Scouting Combine Centers: Big Ten’s Biadasz, Ruiz Lead Way
Here is a look at the 10 centers, a group led by Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz, LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry, Washington’s Nick Harris, Temple’s Matt Hennessy and Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz. (Underclassmen are marked with an asterisk.)
Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin (6-3, 321): Biadasz went from Freshman All-American in 2017, to first-team all-Big Ten in 2018 to unanimous first-team All-American and winner of the Rimington Award as the nation’s top center in 2019. In all, he started 41 games.
At Amherst High School, he won the Tim Krumrie Award as state’s most outstanding senior defensive lineman in 2015. "When the camp started, I knew who he was and I watched him do all his testing and go through stuff," Rudolph, UW's offensive coordinator and O-line coach, told the school athletics site. "I really liked his athleticism, but I wasn't sure what position he was because he had played defensive line in high school." His drive and work ethic started on the family farm, a 1,000-acre operation located just outside of Amherst. “My grandpa showed me how to milk cows, feed calves, stack hay bales and clean up the barn,” Biadasz told the school newspaper. “It’s a really hard job and I think they should get more credit than they deserve, because it’s a ton of stress on your body. I take good pride in always supporting them and what they do.” His final season was about taking on a bigger role in the locker room and leading a group of young blockers. “You’ve got to be on, too,” he told Madison.com. “There’s no layoff. I’m not saying there ever was, but I’m saying you’ve got to come out with an edge every day. And that’s what I love because I get to be watched, too.” His only other football offers were Illinois State, South Dakota State, Southern Illinois and Western Illinois. “I think any of our guys or guys that have played in the past, you watch him and you're proud he's wearing the Motion W,” Rudolph told the Journal Sentinel. “You know what I mean? The way he approaches stuff, how way he handles himself. Guys I've played with would look and (say): ‘OK, this dude, I like this dude.’”
Cohl Cabral, Arizona State (6-5, 304): Cabral started at left tackle as a sophomore before moving to center as a junior, when he was second-team all-conference. He started his senior season back at left tackle, only to move back to center after two games. Once again, he was second-team all-Pac 12.
With experience came leadership opportunities. "It's his turn and he knows that," coach Herm Edwards told AZCentral.com. "He's a three-year starter and he is one of our veterans. The guys definitely take a cue from him. We are going to be leaning on him a lot." The move from tackle to center was made by Kevin Mawae, a longtime NFL standout and a member of Edwards’ staff. “It seems like a sacrifice now, but it’s going to turn out to be one of the best things he could do for his future,” Mawae told the Athletic. “Because now he’s a three-spot player as opposed to just one spot. The responsibility of making all the calls and that kind of thing, that’s just going to make his football IQ better.”
Trystan Colon-Castillo, Missouri* (6-4, 315): Colon-Castillo started his final 38 games at center for the Tigers. He was part of the SEC’s all-freshman team in 2017.
When he was 17 months old, Colon-Castillo’s father died in a car accident. With Puerto Rican roots, swimming was his first love, and he dabbled in tap dancing and ballet. “Puerto Ricans are really proud people,” he told the Columbia Missourian. “Even now, I have so many cousins and aunts and uncles who don’t really understand football, but win or lose, they tell me good job and I can see they’re really, really proud of where I’m from.” None of his relatives died in Hurricane Maria, but the impact was severe. “You never know what’s going to happen or what can be taken from you at a moment’s notice,” he told the Columbia Tribune. “It helped me out on my outlook about a lot of things.” He was part of Webb City’s three Missouri football championships. “When I first got here from Webb City, it was brutal,” he told the Neosho Daily News. “I thought I was a lot higher than what I really was. However, I had several players bring me back to reality. ... To see where I was at my first spring to where I am now is kind of crazy.”
Lloyd Cushenberry, LSU* (6-4, 315): Cushenberry started 28 consecutive games, including all 15 games in 2019, when he was second-team All-American, first-team all-SEC and team captain. Having earned his degree, he played in the Senior Bowl.
He submitted his name to the NFL’s draft advisory panel. It told him to go back to school. "I know it's a different level," Cushenberry told the Advocate, "but I've been counted out since high school. I was the last signee. I feel like I can make it on this level, and I can prove myself." He’s a quiet guy off the field but a menace on the field. "When I'm on the field, it clicks. It switches," Cushenberry told the school athletics site. "I look at a lot of videos of Kobe Bryant and how he used to switch that mentality on game day. I try to do the same thing." Cushenberry was given jersey No. 18, an LSU tradition that goes to a player who overcomes adversity and shows leadership. He wore “18” as a patch on his jersey. The honor stemmed from being a three-star recruit deemed the 82nd-best guard in the 2016 recruiting cycle. As he said, he was the last member of the LSU’s class. One of his best moments came when he was 8. As his mom told the Advocate: "I went home and asked Lloyd if he wanted to play football," Debbie said. "He was so happy. He had that football in his hand. He went to his older brother. 'Momma's gonna put me on the football team!'"
Jake Hanson, Oregon (6-5, 295): Hanson was a four-year starter for the Ducks. He was second-team all-conference as a junior and senior. He started 49 of 50 career games.
At Eureka (Calf.) High School, he was an offensive tackle. Oregon’s coaches prefer taking athletic, intelligent prospects and move them to center. It worked for past Oregon centers such as Max Unger and it worked for Hanson, too. "It was pretty difficult at first, snapping the ball versus having your hand in the dirt, but having that whole redshirt year to build on my redshirt abilities really helped," Hanson told Oregon.com. Football is part of his DNA; his grandfather played in the NFL in the 1950s. “I’ve always been around the game and loved it,” Hanson told the Times-Standard. Hanson was part of Oregon’s revival along with quarterback Justin Herbert and fellow linemen Shane Lemieux and Calvin Throckmorton – all four-year starters. “It’s been a really long road with a lot of hard times,” Hanson told the Herald and News before the Rose Bowl. “When we first came in, our goal was to win a conference championship and make it to the Rose Bowl. We’ve grown individually and as a team. We’ve really created something special that we’re all really proud of. To be here to finish up our careers is a really great feeling.”
Nick Harris, Washington (6-1, 302): Harris was a three-year starter, including right guard as a sophomore and center his final two seasons. He was all-Pac-12 first team as a junior and senior and second-team All-American as a senior.
“I took that next step in my game when I started to separate myself in the mental aspect of things — watching film, watching myself, watching other teams — the mental side of knowing the playbook,” Harris told the Daily UW. “I try to tell them that, just saying that when you get that playbook down, and when you get the film study down, you play faster, you play more confident, and your passion for the game kind of grows a little bit, just because you know what you’re doing and you let it loose.” Harris and offensive tackle Trey Adams – also part of this draft class – are inseparable friends. “He’s shorter, little black kid and I’m a big, white dude with long hair,” Adams told the Olympian. “Wouldn’t expect us to be buddies, but we just are. It’s been great. He’s a great friend, great teammate, great player.” That “short” comment almost had Harris quit football. By the end of his junior season, when recruiting should be at its peak, Harris’ only offer was to New Hampshire. Then, Washington beckoned. “Numerous coaches had been telling me I was too short and that I wouldn’t be able to play Division I football. Even (FCS) schools said I wouldn’t be able to play there. … (The frustration) kind of took a toll on me,” he told Huskies New Era. Fortunately for Harris, his high school coach was Pat Harlow, a former first-round pick who started 94 games at offensive tackle in his NFL career. “He’s literally the reason why I’m playing college football,” Harris told the Athletic. “If it wasn’t for him, I’d be doing something else.”
Matt Hennessy, Temple* (6-4, 295): Hennessy was a three-year starter. As a senior, he was one of three finalists for the Rimington Trophy, which goes to the best center in the nation, and an All-American. Having earned a degree in finance, he entered the draft and was selected to the Senior Bowl.
He’s a big believer in hot yoga. "It definitely helped improve my mobility as well as my strength through full ranges of motion as well as balance," Hennessy told PhiladelphiaEagles.com at the Senior Bowl. "Those are traits that I was able to develop and that helped me as I physically developed. When I was a smaller guy, that was really how I got by." In 2018, Hennessy was voted Temple TUFF, a school tradition awards single-digit jerseys to the team's toughest players as voted upon by them team. He got jersey No. 3, which he wore as a sticker on his helmet. A brother, Thomas, is the Jets’ long snapper. “Not only does he perform so well in academics and football, but Matt treats everybody in an elite way,” Thomas told the Philly Inquirer. As is typically the case with brothers, they pushed each other to be better. "There was a competitiveness as well as a level of inspiration between us," Matt Hennessy told OwlSports.com. "I see him doing big things and that's inspiring for me."
Keith Ismael, San Diego State* (6-3, 310): Ismael was all-Mountain West all three seasons, including a first-team choice as a sophomore and junior. He allowed only one sack in 2019 despite missing the spring following shoulder surgery. His starts in 2017 and 2018 were split between right guard and center.
“First off I gotta say, it’s never been about the money,” he told the Daily Aztec about entering the draft. “The dream of playing at this level have been there since I was a kid. Just to compete, bring honor and pride to my family, carry the name on my back. It means everything. My family means everything to me. They’ve given me everything. They’ve supported me through all my trials and tribulations. They’ve picked me up when I was down, kept me up when I was high.” He played lacrosse in high school and likes to cook. “I played a couple years in high school, not as a joke, but just more fun with me and the guys,” Ismael told the San Diego Union Tribune of his time at Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep in San Francisco. “They wanted a few more heavy hitters on the team, so they recruited some football players. I picked it up pretty quick. The athleticism helps. I kind of miss it.”
Cesar Ruiz, Michigan* (6-4, 319): Ruiz was an all-Big Ten center in 2018 and 2019, with second-team honors during his final season. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the best pass-blocking center in the nation. He started five times at right guard as a freshman.
He cut 20 pounds before the 2019 season to get ready for the new, up-tempo offense. “I knew I couldn’t be running around here chubby no more,” he told the Detroit News. “I knew I was going to have to trim up a bit. I lost that weight so I can get used to running back on the ball without anything holding me back. I feel completely different. I am just running around. I feel free. I can run a lot more. I have been exposing what I can do a lot more in open field and in terms of me being in space.” A center is the key communicator for most offensive lines. That’s something Ruiz relished. As offensive line coach Ed Warinner told the Detroit News: “He comes in on his own, he says, ‘Coach, can we meet and go over something for 30 minutes?’ Boom. Know what I mean? That’s the kind of kid he is, but it’s critical. What he does up there is be the quarterback of that group.” Ruiz’s father died when he was 8, struck by a car when changing someone’s tire on the side of a road. His mom considered taking him to counseling to help with the grieving. Instead, she signed him up for football. “You find a girlfriend in college, you fall in love with her, ‘Hey, mom, I want to marry this girl one day.’ It was kinda like that,” Ruiz told the Free Press. “I’m playing football, I love it, I want to play this forever. I always had a dream of that. I fell in love with football the first day I put pads on.”
Darryl Williams, Mississippi State (6-3, 310): Williams was a three-year starter – with 25 starts at left guard as a sophomore and junior and 13 more at center as a senior. He was a team captain, a semifinalist for the Jason Witten Man of the Year award and a candidate for the Senior CLASS Award. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed two sacks in 1,031 career pass-protecting snaps.
He learned well from one of his mentors, NFL all-rookie guard Elgton Jenkins. “Being a communicator is a big role that Elgton Jenkins told me I had a take on,” Williams told DJournal.com. “That’s something I’m continuing to try to develop on that aspect of my game. We talk on a daily basis and he’s always telling me to do the little things and to get my hands in the right spot at the right time to move guys out of their gaps.” He compared SEC Media Days, which were held a short drive from his hometown of Bessemer, Ala., to being a Hollywood star. Among the stories he told: A bear broke into the family van during a camping trip. He also considers himself an excellent cook. He quit the high school team briefly as a junior. “That’s when I got my first offers from Mississippi State and Kentucky so that’s what really got me going, knowing that I could really play football in the SEC,” Williams told DJournal.com. “I knew that I had a chance and a shot.”