Before “The Blind Side” hit the big screens, the majority of people were unfamiliar with the left tackle position. Everyone knows the quarterback, running back, maybe a receiver or two, but not many can list the positions of the five guys who make up the front lines.
In recent weeks, left tackle Ty Sambrailo caught a fair amount of attention; the sole returner from one of the best offensive lines Colorado State had put out in recent memory. But after he went down early in the first quarter of CSU’s game against Colorado, an even less familiar face stepped in.
Nick Callender does not demand attention. Unless you were looking carefully, the transition from Sambrailo to Callender went almost unnoticed. No small feat, considering Callender had not started a game since high school.
Even then, Callender did not “wow” coaches with his presence, or request an immediate starting position. To hear it from his high school football coach at St. Mary’s, Keith Minor, Callender was your typical lanky 15-year-old kid, on the outside.
“He wasn’t the most talented kid when we got him. He was one of the hardest-working kids on the football field,” Minor said. “He started as a sophomore, and that put him in a rough position. To be a left tackle as a sophomore is hard for any kid. He works hard at getting better – that’s the thing that stuck out about him.”
If any doubt existed about Callender’s work ethic, he silenced it with his performance on Friday night. Coming in to the game without any previous playing time, Callender was able to mesh with the other linemen to create hole after hole for running backs Dee Hart and Treyous Jarrells to blast through.
Stepping in for a veteran like Sambrailo might make even the strongest man’s knees shake, but Callender took it in stride, a quality Minor saw years ago.
“Nick is a really even-keeled kid. His background and his family really factor in – he has a great family,” Minor says. “We could be down 60 or up 60 and his approach is the same. Very calm, very confident in his abilities.”
The Colorado State football team has always been sure of their No. 2 players, expecting they would be able to step up to the call when needed. But Callender went above and beyond expectations.
Head coach Jim McElwain named the offensive line the team’s offensive players of the week, and was “impressed” with his performance while quarterback Garrett Grayson labeled Callender a “monster” and center Jake Bennett said Callender was undaunted by the task put before him.
Perhaps the most meaningful praise of all came from the guy he went in to replace.
“Nick is a great player, he’s been learning a lot, and I’ve been able to watch him grow into the player he is today,” Sambrailo said. “His time came up, and he has taken the torch and run with it. He did his job and he did it well.”
With more players like Sambrailo and Callender on the rise, the left tackle position may grow more appreciated with time. But even if the outside world fails to comprehend the importance of the job, Callender’s team knows it and they are sure happy to have him there.
Collegian Sports Reporter Micky Rastrelli can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @c_rasta5.