The last Unsung Hero entry on Wesley McFadden lamented the opportunity lost in the 1989 season. Another opportunity lost was in 2006 when the Clemson Tigers had everything in front of them and let it all slip away. At its best, that team had a devastating running attack with a very talented stable of running backs led by "Thunder and Lightning" James Davis and C.J. Spiller. Also on board were the beloved Reggie Merriweather and Demerick Chancellor. Heck, Reggie Merriweather was the leading rusher and #1 back in 2004 and was third team on this squad. In front of those backs was a pretty good offensive line, especially for post-1990 Clemson football. My favorite by far on that line was a guy the staff plucked out of Ohio (a fertile OL recruiting ground I wish we'd mine more) named Roman Fry.
OL by nature are usually either unsung heroes or loudly decried goats depending on performance. It is not quite like long snapping which you totally ignore unless it is screwed up, but for most casual football fans, the OL play is largely unnoticed unless a disaster occurs. A big part of the implosion of the 2006 season was the loss of Roman Fry to injury. While Will Proctor was exposed as a serious weakness (along with Rob Spence's approach to 8 man fronts), the team likely would have had the horsepower to just keep running over most of the competition had Fry stayed healthy. He was nasty and brought the kind of edge we all would love to see out of Clemson linemen this year and beyond. Perhaps the greatest display of Fry getting it done was in the 2005 NC State game. This is one of my favorite victories of the Bowden era for many reasons:
1. I hate the Wolfpack in general, so whipping them always brings great pleasure.
2. It was a Thursday night game, which had been the bane of our existence since ESPN started it.
3. At the time, the Tigers hadn't beaten NCSU in Raleigh since 2001.
4. Chuck Amato was their coach, and if you weren't around for that, ask somebody who was.
NC State was pretty loaded on defense that year and boasted future top pick Mario Williams. They also had future NFL picks Manny Lawson and John McCargo on their DL. Even without Phillip Rivers at the helm, there was plenty of skepticism that Clemson could go in there and win. After a pretty crazy play that should have been a pick six for State, but instead turned into a big Clemson gain, the Tigers proceeded to whip the puppies with James Davis going to work behind the OL and Roman Fry. Kirk Herbstreit was loving it, pointing out the job Fry and the line were doing on the NC State front seven.
I highly recommend checking out the whole game if you are bored waiting for the new season to start. A fun fact of that game is Baltimore Raven OC (and recently canned Chicago Bear coach) Marc Trestman was the OC for NCSU that year. You will see some zone blocking at its best with James Davis looking like an absolute stud.
Here's to good OL play and Unsung Hero Roman Fry.