The University at Buffalo's starting offensive linemen refer to themselves as The Hogs. OK, so the nickname isn't exactly original. But when you average 6-foot-5 and 289 pounds, you're allowed certain copyright infringements.
When these linemen get together for meetings or any other gathering, the place is instantly transformed into The Hog Lodge.
"It's a place where fat guys sit around with our bellies hanging out and talk football," said senior right tackle Tom Brown, who added that former UB star and current New England Patriots reserve Ed Ellis was one of the co-founders.
"There is a weight requirement to get in; no skinny guys allowed," added senior left tackle Joe Hattendorf.
Despite its obvious girth, the Bulls' offensive line has been the most overlooked unit on the team. For the past couple of seasons, it has quietly gone about its business, protecting quarterbacks and opening holes for running backs.
While the cheers go to the glamour boys, the men up front accept their lack of recognition as the sincerest form of flattery.
"It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it," Hattendorf said with a grin. "It's OK with us if no one notices us. Sometimes, that's a good thing because it shows we're doing our job."
The linemen have not only done their job well, they have done it longer than any group in college football.
Hattendorf (6-5, 296 pounds), Brown (6-6, 294), junior left guard David Pruce (6-8, 300), junior center Dominic Monacelli (6-4, 273) and right guard Mike Garofalo (6-4, 284) have made a combined 113 career starts.
The only other Division I-A teams with linemen that have started more than 100 games are Wisconsin (108), Bowling Green (104), Ohio State (104) and Alabama (101).
UB's total is even higher if you add the 11 starts made by junior hog Gabe Kogler, a 6-1, 285-pound blocking tight end.
"To be the most experienced line in the nation is something we take a lot of pride in," said Garofalo, who has started a team-high 33 straight games. "We've been together for so long now, but we want to keep that going and set an even higher standard for ourselves and for those who follow us."
UB's offensive line has provided outstanding pass blocking, allowing just seven sacks last season and only 12 the year before. The ground game flourished in 1998 as Bulls running backs set a school record with 2,463 yards rushing.
Hattendorf, considered the best of the group, hasn't given up a sack in two years. He has started 29 games in his career. Pruce (15 starts) uses his height and 103-inch reach to block out the sun and opposing defenders. Garofalo and Brown (22 starts) are versatile enough to play guard or tackle, while Monacelli (14 starts) has played guard as well as center. He also serves as the long-snapper on punts and field goals.
As good as his veteran line has been, UB coach Craig Cirbus warns that the group's performance may be a little misleading.
"People want to talk about the experience factor, but that was all at the Division I-AA level," Cirbus said. "That means nothing now, competing with Division I-A programs every week."
Indeed, the offensive line faces a more daunting challenge against the likes of Marshall and Miami of the Mid-American Conference and nationally ranked Virginia of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Not exactly like playing Lafayette or Canisius, is it?
"I feel good about our offensive line, but I don't know anything about the people we're going to play," Cirbus said. "How good is that offensive line that has all those years of experience, and how do they match up against the veteran MAC (defensive) units? I can't project that.
"I'm anxious to find out, though. I'm fired up to see how I-AA players who have played a lot will match up with I-A football teams."
Cirbus doesn't have long to wait. The regular season begins a week tonight against MAC foe Akron at UB Stadium.
The Bulls' linemen also want to see how they stack up against better competition.
"We have everything to prove," said Brown, a former Amherst standout. "No one expects anything from us. But we're cool with that. We just need to go out, beat up the guy in front of us every Saturday and win some games to show we belong."
Preseason got off to a rocky start when Hattendorf missed the first week of practice with an injured ankle.
Offensive line play has been ragged at times this summer, but Cirbus said that's typical during the early part of preseason.
"The offensive line takes a little longer than other units because they need time to find their rhythm," he said. "We're starting to turn the heat up on them and putting them into more pressure situations. The (two) scrimmages we've had helped a lot in terms of trying to provide a better tempo for them. We're not there yet, but hopefully during the next couple of practices, we can get a lot closer."
Erik Rusin's right elbow is in a sling and it will be three to four weeks before Cirbus knows if the senior quarterback will be available to play. Cirbus said the status of backup Mike Gaydosz is still uncertain. A small tear was found in his right shoulder, but the doctors will see if a week's worth of rest will solve the problem. If the pain persists when Gaydosz resumes throwing next week, surgery is a possibility.
Meanwhile, Derrick Gordon's star-crossed career took another bad turn. The talented sophomore tailback suffered a high ankle sprain that could keep him out of the season-opener. He had just returned to practice last Friday after missing most of the preseason because of surgery to remove kidney stones. He won the starting job midway through last year, but suffered a season-ending foot injury in his only start.
Linebacker Josh Trexler, who also is nursing a high ankle sprain, should be ready for the Akron game.
The CBS Evening News was at UB Thursday to do a feature story on the school's return to Division I-A football. The piece, scheduled to air nationally Sunday on the 6 p.m. newscast, will feature interviews with Cirbus, president William R. Greiner and athletic director Bob Arkeilpane, among others.