Everybody has a quirk that makes them unique.
Penei Sewell still acts like a kid. Shane Lemieux is a meathead. Jake Hanson hates to get his feet stepped on. Dallas Warmack is a pretty boy. Calvin Throckmorton is super smart. And Brady Aiello is the comedian.
For the last four years, Oregon’s offensive linemen have learned each other’s idiosyncrasies. Lemieux, Hanson, Throckmorton and Aiello grew from freshmen competing for a starting position to teammates with an inseparable bond that has been built over five seasons. Warmack and Sewell both joined the group last year. Despite being new, the others welcomed them into their brotherhood.
This experienced offensive line has its sights set on lofty expectations this year. They will need to anchor the offense if they want to accomplish the goals they’ve set out to achieve.
One of the deepest positions on the Ducks’ depth chart also happens to be the most veteran one, but this season is the final go around for the seniors.
“The synergy in that group — nothing will come between them,” offensive line coach Alex Mirabal said. “They did not allow the competition to come between the brotherhood that they have. They are character kids. … They are good human beings.”
The competition for a starting spot on Oregon’s O-line began in 2015 when Lemieux, Hanson, Throckmorton and Aiello were introduced to one another.
“The first moment ever was kinda awkward,” Lemieux said. “We were all freshmen coming in so we were all kind of competitive at the same time with each other. After a while that rubbed off and we became friends.”
The four, who all lived together their freshman year, were brought together by former offensive line coach Steve Greatwood. Greatwood served as Oregon’s offensive line coach for 25 years, but was part of a mass exodus following the firing of former head coach Mark Helfrich in 2016.
The group’s bond was tested following the Greatwood’s departure. Instead of disbanding, the offensive line class of 2015 stuck together.
“When I first came here, I came here for coach Greatwood,” Lemieux said. “When he left, our class stuck together and became really close. Going through all the hard times together built our relationships.
“Jake and Brady and all those guys were my best friends — I couldn’t leave them. That’s more than football. Those guys will be around forever.”
Willie Taggart became next head coach in 2017 and was tasked with filling a void that was stable for 25 seasons. Taggart brought in now-head coach Mario Cristobal, who was the offensive line coach at Alabama from 2013 to 2016.
Cristobal only spent one season as the offensive line coach before another dramatic change. Taggart, after just one season at Oregon, departed for Florida State, leaving the head coaching position open yet again.
Many of the players, including the offensive line, lobbied for Cristobal to become the team’s head coach. The players got what they asked for, and the offensive line already knew what they had was special.
“The growth has been huge as an offensive line unit and the team as a whole,” Hanson said. “The biggest thing is the culture of the program. Coach Cristobal has put an emphasis on physicality and power up front on the offensive and defensive line.
“I think that has been the missing piece in the past, so I think the culture that he has instilled is going to be one that can make us a year in, year out championship contender.”
The offensive line not only welcomed Cristobal as its head coach but also Sewell and Warmack to the offensive line unit.
Sewell, the No. 2 offensive guard in the nation coming out of high school, was able to make an impact in his freshman year but also learned from the veterans. Despite missing six games due to an injury, he made USA Today’s Freshman All-American team along with 247Sports True Freshman All-American team.
“I’m just so happy and grateful to be playing with four redshirt seniors and the experience that they have. It's really all I could ask for,” Sewell said. “Knowing that they have the experience, I can lean on them and ask them anything.”
Sewell’s freshman year was more than just relishing in the moment of getting to play along four veterans. It was also about learning how to lead an offensive line group for years to come.
“Teaching Penei the way that we were taught to be great leaders and how to be great offensive linemen,” Lemieux said. “Three years from now, if he stays that long, we can come back and see him be the leader of his offensive line.”
Warmack, despite being new to Oregon, brought plenty of experience to the team from his time at Alabama. Warmack played in 16 games during his three-year tenure at Alabama. He was not coming in just to be in a new environment, but to fight for a starting position.
“When Warmack came here, the way that they embraced him, they didn't feel him as an outsider. They felt him as a brother that was coming into play,” Mirabal said. “They openly embraced him; it’s just the way they are as people.”
Warmack came into 2018 and started all 12 regular-season games for the Ducks, but is still competing for a starting spot up until game day with Aiello. There is no animosity between the two and Warmack has been loving his time in Eugene, he said.
“It’s a blessing,” Warmack said. “Those guys being veterans and learning from each other, it's been a blessing and I love every single day.”
Now as the seniors head into their final season together, they’ve tried to relish the moments they’ve spent on the field together and the moments off of it. The core four have not only been able to grow as football players, but as men together.
“Five years. I don't know where the time has gone. It's all been a blur,” Aiello said. “It’s amazing, we’ve built a really good chemistry as being really good friends off the field. Not many guys stick out all five years. Playing with the same four has been awesome.”
Now the six offensive linemen want to show the country what has been culminating over the last five seasons. They collectively want to win the Joe Moore award, which is given to the most outstanding offensive line unit in the country. This group will have a real chance at achieving that goal. They are returning all five starters and has been tabbed as one of the best lines in the county.
On top of the Joe Moore award, they have their sights set on the Pac-12 Championship and the National Championship.
Despite their individual personality traits, they are ready as a group to come together for one last season. They will get a chance to show the nation what has been building over the last five years against No. 16 Auburn in primetime. The Tigers boast one of the best defensive lines in the country, but this veteran offensive line unit is ready so show why they are one of the best units in the county.
“It’s really important that we all understand that this team and our unit hasn't done anything this year,” Throckmorton said. “We’re all really excited to put our heads down and go to work to go out and achieve everything that we want to achieve this season.”
Follow Gabriel on Twitter @gabe_ornelas