LIBERTY - For Liberty senior Abdel Yusuf, there's no better wingman than Pat Sturgeon.
The two lined up beside each other as sophomores on the junior varsity team and built a chemistry pancaking opponents as tackle (Yusuf) and guard (Sturgeon). Thus, when Yusuf, who started at tackle and was named captain as a junior last season, heard from the Liberty coaching staff that he was moving from tackle to center for the 2014 season, there was just one man he wanted to line up beside him.
"When I was first told I was going to play center, I told the coach I wanted Pat next to me on my side because I knew if I ever had any trouble on the nose, Pat would help me out immediately," Yusuf said. "We both have each other's backs, and we won't be worried about anything."
Yusuf spent last year without his partner-in-crime on the line, as Sturgeon missed the entire season with an ankle injury. The 5-foot-9, 200-pound right guard was expected to see some significant minutes last season before picking up the knock before the Leopards' first game.
Missing all of last season has definitely motivated Sturgeon coming into this season.
"I'm looking forward to it a ton because last year, it sucked real bad when I hurt my ankle," Sturgeon said. "I was out the whole season, and I really want to come out here and show it to them (that I can play)."
He's definitely impressed his coach, Kevin Cylar, with his play in practice. Although the senior is a bit undersized, Cylar said the Leopards will try to use his speed to their advantage.
"He's probably the fastest lineman in the state of Ohio," Cylar said. "Pat's kind of like a tweener. He's a really nasty kid, over 200 pounds, but he runs 11.3 in the 100 (this past track season). So, we'll do a lot of interesting things with Pat."
Not only has Sturgeon impressed the coaching staff in terms of his play on the field, but he also earned Cylar's praise for his leadership qualities.
While the middle of the offensive line is filled with upperclassmen (junior Arwan Clinckscale is the other guard), Liberty is inexperienced on the outside, with a sophomore in James Welch and a freshman in Derek Gilcher at both tackle positions. After graduating four seniors from last year's offensive line, the unit has a deficit in leadership.
Along with Yusuf, Sturgeon has stepped up to that role.
"My only dilemma is do I name Pat a captain because he hasn't been here a lot, yet he epitomizes what a captain should be," Cylar said. "From Day 1, he's came in, he's been vocal, even though he hasn't been here. He's been out leading, telling guys what to do. Leaders don't know how to do anything but lead, and since he's come into camp, he's done nothing but lead."
Perhaps it's because he missed one season with an injury that has allowed him to grow into that position, or it could be that's he's always been that way. Either way, his enthusiasm at playing football again is evident to his teammates.
"Every day, Pat's hyped to play," Yusuf said. "Every one - we all want to get down, drive anybody back we see, do everything we need to do."