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UB center O'Hagan anchors O-line set to power star-studded offense

Calling redshirt senior center James O'Hagan a steadying presence on the University at Buffalo offensive line is probably an understatement.

The Bulls have played 36 games since coach Lance Leipold took over the program in 2015. O'Hagan has started in every one of them.

"I don't like to talk about that, because I don't want to jinx it," O'Hagan said Thursday at the team's media day at UB Stadium. "A lot of times I get almost rolled up on and I get really lucky."

In his three years, O'Hagan has contributed and become a leader of a unit that has consistently been one of the program's strong points. In his sophomore year, the group helped running back Jordan Johnson reach 1,000 yards. Last year they protected three different starting quarterbacks and created holes for a stable of running backs en route to a program record 5,183 yards of total offense.

He's a two-time All-Mid-American Conference third-team selection and this summer was nominated to the watch list for the Rimington Award, given to the top center in college football, for a third straight season.

"He's one of those guys where you want to sign him to a four-year extension," Leipold said. "He's played about 99 percent of the snaps since we've been here as a staff."

"When he's out there, he's like an extension of the coach," left guard Paul Nosworthy said.

With all the experience under his belt, it's no surprise O'Hagan is seen as one of the team's main leaders. But his command comes from more than just his high rep count. Leipold said he's in the office more than any other player on the team, something O'Hagan learned from the linemen that came before him.

"My mindset since day one has been to be in here as much as possible, watch as much as possible," said O'Hagan, a former star wrestler in high school. "Dillon Guy, left guard a couple years ago, he really showed me how to get in and watch film and how important film study was. It really helps not only me but the whole line when I know what I'm doing and what the other team is doing."

He's worked to pass on lessons of his own as well, taking younger players under his wing. His pet project this offseason was Nosworthy, one of two new starters on the line this year. Nosworthy said O'Hagan has been an extreme alarm clock of sorts, calling him every morning to make sure he's prepared for the day's scheduled program.

"He knows in the past I've had trouble with getting up," said Nosworthy, who appeared in 11 games last season as a reserve. "He was on me all summer and I had a good summer, didn't miss anything, any of our stuff. ... He put me in the position that I'm at now because I know all the plays. I feel like I'm ready for the season just because of him, really.

"Even now he's calling me for meetings. Even if it's 10 minutes until the meeting, like, 'Where are you?' "

O'Hagan said he prioritizes creating bonds with the rest of his line, especially those that line up right next to him. He called building a relationship with Nosworthy "his biggest thing" of the offseason.

"I've honestly just been telling him to make the little things in his life important so that the big things become a lot easier," O'Hagan said. "The big stuff, like playing football, will even things out if you do the little things every day."

And teammates like that, who hold others to a high standard, are needed when you consider the size of a football roster. Coaches can't be on every player all the time.

"We've got a big group, about 20 offensive linemen," offensive line coach Daryl Agpalsa said. "So, when we have our seniors mentor our young players, that's always a benefit for our program."

"That's what you need from your seniors," Leipold said. "That's what you need from your leaders."

The Bulls offense features four other players in addition to O'Hagan on preseason award watch lists — quarterback Tyree Jackson, running back Emmanuel Reid, wide receiver Anthony Johnson and tight end Tyler Mabry. While they may get the spotlight at the skill positions, O'Hagan is content with his role in what on paper looks like a powerful group heading into the season opener on Sept. 1.

"I take pride in the work that those guys do because without us, obviously, plays wouldn't go," O'Hagan said. "At the end of the day, it's so much fun playing with guys that are explosive and make you look good."

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