Last year’s win over Louisville is best remembered for a spectacular performance by Isaiah Pead who ran for 151 yards including a 50-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that helped rally UC to a 25-16 victory.
Offensive tackle Eric Lefeld remembers it for a different reason.
Lefeld made his first college start that afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium as a redshirt freshman in place of an injured Sean Hooey. Just one year earlier, Lefeld arrived at Cincinnati weighing nearly 50 fewer pounds as a defensive end.
“It was unbelievable,” said Lefeld. “I had senior Alex Hoffman to help me and he was constantly giving me tips on technique. I was nervous as heck getting to play in the Bengals stadium in my first game.”
“He was a little nervous at first,” said junior Austin Bujnoch. “I can’t say what happened during the pregame, but he was pretty nervous.”
Does that mean there was some pregame spewing?
“There was some spewing, but he did a great job for us,” said Bujnoch with a laugh. “That was for the Keg of Nails and we always talk about Louisville as being one of our bigger rivals. He knew going into the game that he needed to step up and I think he did because the offense didn’t skip a beat. He did really well.”
The 6’6”, 291 pound sophomore started seven of the Bearcats’ last eight games at right tackle last season, and now that Hooey has recovered from an ankle injury, Lefeld moves to left tackle to replace Hoffman who earned Second Team All-Big East Honors last season.
“The left tackle protects the blind side of the quarterback and that’s probably the most critical spot on the offensive line,” said head coach Butch Jones. “Eric Lefeld is one of the great success stories from last year that wasn’t told. I believe that he started seven games for us at the tackle position and a year before he was a defensive lineman who was about 240 pounds. He came in and really held the rope, and now you can see with that experience that he is a rock of stability.”
Lefeld is from Coldwater, OH, a town of about 4,500 people that is roughly 70 miles northwest of Dayton. According to the school’s website, the Coldwater Cavaliers have won more games (145) than any program in Ohio since 2000 and have been to the playoffs 15 straight times. Playing for a small school powerhouse helped Eric make a rapid conversion from defense to offense.
“I think my class graduated with about 120-130 students,” said Lefeld. “When you transfer that over to the football field, we had guys playing on both sides of the ball. I had the opportunity to be a little more versatile and understand a little bit more about the game. I had great coaches in John Reed and Chip Otten and it gave me a great background.”
“He’s committed and he comes from a great high school program, so he had a great foundation coming in here,” said Coach Jones.
Still, Lefeld admits to being a bit shocked when he was asked to change positions.
“I think it was the first couple of days into my first camp and it was a big change to be honest,” said Lefeld. “Coach Jones grabbed me and said, ‘Come on. I want to see what you can do over here.’ He threw me into the fire and I haven’t turned back.”
And Lefeld has quickly developed into one of Cincinnati’s best offensive lineman.
“He cares about the game and is a student of the game,” said Bujnoch. “He always wants to get better. He’s physical and I wouldn’t want to have anyone else playing next to me.”
“This football program and his teammates mean everything to him,” said Coach Jones. “That’s his nature. He’s competitive, and it’s like he has a fire burning inside of him every day.”
“When we talk about ‘Representing the C,’ what really comes to my mind is that it’s on the field and off the field,” said Lefeld. “I come from a great family where we stress grades and competing to the best of your ability every time you’re on the field, and I believe in having a good balance.”
It sounds like the Bearcats won’t have to feel nervous about the left tackle position for the next three years.
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