Converted tackle making strides as BSU's center

Idaho StatesmanMarch 16, 2007 

Sophomore Paul Lucariello this week became the latest occupant of the Boise State football team's revolving door at center.

Lucariello opened spring ball as the fifth different starting center in five years.

He still must win the job — the only opening on the offensive line — if he wants to stay there and perhaps give the position some stability.

The Broncos started Mike MacLeod in 2003, Klayton Adams in 2004, Jeff Cavender in 2005 and Jadon Dailey in 2006. All but Cavender, who is the senior right guard on this team, were seniors when they played center.

"(Lucariello) is doing an awesome job right now," said Scott Huff, the Broncos' offensive line coach and their last multiyear starter at center. "For a young guy, he understands the blocking schemes well. I've been real impressed with that. Normally the mental part of the game is the hardest part."

Lucariello learned the position so rapidly, in fact, that then-offensive line coach Sean Kugler slipped him into the Fiesta Bowl — a cameo appearance that went virtually unnoticed outside the program.

Lucariello, who was a tackle until late September, started thesecond half of the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1. He played one series — a three-and-out.

The appearance was a reward for Lucariello's improved play and a test for the player Kugler figured was the center of the future. Kugler told him about the plan about a week before the game.

"It was nerve-racking at first," Lucariello said. "Once I got out there, it was better."

Kugler tossed Lucariello into the center position cold turkey last fall. Lucariello missed all of fall camp with a shoulder injury he suffered last spring and wasn't cleared to practice until the second week of the season.

About two weeks later, he moved to center and became the backup — a switch that allowed him to become a regular on the travel squad.

He had played tackle throughout his football career, including his freshman season on the BSU scout team.

"I've adapted pretty well,"Lucariello said. "The first week I moved there, it was just learning how to snap. Now I'm getting dialed in. … I've kind of forgotten about tackle. I'm just a center now."

Cavender, who started at right tackle in 2004 and center in 2005, was impressed with Lucariello's transition. Cavender learned to play center in fall camp in 2005.

"He did pick it up easier than I expected," Cavender said. "It's not an easy transition. He's accepted the responsibility well. I'm expecting big things out of Paul."

Cavender — an All-WAC second-team selection last year — could end up giving Lucariello stiff competition for the job.

Senior Pete Cavender, who started games at right guard in 2004 and 2005, will return from a torn Achilles' tendon in the fall. If he wins back a starting job, Jeff Cavender could slide back to center.

Lucariello, who turned down offers from UTEP, Fresno State and San Diego State out of high school, brings an impressive mix of intangibles to the position.

He's smart, outgoing, hard-working and a little bit mean — all important factors for the player who must direct the offensive line and battle defensive tackles every down. He was a two-year captain and three-year starter at Chino (Calif.) High.

"He's got a little nasty in him," Huff said. "It's just that we've got to keep him going. He's got to get better every day."

Lucariello says he welcomes competition. He notices that Pete Cavender "is working his butt off to get back."

Lucariello (6-foot-4, 278 pounds) hopes to add another 7-10 pounds for the season. He also knows he must make strides in his knowledge of the system.

He's playing the middle of a line that includes four returning starters — two juniors and two seniors — who have combined for 115 career starts.

"I've got to get the game recognition down," Lucariello said, "the football intelligence, that game experience that I don't have yet that will come naturally if I keep playing."

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