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Logan • Tyler Larsen sees the watch lists, the preseason honors, and shoves them to the back of his mind. The Rimington Award, the Outland Trophy, the Lombardi Award and even All-American candidacy mean little in his day-to-day life.
What matters is keeping defenders' hands off Chuckie Keeton and to carve pathways for Aggie backs. Larsen's center position requires him to have the strength of a bull and the mind of an air traffic controller interchangeably on a single snap. And he has to prove there's no rust after sitting out spring with an injury.
There are new challenges ahead this season for the fifth-year senior, Utah State's most experienced player. And in training camp, there's no time for the two-time all-conference lineman to relax.
"Really just coming back," Larsen said. "I've got to prove myself to the team and show them I what I can do."
There's no dispute Larsen is one of the best returning college centers in America. With 40 starts under his belt, 2014 NFL draftniks already are ranking him among the top three centers eligible next year. A recent Sports Illustrated article that posed a college football "redistribution draft" had Larsen as the No. 100 pick in a pool of every college football player.
Offensive line staffer Mark Weber, entering his 34th season as a coach, has presided over All-Americans, NFLers and an Outland Trophy winner. Logan Mankins, a longtime guard for the New England Patriots, was among his pupils.
There's some heft behind his words when he says Larsen is special.
"One of the physical things is that he's able to play thick, because he can sink his hips down and he can gain leverage on a defender, and he's a big-bodied guy," Weber said. "I think he's got a unique ability to play strong and recover when he's out of position. And his confidence is through the roof."
But those who tell Larsen he has nothing left to prove find deaf ears. He's more quick to pick up on criticisms and adjustments from his coaches. Having Weber at the helm forces Larsen to make more changes, and Weber thinks it could prepare him better for the NFL.
"He's got to be a little on the edge of his seat, learning the different techniques or terminology," Weber said. "So I think it helps a fifth-year senior like that to be a little more attentive in listening and learning."
Part of Larsen's motivation comes from his brother, rookie defensive tackle Cody Larsen, who just made a tackle in his first preseason game against Tampa Bay on Thursday night. Even though Cody has drawn praise in Baltimore, there are many good linemen there.
The players are bigger, stronger and faster. The tension of getting cut is overwhelming.
"He's saying that it's a lot crazier, because he's now actually performing for basically his life for the next little bit," Larsen said. "He's really on edge, nerve-racking and everything, but at the same time he's loving it."
With the same spirit, Larsen has rededicated himself to his role on the line. He got into playing shape through offseason conditioning, and he's working as hard as ever to keep Keeton clean and to pave the way for another Aggie running back to get into the NFL with him.
He's helped make the line, and the offense, whole again.
"We're pretty much in unison, we're doing things together, and we're on the same page," guard Jamie Markosian said. "He's always been a great leader for us. … He's really smart with all of his looks. He sees things really well. It's good to have a guy like him directing traffic."
By the numbers
Senior center Tyler Larsen
38 consecutive starts • Most in the Mountain West, fifth-most in the nation
3 award watch lists • Rimington (best center), Outland (best interior lineman), Rotary Lombardi (best lineman or linebacker)
2 all-conference seasons • First Aggie offensive lineman since 1997 to go back-to-back
97 percent assignment grade • The percent of time he carried out the right assignment last season