By Rick Kozlowski - firstname.lastname@example.org
SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Hussam Ouri qualifies as Shepherd's Every-Year Man.
"That's what everyone says," Ouri said, laughing.
It seems like he's been manning a position on the offensive line for the Rams forever.
Maybe it's his rugged looks, particularly his thick, dark beard that is unmistakable.
Really, this will be his fourth year as a starter on the Shepherd line, though, as a redshirt senior, Ouri's in his fifth season with the program. He started at times as a freshman at guard before moving to center full time since his sophomore season.
"I was joking around with one of the refs one time, and he said, 'You guys don't want to graduate; you want to stay there forever,'" Ouri said.
Truth be known, Ouri could've graduated from Shepherd after 3 1/2 years of school, but he's been taking extra classes in order to go to graduate school.
"I'm getting ready for physical therapy school," he said.
He'll receive his degree in December -- after, he hopes, another successful season by the Rams, winners of two straight titles in different conferences.
"What we did last year, we don't want to replicate last year," Ouri said. "Our strength coach said, 'We went undefeated and lost.'"
Sure enough, Shepherd won its first 11 games before stumbling in the national quarterfinals to West Chester.
Ouri and his teammates want more: semifinals, finals, national championship.
Ouri and his linemates will be charged with playing an integral part, especially as Shepherd hopes for "more production" from the offense, as coach Monte Cater put it.
The Rams suffered major losses in personnel from one of the nation's best defenses over the last several seasons, and to help its new unit grow, Shepherd wants to rely on its running game to keep possession of the football.
Jordan Dixon and Isaiah Shelton, both all-Mountain East Conference performers in 2013, join Ouri, a second-team all-league pick, as starters on the offensive line.
"We have to rebuild from the bottom up and succeed up front," Ouri said. "We have to improve the talent we have. We have talent, as long as everyone buys in to what the coaches say.
"We have talent."
How quickly the offensive line gels with its newcomers will be key.
"We should be a capable offensive line," Ouri said. "That's hard to deal with (on defense). I want to lead them."
Ouri said he doesn't feel there's pressure on the offense to ease the burden on a fairly new defensive unit.
His pressure is what he puts on himself to perform.
"Last year, I was having one of my better camps," Ouri said. "I hurt my foot. I didn't look like myself when I watched films, whether it was pulling or moving.
"I have to prove to myself I want to get it done. I want to be the player I can be."
It's now or never, because, believe it or not, this is Ouri's last season.