Four days before the start of his final fall camp, Shane Lemieux posted a picture on Twitter contrasting four Oregon offensive linemen before their first and fifth seasons.
Jake Hanson, Lemieux, Calvin Throckmorton and Brady Aiello sat in seats in the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex in the same order as 2015. Longer hair and bigger biceps aren't only noticeable changes from their younger selves.
“The biggest difference is all our necks were super skinny, that’s the funniest thing,” Hanson said. “We all put on a lot of weight. We’ve been through a lot. When that picture was taken, a lot of things were different. A different coaching staff, different culture for Oregon football and different expectations for what our four or five years were going to be like. I don’t think any of us were prepared for what was going to happen, but I wouldn’t change any of it.”
Fall camp 1➖ Fall camp 5pic.twitter.com/s639o1RLoV— Shane Lemieux (@ShaneLemieux)July 30, 2019
Hanson, Lemieux, Throckmorton and Aiello were all recruited by former longtime Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood and each sat out a redshirt season before starting as freshmen when the Ducks went 4-8 in 2016. Coach Mark Helfrich was fired a few days after the season ended and Greatwood was gone with the rest of the assistants when Willie Taggart took over the program.
Taggart brought Mario Cristobal along as the offensive line coach before he bolted for Florida State after one season and Cristobal was promoted to head coach. Alex Mirabal arrived last season as the third offensive line coach in three years, though Cristobal still works extensively with that group.
“Going through a coaching change always offers some kind of challenge,” Throckmorton said. “We can say all the time that we jumped in with both feet and got to work out of respect for the new coach and what he is trying to install, but at the same time, sometimes it is hard for guys. One of the biggest things now, going into the second year with coach Cristobal and really three years with essentially the same staff, that continuity and confidence as a team is real because of everything the guys have been through.”
Lemieux recalled the linemen following the rumors of who Taggart would add to be their new position coach during the couple weeks before Cristobal got the job.
“Coach Cristobal’s name came up a lot so we all knew about him,” he added. “We had coach Greatwood who we all had a lot of respect for, so having a good replacement come in to match his skills has been awesome.”
The linemen met with Cristobal following his hire from Alabama.
“We were all a little anxious about that,” Lemieux said. “Is he going to want to bring his guys in? In the meetings we had, he said ‘You guys are our guys’. I took that to heart and it made me understand how much coach Cristobal cares for his guys.”
There was no talk of transferring by any of the offensive linemen.
“It didn’t take me long at all to trust coach Cristobal,” Hanson said. “We all felt like he had our best interests at heart. We felt like he bought into us and we felt the same way about him.”
Added Throckmorton: ““My first impression was that he’s a stand-up dude who will do anything for his team.”
The linemen were at the front of a player-led push for Cristobal to become head coach following Taggart’s quick departure.
“Helfrich was gone, Taggart was gone, we were like ‘What’s next?’,” Aiello recalled. “Not many guys can say they had three head coaches in college football, but none of us wanted to get out of here. We all wanted to stick around and play out our eligibility here at Oregon.”
Lemieux and Throckmorton both arrived from Washington while Hanson and Aiello came from Northern California.
“I knew guys like Jake and Calvin in high school and I probably came here for coach Greatwood, but if coach Greatwood did not work out I knew there would still be a strong group of guys that I would be friends with for the rest of my life,” Lemieux said. “When times did get hard, we talked individually to see where everyone’s heads were at. We pushed each other knowing how close we were and how talented we could be. We stuck out the hard times of a 4-8 season knowing the future was going to be good.”
Throughout the changes, Throckmorton, Lemieux, and Hanson have remained stalwarts on the offensive line with Aiello a regular starter as well.
Entering their senior season, those four along with sophomore Penei Sewell and senior Dallas Warmack, who arrived last year as a grad transfer from Alabama, have Oregon’s offensive line ranked among the top in the nation by every publication that provides position rankings.
Lemieux is listed as a first-team preseason All-American by the Associated Press with Throckmorton on the second team. Both were on the preseason all-Pac-12 team while Sewell earned second-team honors with Hanson receiving honorable mention.
Lemieux has started all 38 games during his three seasons at left guard and Throckmorton has started each game, including 28 at right tackle, five at left tackle, four at right guard, and one at center. Hanson started 37 of 38 games at center, missing only the first half at Utah last season following a targeting penalty the previous week. Aiello has started 10 games at right tackle, 10 at left tackle and has played in 34 games.
“Our goal every year is to be the best offensive line group in the country and now we have the pieces in place to do that,” Hanson said. “We are working to put that product out on the field and do it. I’m very proud of how far we have come.”
Oregon finished last in the Pac-12 North during the first season with Throckmorton, Hanson, Lemieux and Aiello on the line, but that foursome heads into their final year with the Ducks picked to win the division and ranked No. 11 in the country. They open against No. 16 Auburn on Aug. 31 in Arlington, Texas. The matchup to watch in that game will be UO’s offensive line against Auburn’s defensive front, another position group considered among the best units in the country.
“It’s cool to see those acknowledgements in the preseason, but we also know the 2019 Ducks haven’t done anything yet,” Throckmorton said. “That motivates us much more to go out and become the dominant offensive line that we want to be.”