Three times in his football career, coaches have asked Dustin Stanton to play on the offensive line. The first was as a boy playing Pop Warner football, and the second was a brief stint as a freshman at Oregon State University. Both times, and to his approval, he was later switched to tight end.
But the third time was the charm.
Approached by OSU coaches this spring about making a permanent move to offensive tackle, Stanton finally bought in. And the switch has been successful enough that Stanton, a 2012 graduate of Lakewood High School, has a chance to be the team’s starting left tackle in the fall as a redshirt sophomore.
“(The coaches) think I have potential at the position and they needed someone to fill in (because of injuries), so this time around I’m going for it,” said Stanton, speaking by telephone from Corvallis, Ore., where the Beavers are wrapping up their final week of spring football. “I’m having fun and I love the position, so now I’m just going to work to be the best tackle I can be.”
What helped make up his mind, Stanton said, was the persuasiveness of the coaching staff, including OSU head coach Mike Riley and assistant Mike Cavanaugh, who coaches the offensive line.
“When you have someone who believes in you, it gives you that extra will to do your best,” Stanton said. “And right now my mindset is that I’m a permanent offensive tackle.
“But if something were to happen, then I’d do whatever it takes to help this team to succeed. So if they need me back at tight end again, I’ll go back.”
Not likely, according to Cavanaugh.
“He’s a guy that’s got the length that we’re looking for out there at tackle,” he said of the 6-foot-6, 260-pound Stanton. “And we think the growth potential he has with his frame is outstanding. He’s obviously a really good athlete, so we thought it was a natural move for him out to left tackle.”
Stanton was 6-6 and 220 in his senior season at Lakewood, so no one was thinking about him playing tackle in college. He was undersized even for an NCAA Division I tight end, but the Beavers liked his athleticism and figured they could add some pounds to his lanky frame, so they offered a scholarship.
“Oregon State showed the most interest,” Stanton said, recalling the recruiting process. “They offered me my junior year. The UW talked to me for a while and they invited me to practices. They stayed in touch, but they never offered.”
Stanton took an official visit to Corvallis, and says he loved “the campus and the environment. It felt right. But mostly it was the coaches. Everything you hear about coach Riley and about how nice he is, it’s true. He’s genuinely nice all the time. He’s also super smart and just a great guy to be around and to be coached by. He really cares for the team and for everyone affiliated with the program.”
Stanton redshirted as a freshman in 2012, and then played on special teams and briefly as a backup tight end a year ago.
When the team had some offensive line injuries midway through the season, Stanton was asked to get some work at offensive tackle. “They wanted me to learn some of the basics (at tackle) in case I had to go in a game, so I’d at least know what I was doing,” he said. “So I did that for about a week and a half, and then I talked to them and said I’d rather play tight end.”
But now he is back at tackle, apparently to stay, and with the idea that he might have a pro future as an offensive lineman.
He still needs to add weight — in college, most offensive tackles are upwards of 300 pounds — by lifting weights and eating heartily in the coming months, with “280 or 285 the target for the fall,” he said. “If my body can take more weight on my frame, then I’m going to go for it as long as it’s good weight. I’m not going to put on sloppy weight.”
“He’s got the whole summer to lift and eat,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s going to have to eat a little more than he’s used to, but he’ll be smart and put (the weight) on the right way.”
Though it might go unnoticed by spectators, playing the offensive line is a lot more challenging than it looks. Linemen have to learn various blocking techniques, and they also have to understand blocking assignments that change depending on defensive alignments. So size and strength are critical, of course, but smarts are no less important.
“(Stanton) is still a young guy,” Cavanaugh said, “so he’s got three more years to get this down. And to me, the two keys are his persistence and his determination. Those are going to be the keys to how he progresses and grows. But obviously he’s got the tools we’re talking about, so it’s going to be a fun thing to watch. And I think the sky’s the limit for him.”
Stanton believes the offensive line is a better path for him to reach the NFL, which has “always been a dream of mine,” he said. “I love football and it’s taken me this far, and I’d love to pursue that dream.”
The funny thing is, “if someone had told me a couple of years ago that I’d be an offensive lineman, I never would’ve believed it,” he said. “But now here I am and I’m having fun with it.”