Two linemen take winding path to CMU
Christian Leui took three years off from school after junior college, then decided he was too young to be concentrating on chasing the almighty dollar.
Plus, he found out he was still young enough to play college football.
“I got caught up with making money,” the 24-year-old center for the Colorado Mesa football team said. “I got a really good job and was making pretty good money. I got an email from one of my friends who said, ‘You know, we still have time to play football.’ I thought my time was up, I couldn’t even play D2 or anything.”
His buddy sent him some information from Briar Cliff University, an NAIA school in Sioux City, Iowa. Leui was offered a scholarship, quit his job and left southern California for the Midwest.
“It was time to start thinking about myself a little bit,” he said. “I was too young to just start thinking about money.”
The kinesiology major enjoys school, and he loves to play football. He didn’t play last season at Briar Cliff, and decided he needed a bigger challenge. Enter Colorado Mesa.
He transferred after last fall semester, so he was well-versed in the Mavericks’ offensive scheme by the time spring football rolled around.
Demetrius Davis was just the opposite, even though he, too, took a round-about route to Grand Junction.
The sophomore signed with Brigham Young out of high school in Pleasant Grove, Utah, redshirted, then left Provo for Pima Community College (Arizona). He was set to return to Pima this year, although he didn’t really like the Phoenix area. Then he got a message from CMU assistant coach Justin Drudik, the Mavs’ recruiting coordinator.
When Davis heard he had a chance to compete to start, he packed his things, arriving the week before fall camp. He had to sit out the first week of practice to get some additional medical tests, but was cleared and quickly made up time, earning the starting role at right tackle.
“I was watching the whole week and working with Coach (Mike) Chavez on the plays and how the steps need to be. Starting out was a little rough with Chavez’s technique; I’d dare say we’re the only offensive line that does the technique we do, but it works.”
Leui and Davis are the two new guys on the veteran offensive line, a line that takes great pride in the cohesiveness of the unit. The linemen meet with Chavez at 6 every morning for film study and to break down their precise footwork.
“Every time it has to be perfect with the zones, the stretch, all that, you’ve got to take the proper steps. It’s not just going after people and trying to chase them down and block them,” said Davis, a 6-foot-3, 290-pound right tackle. “You want to get where they’re going to be, meet them at the point of attack, and you’ve got to take the right steps. This foot’s gotta come first, this foot’s got to be here. It’s got to be crisp.”
Aaron Simons, the Mavs’ former center who moved to left guard when Leui, a 6-foot, 290-pound junior, was converted into a center, said those early morning meetings set the tone for the day.
“Every single day early in the morning you have the technique instilled in your head. It’ll be lunch time and I’m eating my sandwich and I’ll be, ‘You know what? I can do my steps right now,’ ‘’ he said, shuffling his feet in the proper order. “That’s the small stuff, that’s the buy-in with the whole team.”
The linemen get together on Wednesday evenings to go over technique and film on their own, and regularly met over the summer.
“As fast as we play, everybody sees these plays going rapid-fire, our offensive line has to be able to communicate,” CMU coach Russ Martin said. “They’re making the blocking calls, the protections to be able to pick up blitzes and pressures.
“That kind of buy-in makes things on the field that much better and that’s why we can do the things we are. If we’re struggling up front and can’t get the calls communicated, it totally changes our effectiveness offensively.”
Davis and Leui also had to adjust to paying attention to what the entire defense is doing, not just the guy across the line from them.
“We have to know where the safeties are, to know if the backer’s coming, if the nickel is coming off the edge because the safety is outside him, whatever,” Davis said.
“It’s a learning process,” Leui said. “We’re still learning.”
Leui is also still learning the center position, a switch that caught him by surprise.
“Literally, that was the first game I’d ever played center in seven years of playing football,” he said.
“At first I was like, they’re just trying me here and I’m still ready to play guard, because that’s what I’ve always played. After I bought into that position I was ready to go.”
One advantage is that the center is the quarterback’s roommate. The two new linemen like the challenge of playing in front of Eystin Salum and in CMU’s fast-paced offense.
“A lot of teams like to scheme against us, and for (Salum) to be like he is, he’ll make us right if we’re wrong sometimes,” Leui said. “I’ve got to be honest, as an offensive lineman, that’s awesome.”
CMU’s first-team offense scored seven touchdowns on 11 possessions last week against Western State. The offensive linemen, who Simons called “facilitators; we’re just trying to make the skill guys look good,” sprint to the end zone on every touchdown to hoist the skill guy into the air.
The big-play offense makes for some long sprints for the big guys up front.
“It’s kind of hard,” Davis said, grinning. “Especially that last game. I’ll be honest, I didn’t get to whoever scored every time.”
“By the time you get there,” Leui added, “they’re lining up for the PAT.”