By Jeff Nations -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Speechless, that's what Jake Brent was on his first recruiting visit to Shenandoah University back in the winter of 2008.
A hulking offensive lineman from Mechanicsville's Lee Davis High School, Brent knew he was about to meet the man who would potentially be his position coach for the next four years -- legendary former Washington Redskins lineman Joe Jacoby.
Intimidating, for certain.
"Oh man, I thought I met like a superstar or something -- I didn't even know what to say," Brent said. "I just couldn't believe it -- I've met some pretty interesting superstars in my life, but coach Jacoby was definitely a big one."
Presumably, Brent did manage to force out a few words that first meeting, then a few more when he made his decision to play for the Hornets.
Four years later, and it's Brent getting the star treatment on the Winchester campus. A preseason All-American selection by multiple media outlets, the 6-foot-7, 305-pound left tackle has taken all the accolades in stride.
"It's always an honor, just to get recognized," said Brent, a first-team all-USA South Conference pick last year. "Back in high school, I never really got recognized for a whole lot of things except just my height and my size."
That alone was enough to draw at least cursory interest from Division I programs, but Brent didn't have the test scores for that level. He soon set his sights on nearby Division III Randolph-Macon College, but again his grades didn't cut it. Then came the visit to Shenandoah, the mostly one-sided conversation with Jacoby, and the decision to make Winchester his college destination.
That first practice at Shenandoah was an eye-opener for Brent, working with the Hornets' coaching staff -- Jacoby, in particular.
"It was pretty intense," Brent said. "I had some things to learn from him. He corrected me on some things, he taught me a bunch of fundamentals that day. It was a pretty fun practice. I was looking forward to learning so much from him, and look where it's got me now."
Jacoby, who played 13 NFL seasons for the Redskins, soon saw that Brent's enormous potential could be refined into something special for the Hornets.
"With Jake we didn't have to work on any of his physical size and all that, or his heart, or his tenacity -- that was all there," Jacoby said. "What we had to work on improving, and he's done a great job with it, was his technique -- working on his foot quickness and understanding of our offense. He's done remarkably well, an outstanding job of getting that all down the last couple of years."
Brent, one of two full-time starters back on the offensive line this season, has faced the added challenge of protecting a rotating quarterback tandem this year as the mobile Philip Gardner and the more traditional pocket-passing Shawn Lloyd have spent time under center.
"The cadence is different," Shenandoah coach Paul Barnes said. "Anytime you change quarterbacks, it's a little bit different. You've got to be in sync with them. That's part of the problem, sometimes, when you change quarterbacks -- just getting used to playing with them. It's been a little tough for the whole offensive line."
Brent insists it hasn't been an issue for the offensive line during Shenandoah's 1-2 start so far this season.
"I really don't see much difference," Brent said. "That's their thing. I block for whoever's back there. I worry about my job and the rest of the guys on the line, we do what we have to do. We have to block for the run and protect for the pass, and all that stuff. It's just basically doing our job and not worrying about who's back there."
Whoever is starting at quarterback can feel relatively certain of one thing -- Brent has their back. That on-field play is just part of what he brings to the Hornets, though -- this year, Barnes said the soft-spoken senior has moved from the leader-by-example type to more of a vocal part of the locker room.
Barnes, a former offensive tackle himself during his playing days at James Madison, relishes the strides Brent has taken to improve during his career at Shenandoah.
"He's the type of guy you like," Barnes said. "Between the lines, he's an animal. Off the field, he's a perfect gentleman."
Jacoby, who can look at Brent's doppleganger build (Jacoby was listed at 6-7, 305 pounds during his NFL career) appreciate his endless appetite for work, really has just one major flaw he hopes to correct -- Brent remains, steadfastly, a Dallas Cowboys fan.
"We overlook those little details," Jacoby said. "We're working on him, trying to change him. So far, it's not been very successful.
"He can be stubborn like that."
That's Brent, though, and that's what the Hornets like most about him -- his consistency.
"Each week always matters, no matter who we're playing," Brent said. "We can play the No. 1 team in the nation or we can play the worst team in the nation, it don't matter. It's another week of hard work and just putting in the time. We know what we've got to do, no matter who we're playing, no matter what conference we're playing in -- we've gotta do what we've gotta do each and every week and just get ready for Saturday."