Part 1 of our three-part preview of the offensive tackles includes mountainous Mekhi Becton, LSU left tackle Saahdiq Charles and Division III star Ben Bartch.
Trey Adams, Washington (6-8, 314): Adams was first-team all-Pac-12 at left tackle as a senior, matching the honor he won in 2016. Adams started 10 games at left tackle as a freshman in 2015, 14 games in 2016 and seven games in 2017 before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He missed most of 2018 with a back injury but returned late in the season and started in the Pac-12 Championship Game and Rose Bowl.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that my knees and my back are going to hurt for the rest of my life, just given my size and given that I play sports,” he said upon his return in 2018. “You’ve got to be tough to play this game. I’m not saying I’m the toughest guy out there; every guy out there at this point in the season is feeling something. I don’t have an excuse not to get out there and give it my full effort.” Because of the injuries, his five years at Washington felt like “10 frickin’ years.” In all, he missed 16 games and rehabbed back from knee and back surgeries. “The guy’s just tough,” offensive line coach Scott Huff said. “He’s persevered through a lot. He’s done it all smiling. He’s all about Washington. He’s been a great ambassador to the football program. He’s done things the Washington way. He’s just an awesome dude … and he’s a good football player. He’s a really special guy, and he deserves nothing but the best.”
Hakeem Adeniji, Kansas (6-5, 300): Adeniji ended his career with 48 consecutive starts. Over his final three seasons, 35 of those came at left tackle. The streak is especially impressive considering he had surgery on both labrums following his sophomore year. He earned all-Big 12 accolades all four seasons, including honorable mention as a senior.
Coach Les Miles enjoyed giving Adeniji his Senior Bowl invitation. Certainly I’m the older guy, and they could call me a senior, but I don’t think that this is for me,” Miles said, via KUSports, while holding an invitation to the Reese’s Senior Bowl. “I think this is for you. I think it’s got your name on it.” The letter from Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy told Adeniji to get ready to play guard and center, too. Adeniji initially was headed to Air Force, where an older brother played on the offensive line. However, just before heading to campus for the start of his first fall camp. However, the offer was pulled. Why? When he was 10, he learned he was allergic to cashews. Sixteen days later, he found a home at Kansas. “For me, it was always about moving on,” Adeniji told KansasCity.com, “and trying to make the most out of the next opportunity that I got.”
Ben Bartch, Saint John’s (6-5, 308): Bartch went from Division III All-American to the Senior Bowl. “It was really important,” he said of his performance at the prestigious all-star game Mobile, Ala. “One of the main red flags most scouts have on a player like me is the level of competition. They need to see how you are going to do when you go up against the biggest and fastest guys out there. And that's to be expected. You just have to rise to the occasion when you get the chance.”
Bartch played tight end during his first two years at the school. With limited playing time, he moved to left tackle and set the stage for his path to the NFL. To do it, he had to pack on the pounds. That meant seven meals per day and a smooth creation that include eggs, cottage cheese, peanut butter, bananas and milk. Over the course of weight training and conditioning, he’d eat seven meals.
Just eight Saint John’s players have been drafted, and none since offensive lineman Kurt Wachtler in the 15th round of 1974. The last Johnnies player to appear in a regular-season NFL game was running back Rick Bell, who played for the Vikings in 1983. He studied abroad in South Africa during Spring 2019
Mekhi Becton, Louisville* (6-7, 369): Becton started 33 games in three seasons at Louisville. At left tackle as a junior in 2019, he was named an All-American – the school’s first All-American lineman since 2006 – and won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the ACC’s top blocker. The massive Becton recorded more than 60 knockdown blocks, according to the coaches. His pass protection is a work in progress, according to PFF. "He's got tremendous size, tremendous athletic ability, but it's nice to see that come onto the field where he's going against some elite defensive linemen," offensive coordinator Dwayne Ledford told the Courier Journal. "He's having a good season but he and I talked today about it, just keep pushing. How good can we get?"
Becton is a massive man. He’s also nimble. That’s what stood out to Louisville’s coaching staff when they recruited the kid who started as a freshman at Highland Springs (Va.) High School. “One of the most impressive things with him is when we were recruiting him, seeing him do a reverse dunk,” Bobby Petrino, Louisville’s coach at the time, said last year. “He scored a lot of points playing basketball in high school.” He was always big – coaches wanted to see his birth certificate before youth games – then got bigger with a 5-inch growth spurt. "Within a couple months, they’re high-waters," his mom told the Courier Journal. "You buy these nice tennis shoes, then he skips a size and you have to pass them on to someone else." His legend began with a punch – a legal one.
Saahdiq Charles, LSU* (6-4, 295): Charles started 28 games in three seasons, with 26 of those starts coming at left tackle. He was part of an offensive line that won the Joe Moore Award as the top unit in the nation and powered a prolific offense that helped the Tigers win the national championship. While he didn’t earn any personal accolades due to missing six games for a violation of team rules, he was one of the coaches’ top-graded players in wins over Georgia in the SEC title game and Oklahoma in the playoffs.
Charles bounced around after Hurricane Katrina from north Louisiana, Houston, Georgia and Montgomery, Ala., before finally settling in Madison, Miss. They rode out the storm in the hospital where his mom worked. “My dad and I went to go live in the hospital with her because she was forced to work during the hurricane. The storm was flooding the hospital, so we had to go to the upper level and stay there. All of the workers and their families were working there, on the first floor, and they only fed the workers some sandwiches and chips and soda. I remember looking over a ledge and seeing all the people in the flood swimming in the water, but all I can remember is staying in the hospital.” In high school, he was a goalie in soccer – his first sporting love – a champion in track and field. Here’s his recruiting story: “The offensive line coach from LSU (Jeff Grimes, who coached at LSU from 2014-2017) had seen Saahdiq play goalkeeper before and saw how athletic he was, but this time I was going to put him in the field if we got ahead by a large margin. So we were ahead by six or seven goals at half and the LSU coach was there watching. We didn’t have any jerseys big enough to fit him so we found a white T-shirt, put black electric tape for his numbers and put him out there. In the first few minutes of the second half, Saahdiq got the ball around midfield, juked about three guys, dribbled down the field and barely missed scoring a goal. All of his teammates and the fans were going crazy about what great moves Saahdiq had. I looked up at the LSU coach and he was on the phone with Coach O (Ed Orgeron) telling him they had sign him.”
Cameron Clark, Charlotte (6-5, 294): Clark was a three-year starter and two-year captain for the 49ers. Clark was the team’s offensive MVP as a sophomore and first-team all-conference as a junior and senior. He ended his career with 31 consecutive starts.
As coach Will Healy told Panthers.com: “Cam has some size and athletic ability that is hard to find. He's extremely intelligent. He can make adjustments very quickly. He's been durable. He's tough. He's hard-nosed and a really good leader. He provides versatility, whether it's playing tackle, guard or center at the next level. He is a do-it-all guy.” The final game of his career was the Bahamas Bowl. He played in his 49th consecutive game for the 49ers and was allowed to wear the coveted No. 49 jersey. Clark played a key role in helping the 49ers reach their first bowl game. “You just hear it all over the place, even at church,” Clark said of team gear. “People come up to you. People you’ve never even spoken to you before come up to you wishing you the best. Telling us how they’ve been watching us this year. It’s been infectious. The brand is growing at a tremendous rate.” He is incredibly close to his twin sister.
Ezra Cleveland, Boise State* (6-6, 310): Cleveland was a three-year starter, including first-team all-Mountain West Conference honors at left tackle as a sophomore and junior. He also earned all-academic honors.
“He’s talented, and what I love about Ezra is he has no complacency to him,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “He wants to keep improving, whatever challenge you throw at him. He does the work — he’s got the talent behind it, he’s got the smarts behind it. And he’s only continuing getting better.” He’s a superb athlete and was 11 pounds at birth despite being born three weeks early and spending 11 days in a hospital because his lungs weren’t fully developed. “I mean, football, obviously, but softball, Xbox, paintball, you name it, he’s going to find a way to be good at it,” senior guard John Molchon said. Added offensive line coach Brad Bedell: “The thing with Ezra, if he loses at something, he’s the kind of guy that is going to go and secretly practice, won’t tell anyone, then all the sudden come back the next time and wipe the floor with everyone.”
Jack Driscoll, Auburn (6-5, 296): After starting 20 games at UMass and earning his degree in just three years, Driscoll was a graduate transfer who started 25 more games at right tackle at Auburn.
A native of Madison, Conn., he also played lacrosse. He listens to the Beatles before games. His father, John Driscoll, played on the offensive line for New Hampshire and spent a year with the Buffalo Bills. He went from 205-pound high school sophomore to SEC big man. “I kind of always knew how to teach him the position and how important it was to play other sports,” John said. “He’s played lacrosse, basketball. I had him take taekwondo for half a year just for footwork and balance and all that stuff. He’s prepared for it. He’s a kid who knows what he wants, set some goals and tried to go get them.” Auburn’s quarterback in 2018, Jarrett Stidham, called Driscoll a “freak athlete.” He gained 45 pounds at UMass. “He wasn’t really a gamble for Auburn or anybody else. They knew what they were getting. He hasn’t disappointed,” his high school coach said. “He kind of flew under the radar, but he’s not flying under the radar anymore.”