by Mike Bruscas
How do you make a 6-foot-4, 300-pound behemoth disappear before the eyes of 72,000 onlookers?
Put him on the offensive line.
In football, it's the backs and receivers who garner the individual accolades - offensive lineman only receive notice when they make a mistake, such as a holding penalty or a false start. However, it is a commonly-held perception among football cognoscenti that games are won and lost not by the skill players, but in the trenches.
For the fan in the stands, however, it is much easier to measure the success of a run or a pass than of a well-placed block. That's just fine with Husky senior Todd Bachert, a third year starter who has initiated nearly every play at center over the past two and a half seasons.
"We can have the best game ever as a unit, and nobody will say anything," Bachert says of the line's anonymity. "But we still walk around with our heads held high. As long as we know we had a good game and we can talk about it with each other, that feels good. We enjoy staying out of the limelight."
That light may soon become brighter, however, if the line can keep blowing open holes as it did in the team's games against Indiana and Idaho, when the Huskies rushed for 195 and 231 yards. Both totals are more than the Huskies achieved in any game during the 2001 season, a sign that the offensive line is beginning to dominate again as it did during the team's run to the 2001 Rose Bowl.
Bachert remembers well the Huskies' dominance up front in 2000, a season he spent as the backup to starting tackle Kyle Benn. He and his fellow linemates are determined to wear down opponents this season in much the same way Benn and his teammates did in 2000.
"The Rose Bowl has been the best experience I've had since I've been here. It would be the best thing to go out on the same note," Bachert says. "The senior class talks about it a lot. Having been there as freshmen, we all know what a special experience it is, and how badly we want to go back."
The route to the Rose Bowl is nothing compared to the route which brought Bachert to Washington, which winds through four states and three high school programs.
A native of Evansville, Ind., Bachert began his prep career in Texas before moving to Michigan, and later to Mission Viejo, Calif. It was at Mission Viejo High School that Bachert drew the attention of the Husky coaches with his impressive play, leading the Diablos to a state title in 1997.
After a visit to Washington, Bachert canceled visits to other schools, confident that the program which has turned out numerous outstanding linemen was the best fit. Upon his arrival, Bachert found himself immediately slotted behind one such Husky great, and availed himself of the opportunity to learn as much as possible.
"Kyle Benn was the one I followed the most," he says. "It was pretty rough at first, but he was the one who told me, 'Keep your head up, man. It'll get better.' Encouraged me when I was down, and as a center, I tried to model my game after him."
Bachert worked meticulously on his center skills throughout his redshirt season in 2000, but was surprised in the fall of 2001, when the coaches asked him to move to offensive tackle. Bachert had become used to moving from state to state throughout his life, but this move of only three or four feet still caught him off guard.
"It was pretty shocking," he says. "I had played tackle in high school but to do so at the collegiate level required a totally different set of skills. I think I adjusted decently, but I definitely prefer center."
Bachert excelled in his new position, helping the Husky offense rank fourth in the conference in sacks against, but was moved back to center in 2002 due to the development of the tackles behind him on the depth chart.
"I just like being on the inside," he explains. "I like being in charge, making all the calls for the line. Out there on the edge you face all the fast, skinny guys. I like the big meatheads."
While Bachert was happier back at his customary center spot, the Huskies struggled to win games. Soon, a season that had begun with talk of a potential Pac-10 title for Washington devolved into one in which the Huskies needed to win two of their last three games simply to preserve their streak of 25-consecutive years at or above .500.
"The streak is something you think about every game, especially when you're not doing so well like we were last year," the history major says. "Everyone was talking about how last year was going to be the downfall. For 25 years, teams got the job done, and I don't think I could live with being a part of a team that brought that to an end."
Bachert and his teammates rallied to win each of their final three to earn a trip to the Sun Bowl with a 7-5 record, preserving the streak for another season.
Also preserved has been Bachert's streak of 25-consecutive starts entering this season, a string dating back to the beginning of the 2001 season. As with the team's streak, Bachert's is a result of hard work, dedication and a refusal to be limited by injuries.
The senior has had his share of physical setbacks, including a pair of shoulder surgeries his first two seasons.
"My sophomore year, when I was a tackle, was the worst. Dislocation after dislocation - it was rough. Last year wasn't as bad, pain-wise, and this year I feel good - knock on wood," he says with cautious optimism.
Although injuries have hampered Washington's depth on the offensive line this season, the Huskies remain a veteran unit, with four returning starters on the line and established stars at the skill positions. While much of the public was distracted by Washington's coaching change during the offseason, the veterans chose to focus instead on the only thing they could control - being ready to play come fall.
"We met a bunch this summer, just the seniors, because we weren't sure what was going to happen," Bachert recalls. "We finally said that we needed to forget everything that was going on and just focus on our goals."
Bachert himself made the decision to be a leader in 2003.
"I don't talk too much, but hopefully doing things right will set enough of a good example," he says.
An offensive lineman creates opportunities for others. They don't accumulate stats. They are not coveted in fantasy leagues. However, there are still plenty of ways by which their performances can be measured
"The coaches grade us for every game, based on assignment errors, blocking, etc.," Bachert explains. "My goal is to grade out at 100 percent, every game. Not for any kind of glory - no one other than my teammates are ever going to know - but just for myself."
Fans may not care about such grades, but they certainly care about wins. If that number climbs, rest assured that Todd Bachert was on the ball.