September 24, 2011

Getting to know the offensive line: A Q&A session with the most unheralded unit on a football team

By Daniel Smith
Media Services Assistant

The following is a conversation with the upperclassmen of the Campbell offensive line unit: redshirt seniors Jeremy Hill (Goldsboro, N.C.), Andy Johnson (Smithfield, N.C.) and Troy Horan (Fayetteville, N.C.), seniors Branden Burt (Greenville, N.C.) and Sam Issermoyer (Eldersburg, Md.), and junior Daniel Ritter (Asheboro, N.C.).

Q: When did you start playing football?

Troy: 7th grade
Andy: 7th grade/Pop Warner
Daniel: 7th grade
Branden: 5th grade
Sam: 2nd grade
Jeremy: 8th grade 

Q: Any memories from those early years?

Sam: I was too big, so (the coaches) put a big "X" on my helmet meaning that that I couldn't run the ball.

Branden: I was the first player to sign up for Pop Warner in our city. They started the program and I was the first kid to sign up.

Q: Have you guys always been offensive linemen?

(In unison): Yeah… (laughter)

Branden: I was a running back in middle school…

Sam: …and then you woke up.

Q: What brought each of you to Campbell?

Troy: It was pretty close to home, but far enough away at the same time. It also gave me an opportunity to play football.

Andy: It's only about 30 minutes away from my house, so it was close enough that I could be close to my family, but far enough away that I had the opportunity to meet new people.

Daniel: It was a final opportunity; I had been recruited by some other schools and they fell through. I came here and they offered a chance to come and play.

Branden: For me it was a chance to come and get a good education and play football about an hour and a half from home.

Sam: Very similar, a chance to get a good education and the opportunity to help start a new football program.

Jeremy: Getting a chance to play soon instead of practicing for three years and then getting to play your fourth year.

Q: What are some memories that you have from your time here?

Jeremy: I know for me, I still remember the first practice we ever had, on the grass field over by the practice soccer fields. We started out with 110 people and we were all ready to go after just getting our new equipment. We were all ready to go, with nowhere to go.

Troy: We always laugh about Charles (Andy) being late to the very first meeting.

Andy: I thought the meeting started at 8:00 and it started at 7:00, so I show up at 7:45 thinking I'm doing good and 15 minutes early, and I was 45 minutes late.

Branden: Another favorite memory is all the places that we've played and the bus rides.

Q: Going from there, what's the favorite place you have ever played?

(In unison) ODU (Old Dominion University, who Campbell has played each of the past three years, playing in Norfolk in 2009 and in this year's season opener).

Q: What makes ODU an enjoyable place to play?

Jeremy: It's not everyday you get to play in front of 20,000 people. There's a whole other type of adrenaline that rushes through you playing there.

Branden: It's got the real college football feel: tons of people tailgating, police escorts into the stadium, everything.

Sam: The Georgia Dome is going to be pretty fun as well. (Campbell will take on Georgia State in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga. on November 19th in the 2011 season finale.

Q: Talk about your O-Line Coach, Oscar Olejniczak…

Jeremy: It's tough love. On the field, he's hard on us. Off the field, he's like a second father-figure.

Branden: We were at his house last night, eating cupcakes. He wasn't there, his wife was.

Jeremy: I think with him it offers us a family away from home.

Q: Who's the best overall athlete?

Most agree on Branden Burt, while right tackle Jeremy Hill and left tackle Sam Issermoyer claim that the tackles have more athleticism.

Q: How have you bonded off the field?

Branden: We hang out just about everyday.

Andy: Most of us live together. It's pretty much just a big family of brothers, hanging out and going to eat.

Jeremy: If you don't see us together, something's wrong.

Branden: We do go out to eat, a lot.

Q: Favorite meal?

Branden: Dinner at Yamoto's.

Jeremy: We did get asked to leave an all-you-can-eat sushi place one time. Apparently there is a limit to all-you-can-eat.

Q: How does your friendship carry over to the field?

Troy: Hanging out so much and getting to know one another, you really feel like you can trust each other more than someone you're never around.

Andy: You get to where you've played around the same people for so long that you know what someone is thinking before they even think it. You know what they're supposed to do and what you are going to do. It's just like clockwork.

Branden: I think these guys are my best friends on the team. We get mad at each other all the time, but we are able to not take it personally because we are just trying to make each other better. We don't fight with each other, not very much anyway. On the field, it helps to have that relationship where we can say what we need to.

Jeremy: I think that when you have such close relationships, when you have conflict it takes out all the resentment. There's nothing behind the conflict, so it's easy to resolve.

Q: Do any of you have nicknames?

Andy: They call me "Sup," short for "Superman." When we got here freshman year, me and "Chop" (Jeremy) were roommates. He showed up first and moved in all his stuff and left. I showed later up and moved in all of my stuff and then I left. I was a big Superman fan and had sheets and posters and stuff. He came back and saw all that stuff and was talking to his girlfriend and asked "Where'd Superman go?" Since then, it's just been shortened to "Sup."

Jeremy: "Chop" came from when I was in 5th grade, when I was heftier. I was after school at a tutoring session, and one of my classmates called me "pork chop". It's just been shortened to "chop" and it's stuck with me all this time.

Q: What is your favorite part of game day?

Jeremy: Before every game we get together and say the Lord's Prayer, then we'll get together as a group and get ready to run out on the field.

Branden: One of the things we do as a unit is that we will all go out and stretch before the rest of the team goes out. Then we will each start at the goal line and run the distance of our jersey number. I'll run 73 yards, he'll run 61 yards (and so on). After that, I just thank the Lord for the opportunity.

Jeremy: It's a time to get our heads prepared for the game. That last time of sanity…

Q: What has strength and conditioning coach Andrew Carter meant to this program?

Jeremy: Coach Carter changed the program a lot. Our relationship with him is really good. He had been in a situation where he played football and he got our bodies ready to compete.

Andy: We really improved under his direction. We could tell how much better we got when Coach Carter got here.

Brandon: Everybody respects him in the weight room and on the field. Even on days that the rest of the team had off, he would have the O-Line and D-Line lifting weights or pushing sleds. He's a good coach for our team.

Q: Any other memories that stand out from your collegiate career?

Branden: I don't think it can be put into one memory. I'm just going to remember being around this group. There have been times when you have laughed so hard. I know this summer I was in Texas, and I didn't think I could miss a group as I much as I missed these guys.

(The group's closeness was evident when Branden was flying back from Texas just before preseason camp this summer. His flight was delayed over seven hours and finally arrived at 4 a.m. Andy, Troy, Daniel and Jeremy were there, waiting to pick him up and drive him to campus.)

Q: What are your future plans?
Troy: I'm going to try to get into medical school and then go from there.

Andy: I'm going to try to get into the business school and hopefully be a football graduate assistant.

Branden: I'm going to see how I can go with football. I have another year to get my master's, but my long-term goal is to be on a race day crew on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. I started going a lot and realized they have many former football guys that work with that crew.

Sam: I plan on seeing how far football takes me and then get a job and work on my MBA.

Jeremy: Same thing, go as far as football will take me and then get a job and get out in the real world.

Q: Daniel, what are you going to do when all these guys graduate this year?

Daniel: It's going to be rough. I'll have to look after all the young'uns. It'll be different, but there's a lot of potential (with the younger offensive linemen).

Q: What's the mark you would like to leave on this program as the first four-year graduating class?

Branden: They started it all. They'll be a lot of good football teams in the future. We took the beating for everybody that first year so that nobody after us will have to experience that again.

Jeremy: I hope we set a good foundation for future years. That first year, even though all we were doing was practicing against each other, I hope we set the tradition that will follow.