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June 15, 2012
The phone calls from various sections of the country come on a regular basis.
Owensboro (Ky.) Apollo offensive tackle Hunter Bivin figures he talks to New Lenox (Ill.) Lincoln-Way West tackle Colin McGovern every week. The future Notre Dame offensive linemen chat about football, recruiting and various other topics.
When Bivin isn't getting a call from McGovern's Illinois home, he may be hearing from Midland (Mich.) offensive tackle Steve Elmer, Philadelphia (Pa.) William Penn Charter offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey or Everett (Mass.) guard John Montelus.
It's all an attempt to build chemistry off the field before Notre Dame's offensive line of the future must establish a rhythm on the field.
Eight months before National Signing Day, Notre Dame already has verbal commitments from five offensive linemen. They want to capitalize on the situation by making sure the linemates know one another long before they arrive on campus.
"It will definitely benefit us," Bivin said. "It will give us that much more time to get to know each other and build that bond the offensive line needs."
Notre Dame isn't the only FBS program that has this opportunity.
Michigan also has verbal commitments from five 2013 offensive linemen, and it even has a commitment from a long snapper as well. Alabama, Missouri, Northwestern, South Carolina and Wake Forest each have four verbal commitments from offensive linemen.
All those early commitments have helped these recruits get to know their future linemates.
In some cases, no introductions are necessary. Two of Wake Forest's offensive line commitments are from Alpharetta (Ga.) Milton teammates Josh Harris and Cory Helms. But for many of these programs, the commitments have come from linemen who hadn't met before the recruiting process.
That hasn't stopped them from making sure they're familiar with one another before they start their college careers.
"We don't want to come up to each other [on campus] as strangers," Montelus said. "We want to basically be a family. We don't want it to be awkward.''
Michigan's linemen are taking the same approach.
Since committing to Michigan earlier this year, Wheaton (Ill.) St. Francis offensive tackle Kyle Bosch and Peoria (Ill.) Manual offensive tackle Logan Tuley-Tillman have talked or exchanged text messages three or four times a week. Bosch also talks about once a week to the other three Michigan-bound linemen: Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech guard David Dawson, Parker (Colo.) Ponderosa tackle Chris Fox and Wexford (Pa.) North Allegheny tackle Patrick Kugler.
Sometimes they're talking football or discussing recruiting. Other times, they're simply getting to know one another better.
"We're just kind of shooting the breeze, catching up, just seeing how each other is doing and just talking about life," Bosch said.
The offensive line recruits believe that early communication will enable them to make a smoother transition once they start working together on campus.
Coaches often talk about how an effective offensive line works as one unit and that every player should treat each of his linemates as a brother. It takes time to build that kind of relationship. Having essentially a full line committed so early in the recruiting process gives Michigan and Notre Dame a head start.
"It helps quite a bit," Elmer said. "The better you know someone, the more you trust him. You have to be able to trust the guy next to you on the field. The more you talk to him, the more you get to know him, the more you trust him. Obviously you go through all the workouts with him to become true teammates, but the more we talk before we get on campus, the better it is because we'll just know each other as people.''
That familiarity can help at just about any position. For example, quarterbacks and wide receivers who already know each other are more likely to establish an immediate rapport on the field. But nowhere is it more important than on the offensive line.
Bivin knows that from experience.
"The guys that are on my offensive line are some of my best friends down here in Apollo," Bivin said. "I think that building that relationship with each other just adds to the fact that you've got to be able to predict each other's moves almost. On the offensive line, if one guy is on a different page, it's a busted play. It's very important to have that chemistry."
Once they have that chemistry, they'll also know how to get the best out of one another. They'll know which players need a helping hand or words of encouragement, and which linemen respond better to tough love.
"I can already tell that we're starting to build a good team bond," Bosch said. "I think it's going to be a lot easier to get on each other when we're not working hard enough, to push each other in the weight room and on the field and to build that team camaraderie. It's a definite plus to have that sort of relationship going in."
The five offensive linemen committed to Notre Dame have all been together just once, at the Irish spring game when Montelus became the last of the group to announce his college decision. Michigan's five offensive line commitments also gathered at the Wolverines spring game.
Because they're scattered across the country, they probably won't all meet again very often over the next year. But the advent of social media makes it easier than ever for them to communicate, even if they're thousands of miles away.
"We'll stay in contact with each other through Facebook and Twitter and the phone and stuff like that," Elmer said. "We'll be familiar with each other when we get there. It won't be like a couple of weeks before Signing Day, saying, 'Oh, hey, nice to meet you,' and then go and report."
That's the advantage Michigan and Notre Dame earned by getting these verbal commitments so early.
Michigan and Notre Dame both have landed quality linemen. All five of Michigan's commitments on the offensive line are Rivals250 recruits: Fox (57), Kugler (73), Bosch (77), Dawson (171) and Tuley-Tillman (235). Notre Dame's group includes two Rivals250 selections (No. 79 Montelus and No. 107 Elmer), two more four-star recruits outside the Rivals250 (Bivin and McGlinchey) and one three-star prospect (McGovern).
Sure, another school could end up with a higher-ranked offensive line recruiting class by landing a few elite blockers right before Signing Day, but that group might need more time to develop into a cohesive unit. By the time the recruits at Michigan and Notre Dame arrive on campus, they should know their linemates very well.
All those phone calls and text messages they exchanged will have made an impact. They'll know the personalities of each lineman. They even might have a pretty good idea about their respective strengths and weaknesses. Bivin has even watched highlights of the other linemen committed to Notre Dame to see how he can improve and to get an idea of what to expect in 2013.
"I was talking to Coach (Brian) Kelly, and he said the chemistry throughout our group is something really special, that he's never really had a group with the chemistry we have already," Bivin said.
Bivin noted that Kelly was referring to Notre Dame's entire 2013 recruiting class and not just the offensive linemen.
But if the Notre Dame and Michigan linemen can build that kind of chemistry early, it could provide a winning formula for both teams.