By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Fifth of an eight-part series featuring the best Football Championship Subdivision players at various positions.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - J.C. Oram used to think he would follow his older brother Shawn, a fellow offensive lineman, to Idaho State. The last place he thought he would wind up was at the Bengals' Big Sky Conference rival, Weber State.
"Back in the day, I used to hate Weber State," J.C. recalls. "Now it's kind of funny that I'm here."
Weber State opponents aren't laughing when they have to go up against the Wildcats' star. Oram has been pancaking defensive linemen ever since he arrived in Ogden, Utah.
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound right guard didn't start his first college game in 2008, but he has in all 36 games since then, and has become one of the FCS' top 10 offensive linemen. His goal for his senior season, though, is to be considered the best offensive lineman in the nation.
"Dedication. You have to be dedicated whatever you do," Oram said of his goal. "Right now we're in the offseason, I'm lifting five days a week, trying to get stronger. I have to work on my footwork. It's all preparation right now."
He has been part of an offensive line that has blocked for All-Americas at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. This season, though, the Wildcats' offensive strength is up front, where their veteran line features the left side of Oram and tackle Caleb Turner, who also was a All-Big Sky first-team selection last season.
"I believe I'm better in pass blocking right now, but I'm working on my run to get better," said Oram, who made the All-Big Sky second team in both 2008 and '09. "I'm better at pulling. I like to pull, I like to get out there and get a full head of steam and hit somebody. That's what our base play is - power.
"I love pass blocking, I love being one-on-one with somebody and just stopping him on every move that he can do to me. It's just a great feeling."
Oram's physical style is built off sound technique, from his push off the line of scrimmage to taking the right steps to using his hands to knock defensive linemen back. With aspirations of a pro career, however, he believes he has to get stronger physically.
It's a good sign for his future that Oram thought his best games last season were against Weber State's two FBS opponents, Boston College and Texas Tech.
Idaho State offered a scholarship to Oram in his senior year of high school, but the resident of Slaterville, Utah, clearly picked the right school. Weber State has enjoyed three straight winning seasons, with two playoff appearances and a 23-14 record. Idaho State is coming off three straight one-win seasons.
"When you hear about the Big Sky, you think of Montana, Montana State, Eastern Washington. We're all good teams," Oram said. "Every game is so competitive and every game matters. If you lose one game, you might not have a shot to make it to the playoffs."
Here are nine more offensive linemen who are part of The Sports Network's FCS Preseason Top 10:
Rodney Austin, Elon, Sr., OG, 6-4, 311 - Austin is a high-energy player who puts everything into every play. He had a breakthrough season last fall when he helped the Phoenix rank first in the Southern Conference and second in the FCS in passing offense (322.4 yards per game) and first in the conference and ninth nationally with 435.2 total offensive yards per outing. He was rewarded with All-Southern Conference first-team honors.
Bryan Boemer, Southern Illinois, Sr., C, 6-2, 315 - Boemer's outstanding strength lets him move any defender on his own, so the All-Missouri Valley Football Conference first-team standout frees up the two guards next to him to block other defenders. In his two seasons as a starter, the Salukis have had one of the better rushing attacks in the FCS. SIU will be returning all five starting offensive linemen from a year ago, but Boemer was named the team's offensive lineman of the game seven times in 11 games last season.
Tom Compton, South Dakota, Sr., OT, 6-6, 311 - Although blessed with excellent size, Compton remains quick (he ran a 5.08-second clocking in the 40-yard dash at South Dakota's junior pro day in March). South Dakota has had excellent offenses in recent seasons and Compton is entering his fourth season as a starter. The All-Great West Conference first-team selection can open running lanes and provide pass protection.
Evan Conrad, Southeast Missouri State, Jr., OT, 6-3, 305 - His forte is run blocking, but Conrad allowed only two sacks at left tackle last season. He anchored the line of the No. 3 rushing offense in the FCS. Conrad studies opponents and film well, and has a disciplined style. He was one of four SEMO offensive linemen to earn All-Ohio Valley Conference first-team honors last season, but was the only non-senior. During the regular season, he graded out over 91 percent with 77 knockdowns.
Natiel Curry, Bethune-Cookman, Sr., C, 6-2, 280 - Curry reads and reacts well against defensive sets. He is the leader up front for a resurgent Wildcats team that ranked second in scoring offense last season. Curry, named the MEAC's top center during his junior season, is always making sure teammates are in the right spot. Head coach Brian Jenkins lauds Curry for his intelligent play.
Gino Gradkowski, Delaware, Sr., OG, 6-4, 294 - The younger brother of NFL quarterback Bruce Gradkowski is in his third season as a Delaware starter after transferring from West Virginia. Gradkowski can play center as well as guard and earned All-CAA Football first-team honors as a workhorse for one of the FCS' most balanced offenses. He plays a smart style and will draw pro interest in 2012.
D.J. Hall, Texas State, Sr., OG, 6-3, 300 - Under first-year head coach Dennis Franchione, Hall has been a quick learner of the new offensive schemes. He is athletic and has a physical style of play which elevates both sides of the ball in practice. He can pull to become the Bobcats' lead blocker on running plays or step back and anchor the pass blocking. He's in his fourth season as a starter, earning All-Southland Conference second-team honors as a redshirt freshman in 2008 and first-team honors in each of the past two seasons.
Brett Moore, Georgia Southern, Sr., OT, 6-3, 258 - Moore basically came out of nowhere to anchor the offensive line last season, when the Eagles finished fourth in the FCS with 261.2 rushing yards per game. He isn't big for a right tackle, but is athletic and fast, and he makes good decisions. The former walk-on at GSU was rewarded by the Southern Conference coaches with first-team honors.
Chris Powers, Eastern Washington, Sr., C, 6-2, 270 - The last name says it all. Powers is the only returning offensive linemen who earned first-team honors on The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS All-America Team last season. The FCS champion Eagles averaged nearly 400 yards per game last season and Powers helped anchor the line with his workmanlike style. EWU is known for producing outstanding linemen.
Offensive linemen on the cusp:
Jeff Adams, Columbia, Sr., OT, 6-7, 305;
Roane Babington, James Madison, Sr., C, 6-2, 275;
David Pickard, Southern Illinois, Sr., OT, 6-5, 300;
Dan Shirey, Villanova, Jr., C, 6-2, 290;
Alex Terrien, Montana State, Sr., C, 6-4, 285;
Caleb Turner, Weber State, Sr., OT, 6-4, 280