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August 7, 2010

Gerhart ready to step into leadership role

Garth Gerhart is happy to be home.

He's not referring to his parents' house in Norco, Calif., or his pad in Tempe, but rather his comfort zone on the football field.

After two seasons of shuffling between the center and guard positions, the majority of his time spent at the latter, the 6-foot-1, 305-pound junior enters the 2010 season in a solidified role as Arizona State's starting center, where he played throughout his time at Norco High and was the No.1-ranked player in the state at the position.

"I love it," Gerhart said of reprising a familiar role, "because through all of high school I played center. Coming here I was going to play center, then guys go down and I'm playing guard. In the middle of a game I'd play center and guard. I didn't really care; I just wanted to get on the football field any way I could."

After redshirting during his freshman season in 2007, Gerhart was projected to take over at center for ASU great Mike Pollak (now with the NFL's Indianapolis Colts), but myriad injuries along the offensive front necessitated moves elsewhere.

Gerhart himself hasn't been immune to the injuries that have crawled across the offensive line like a plague the past two seasons, missing four games last season due to turf toe on both feet.

But the younger brother of former Stanford star and current Minnesota Vikings running back Toby Gerhart, impressed during spring camp, quickly becoming comfortable as the anchor of offensive front.

His improved play has continued early in fall camp, leading to some high praise from his head coach during ASU Media Day on Saturday.

"I really believe he's one of the better centers in our league," Dennis Erickson said. "He's very smart and comes from a football family (Gerhart played for his father, Todd, at Norco). He knows the calls and he's been around, which at that position you need to know what you're doing."

One of the reasons Gerhart is most excited to move back to center, he said, is the challenging leadership requirements attached the position, one that calls for acute attention to detail and a grasp of the responsibilities of his teammates.

"It's a lot of responsibility because I'm pretty much in charge of all the guys," Gerhart said. "I have to talk to the tackles, the tight ends, the quarterback. Me and the quarterback have to figure out where the MIKE (middle linebacker) is.

"If I mess up the call, it can screw up the whole protection unit. I'm a little bit of the brains out there for the offensive line, and I'm the leader out there that has to get everything set. We're in a hurry-up offense now, so I've got to get everyone to the ball and get my calls out to get everyone rolling."

Gerhart also knows the trust his teammates have in him to make the right calls and reads requires cultivation off the field. It's why, the center said, he and the rest of this front line teammates have spent much of their offseason hanging out together. From Bar-B-Qs -- senior offensive lineman Jon Hargis has been voted the team's best cook -- to community service projects at Phoenix elementary schools, Gerhart said friendships have been built along the front line that can only benefit the team on Saturdays.

"We're a lot closer than we've ever been," he said. "All us guys are good friends. On the football field I think it's helped us start out a little bit better than we did last year."


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