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January 3, 2013

Linemen shift to center to aid teams

MORE: U.S. Army All-American Bowl

Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
SAN ANTONIO -- Measuring up versus the best high school players from coast to coast is one of the most alluring aspects of playing in the U.S. Army All-American Game.

But competing against elite prospects on a national stage is a challenge after dominating for most of your high school career, even for the best of the best. And being asked to do it out of position can be overwhelming.

For several offensive linemen, including Penn State-bound Brendan Mahon, sliding to the interior to play center has been a challenge in the early going.

"I am doing something I am not very good at," Mahon said. "It would be hard to do in any situation, but being asked to do it at the highest level you can get doesn't make it any easier."

Mahon is listed at 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds. He is ranked as the No. 5 offensive guard in the country and is No. 139 in the Rivals250.

Coming to Texas from Randolph (N.J.) High, he figured he would be lining up at his natural position for the East team. That was changed quickly when the coaches went looking for players to play center.

"The team needed me to do it, so that was that," Mahon said. "Center has been a lot different than anything I have done in the last few years."

Anchoring the middle of the line is something that Celina (Texas) High athlete Jake Raulerson has done before. In middle school.

"I have played all over the line, but I haven't played center in a long time," he said. "It isn't all new, but it has been a long time."

Raulerson is listed at 6-foot-5 and weighs 262 pounds. He has committed to Texas, where he will likely enter the program as a defensive end.

Lining up over him when the West offense takes the field is likely to be 6-foot-3, 300-pound Kenny Bigelow.

Knowing that the No. 1 player in the country at his position is bearing down on him did not make the move any more comforting for Raulerson.

"I am probably too small to be handling that bull rush," Raulerson said. "It will be tough for me, but I hope to play well and hold my own."

The quarterbacks from both teams said all of the players have been handling the transition as well as can be expected.

East quarterback Johnathon McCrary, a Vanderbilt commit, sympathized with Mahon and Marietta (Ga.) Walton player Brandon Kublanow.

Kublanow is the No. 2 center in the Rivals database based on his projection at the position, but the Georgia-bound player has lined up at guard for his high school career.

"I couldn't imagine if they asked me to come to this game and then had me change positions," McCrary said. "If I had to learn how to play receiver in four days and compete against that group of corners, it would be awful.

"There is progress each day and we still have a few more days, so by game time we should be all good."

West quarterback Max Browne said he is getting more comfortable with the situation but understands the difficulty of the task being asked of Raulerson and Batesville (Miss.) South Panola offensive guard Deon Mix.

"It has been inconsistent, but it has been good for the most part," he said. "Jake has some natural ability because I think he has done some long snapping, and 'Big Mix' is doing well and giving it his all."

Browne, a USC commit and the No. 1 quarterback in the country, said the concern over potential problems that come with a position change made its way back to his hometown of Sammamish, Wash.

"It was the first thing my dad asked me about when I called him [Tuesday] night, to be honest," he said. "This is an All-American game, so most of these guys are left tackles on their high school teams and not centers. It is a whole new thing for them."

Mahon said his goal is to live up to the expectations that his teammates have placed on him.

"I don't want to disappoint them," he said. "Everyone is out here to win, and I want to do my part. We are all working hard and trying to get better."

Raulerson said improvement is the goal, even if he is a little disappointed with the move from a personal standpoint.

"I know there are people out there who don't even think I belong here, so I wanted to come out and prove them wrong," he said. "Now I am playing at a position I am not familiar with, so that will make that tough.

"I will be giving it my all, and I hope people will see that out there. It was an honor just to be here. It really is, and I want to win. I have to make the best of it."



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