading the way for that group," Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "He's so solid and reliable, sometimes he gets a little forgotten, but I don't think the other team's defense ever forgets about him. He's a guy who is involved in every play."
Mangold was a highly prized All-Ohioan when he came out of Centerville and joined the Buckeyes, and he was the rare offensive lineman who did not require a redshirt year to prepare himself physically for the rigors of life in the Big Ten's trenches.
"Nick has always been a big, tough guy," said Hawk, who also hails from Centerville. "I wasn't surprised that he was able to step right in and play here. He was a pretty good player when he got here, and he's only gotten bigger, better and stronger."
Mangold was good enough as a freshman to play in eight games for the Buckeyes as the backup to Alex Stepanovich during the 2002 national championship season, gaining precious experience in critical games.
"That year was absolutely fantastic for me," Mangold said. "That was a great opportunity to play with some great offensive lineman. It helped build a great base for me and has helped me gather all of the information that has been thrown at me. Now, I am at the point where I know everything like the back of my hand and I can get more intricate and study deeper.
"Without that opportunity, I would not be at the stage I am now."
When Stepanovich was injured against San Diego State in the second game of the 2003 season, Mangold moved in and started the final 11 games of the season.
"You want to have yourself prepared and be ready to play when the coaches call your name," Mangold said, "and I have just tried to do that since I got here, or even since I decided to come to Ohio State. You work for that opportunity, and then hope you can make the most of it."
Mangold said the center position carries a lot of responsibility in the Buckeyes offense, helping choreograph the blocking scheme from the point of attack. He has to recognize how to hold off a defense that is constantly disguising its scheme.
"Part of my job is to see what the defense is doing and then make the right call," Mangold said. "The calls I make and the blocking assignments up front are just as important as the ones the quarterback makes when he looks over the defense and decides to change the play and audible.
"If the right call isn't made along the offensive line, our blocking breaks down and the play probably doesn't go anywhere."
Mangold, an accomplished wrestler and track athlete in high school besides being a two-way starter in football, relies on his power when blocking the middle, but also is agile and athletic enough to pull and become a punishing downfield blocker.
"Nick does a lot of things well, and it helps our quarterbacks and our other young players on the offense to have a solid, experienced veteran like him as the anchor on that line," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said.
"Everything you try and accomplish offensively has to start with an ability to control things along the line of scrimmage, and Nick brings us that capability."
Mangold said he considers the momentary wars with 300-pound defensive linemen much like the wrestling matches he went through, but admits getting a particular sense of satisfaction when he can get outside the line and lead the play down the field.
"When you have to pull and get out in front of everything, it makes your job more challenging and more difficult, but it is also something I really enjoy doing," Mangold said.
"I like to see that look in the defenders' eyes when they see us coming with a big head of steam. Once you spring the play, it's a great feeling to see that Buckeye runner rolling down the field. For a lineman, that's a big thrill."
Mangold, a second-team All Big Ten selection last season, has set his sights on making the top unit in the conference this season, along with All-America status, and taking a run at the Rimington Award - the Heisman Trophy for linemen.
"I don't think about the personal award stuff much, though," Mangold said. "If you prepare as hard as you can, and make every play count, then the team will be successful and the individual things will all come along.
"As a senior and a guy who has been around this program for a while, I am focused on helping this team win the Big Ten championship. And if we do that, then we should get the opportunity to play for the national championship. I started my career here that way, and I can't think of a better way to end it."
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