Middle “Hog” paves way Line centered on Wenckowski

By Wes Swietek

On most Saturday afternoons Eric Wenckowski can be found putting himself on the line for NIU—literally.

Wenckowski starts on NIU’s offensive line, affectionately known as the “hogs”, at its most pivotal and often overlooked position, center.

“In any offense the center plays a vital role in any success you’re going to have,” said Huskie football coach Jerry Pettibone. “He’s the guy that initiates everything and Eric has had a great year.”

Despite the pain, hard work and lack of glamor associated with being an offensive lineman, Wenckowski revels in the weekly combat.

“I really enjoy it. I didn’t start playing center until my senior year at high school so it’s a relatively new position for me,” said Wenckowski. “What’s fun is when you come off the line and you make a good block and make a hole so the fullback or halfback runs for 15 or 20 yards and you know that if you didn’t do a good job he would have gotten zilch.”

Wenckowski, a senior business major, has had to adjust from centering for former NIU quarterback Marshall Taylor to current starter Stacey Robinson, but says that the change has come smoothly.

“I really haven’t noticed much of a difference because last year I centered for both of them during practice. (The change) really hasn’t affected me much.”

The reliance on run blocking in the wishbone offense has not been an adjustment for Wenckowski either. “In high school we ran the wishbone, so I come from that kind of a background,” said Wenckowski. “The difference is in the stance. In the wishbone offense I put more weight on my hands and put my weight forward because we’re coming off the ball more. In a passing offense you want to have your weight back.”

The shift to pass blocking during a game can be a difficult adjustment, admits Wenckowski, but he credits offensive line coach Pete Peltzer with helping the ” hogs” make the transition.

“Coach Peltzer has taught us a lot and we’ve become a much better pass blocking unit. In fact we’ve only given up one sack so far,” said Wenckowski.

Although the offense is ranked seventh nationaly in rushing, the offensive line may not always receive the credit due them, but Wenckowski feels that the results are the most important accolades the line can receive.

“People who know football know that it (the success) is not all running backs and our running backs know that too. They give us encouraging notes to pep us up. I think it’s a compliment to us that we’re seventh in the nation in rushing, it means that we’re doing our job,” said Wenckowski. “When we don’t do our job, things don’t go right, like we found out two weeks ago (a 42-21 loss to Louisianna Tech.)”

Wenckowski is encouraged by the success of this year’s squad and feels that the best is yet to come.

“We’re going to go 9-2,” Wenckowski predicts. “I think this year’s team is probably closer than any team we’ve had. We encourage each other and we get along really well and that’s where things have to start. You have to like the people you’re playing with.”

As for personal goals, Wenckowski, who was named “offensive lineman of the game” after this year’s Nebraska and Southern Illinois games, prefers to let his play on the field do his talking.

“I’m just going to go out and play every game the best that I can and if some accolades come my way then they come my way,” he said.

Wenckowski was also an outstanding wrestler at Leyden high school and has competed for NIU’s wrestling team in the past.

“My wrestling career is on hold for now. I really enjoyed wrestling here and I thank coach Pettibone for giving me the opportunity to do it,” said Wenckowski. “I still might in the future go back to it. I’ll see how the future goes.”