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June 5, 2010

Buckeye Brethren

AVON, OH - In a parking lot on a balmy Saturday morning about 20 miles west of Cleveland, the sweat is dripping down the faces of 16 massive young men and grunts and groans can be heard from 500 feet away.

Two at a time, these behemoths harness themselves to a 200-pound sled and begin pushing the bumper of a 5000-pound Ford Super Duty pickup truck set in neutral. Thirty seconds later the immense vehicle has moved 25 yards.

The truck belongs to former Ohio State and NFL star LeCharles Bentley and the 16 players are his students at the L. Bentley O-Line Academy. Such unorthodox training methods are the norm at the academy, which focuses on the development of lineman from high school to the pros.

This Saturday session, however, is unlike most. The former Rimington Award winner with the Buckeyes is teaching current Ohio State center Michael Brewster as well as future Ohio State linemen Antonio Underwood (Shaker Heights) and Chase Farris (Elyria). Another gargantuan lineman and possible OSU commit Aundrey Walker (Glenville) also works during the intense two-hour session. Both Farris and Walker are members of the Rivals250 for the class of 2011.

"It's exciting," said Bentley of working with his current and future proteges. "With me being a former Buckeye it's almost emotional. The bottom line though is that I'm just trying to help."

As the nine o' clock hour expires, the players move indoors to a turf field where they begin pushing a five-foot tall monster truck tire back-and-forth with rubberbands attached to their waists and feet to stress proper bend and weight distribution.

In the corner, a hulking middle-aged man watches intently. He's Ned Stepanovich, a former NFL defensive end and uncle of former Ohio State offensive lineman Alex Stepanovich. However, he's at the academy watching his son Bo, a 15-year old freshman at Watkins Glen High School who already stands a whopping 6-3, 260.

"This is great, ain't it?" remarks Ned, who drove two hours with his son from the Columbus area. He claps and yells words of encouragement when Brewster performs a drill with precision and textbook form.

The players then move to a drill with the entire line in place. Bentley barks out instructions and advice on proper leverage points for tackles against outside pass rushers and to centers on proper depth when picking up blitzing linebackers.

Bentley himself steps in to show exactly how to incorporate the tricks of the trade. Each player is given equal repetition and teaching points, from Brewster and Kent State center Chris Anzevino to the 15 and 16-year olds yet to play a meaningful varsity snap.

The session closes with a grueling ab workout. Bentley does the sets with his students yelling out "its not about your bench press; your power comes from your hips and abs!"

Following the workout Bentley heads to his office where he and Brewster break down film of a 2004 game between New Orleans and San Diego. With tired looks on their faces, Underwood, Farris, and Walker find solace on the lobby couch.

"There's something new learned every week here," says a sweat-soaked Walker. "Ain't no place better than this."

Farris confirms Walker's sentiments.

"LeCharles has been through everything so he helps us a lot. Plus we learn from each other."

Walker, who has Ohio State in his top three alongside USC and Michigan State, hears the chirps of Underwood and Farris who are trying their best to get the 6-foot-5, 355-pounder to commit alongside them to the Buckeyes.

"Antonio and I are trying to get Dre on the train," Farris says with a smile.

"We gotta keep the talent in Ohio."


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