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Dan Wenger: Lineman transitions from guard to center

Douglas Farmer | Friday, November 20, 2009

Most players know how to play one position on the field. A good quarterback may even know what every position’s role is on every play, but by no means could he line up anywhere but under center.

Dan Wenger knows how to play three positions on the gridiron, and has started in two of them.

The senior lineman did not see any playing time his freshman season due to various injuries, but he did not need in-game action to show the coaching staff his potential.

Wenger received praise throughout the season for giving the first-team defense tough competition in practice. He said this coincided with his goals coming to South Bend.

“Just going from high school to college, the speed of the game [picked up], and now you are playing against guys with everyone on scholarship, so everyone is pretty good,” Wenger said. “I definitely saw myself developing into a pretty good football player and working hard and aspiring to play at the next level.”

Wenger’s sophomore season involved eight games of action, including five starts. His first three starts, against Georgia Tech, Penn State and Michigan, were at right guard. He then started at center against Duke and Stanford, the last two games of Notre Dame’s worst season in the history of its program. Wenger said the trials of such an experience taught him lessons that carried past the football field.

“Nothing is guaranteed, nothing at all,” he said. “You just have to go with the situations that are handed to you every day and go with what is best for the team.”

The Florida native started every game at center his junior year, including the Hawaii Bowl. Wenger said the experiences in Hawaii highlighted his four years at Notre Dame. The Irish broke a postseason winless streak that dated back to 1993 by beating Hawaii 49-21.

“Absolutely phenomenal, to be a part of [breaking the losing streak]. [It was] definitely one of my highlights,” Wenger said.

In the victory the Irish offense relied on a strong offensive line en route to 413 passing yards and 478 total offensive yards, but it might not have been the success on the field that Wenger remembers best.

“I’m going to move there someday,” he said of the island chain. “Weather-wise, I still hate it [in South Bend]. I haven’t gotten used to this stuff yet. I still love the Florida sun, going to the beach. I miss it every day.”

The weather led to some lighter moments during preparations for the bowl game, including some odd practice techniques, referred to by Wenger as his favorite practice moments.

“Our last practice before the game, it was pat-and-go with the receivers, but instead of the receivers running it, [Coach Weis] let the offensive and defensive linemen run it so we ran the fade routes and caught the balls,” the 300-pound lineman said. “It wasn’t about scoring, but I caught a few passes. I might have to drop a little weight and work on my hands a little more [before I can line up out wide].”

After starting all 13 games last season, Wenger reasonably expected to pick up where he left off this season, but new offensive line coach Frank Verducci had a different idea.

Verducci wanted to get sophomore right guard Trevor Robinson some playing time, so he moved senior Eric Olsen into Wenger’s spot at center, and Wenger found himself on the second team for the first time since his freshman year.

“At first it’s pretty disheartening to get that information,” Wenger said. “Unfortunately, that is the way football and life go sometimes. You just have to deal with the situation at hand and make the best of it. I wasn’t going to be in the dog house or lose any intensity out on the field.”

Wenger set about giving the coaches reason to get him back on the field, and before the season even started he was the backup for all three interior line positions.

“There is a sense of self-confidence that comes along [with knowing three positions],” he said. “You can sit there and say to yourself ‘Hey, if I’m in there or someone goes down, I have the confidence in myself and I’m going to show the coaches I’m going to get the job done.”

Wenger got that chance after Robinson sprained an ankle against Washington State. The senior played the majority of the game in San Antonio, and made the start against Navy at right guard.

“That definitely made me stronger and motivated me more,” he said. “I can tell that I appreciate not only where I am at, but the amount of snaps that I get, and realize nothing is guaranteed.”

There is one guarantee — Dan Wenger can line up on the inside of the offensive line wherever needed, and he will continue to do so as often as asked.

“I think I’m a better person for having gone through this and for having to deal with it,” he said. “You learn a lot about football that way too.”