Austin Conrad was exhausted as he ripped off his helmet and sprayed himself in the face with a Gatorade bottle. He had just finished a drill at Walter Fieldhouse.
He’s been consistent with the end-of-the-drill ritual. He’s practiced it at the end of the last five practice periods.
Helmet off, exhale, water in the face.
The up-and-coming redshirt junior has experienced enough change in his three-plus years as a Bobcat to last him a whole career and yet, it’s just getting started.
He was recruited as a tight end and redshirted in his first year. He switched to defensive end at the start of the 2017 season and, a year ago, only saw action in the back half of Ohio’s schedule as he recovered from a broken foot.
But now the change is behind him, and with two years left of eligibility, Conrad is ready to take the field in the fall with some consistency for a change.
Ohio returns a defensive line that, while inexperienced, features depth. Conrad plans on being one of the anchors on the edge for the Bobcats. He’s part of a group that only allowed 137.1 rushing yards per game, and setting the edge will be critical for the unit.
“The whole d-line sets the tone in the trenches,” he said. “I really think we have the type of guys on this team that can really set it up up front.”
Not only will setting the edge be crucial, but getting to the quarterback will be as well. Ohio had 25 sacks last season – one by Conrad – and in order to maintain the stout front seven that Ohio is traditionally known for, Conrad will have to up his production.
His plan to reach the quarterback more is simple: upgrade and diversify his pass rush moves.
More likely to bull rush a tackle or use a push-pull move, Conrad has used the spring to increase his arsenal of pass rush moves. He’s grown into more of a speed-rush end.
“Since I’ve been on the d-line, my strength has been my strength,” he said. “I’m trying to use more speed.”
A speed move can be anything where the end tries to time the snap just right and beat the offensive tackle off the ball, or it could be a quick swat of the opposing linemen’s hands and using a swim-like motion to get to the quarterback.
Pass rush or not, Conrad will play a key role in the Bobcats defensive line this coming season. He only appeared in eight games last season, but in those games, he was efficient. He totaled 14 tackles, a fumble recovery and even an interception.
“I really think I was starting to show some consistency down the stretch,” he said. “I’m just trying to continue to do that and improve every day.”
Conrad’s eight games were all consecutive. He made his first appearance at Kent State on Oct. 6 and closed the season with two assisted tackles and an assisted sack against San Diego State in the Frisco Bowl win.
If he can continue to work on his speed moves and develop consistency in his habits, Conrad can go a long way for the Bobcats in the 2019 season.
As he put the Gatorade bottle back in its orange crate, he inhaled, put his helmet back on and went back to practice. From pass rush to the correct read to playing until there’s a whistle, Conrad’s game is about just one thing: consistency.