Doug Brzezinski: A Real Student of the Game at O-Line U

BrzezinskiheadandshouldersDoug Brzezinski was too big for youth football until he got to the all-boys Detroit Catholic Central High School. So he played soccer instead. But he looked forward to the day he’d don pads and helmet for close order battle.

Maybe that’s because he was also a devotee of Dungeons and Dragons. He liked to imagine himself clad in gladiator get-up, wielding his sword and shield in one-to-one combat. That’s the kind of football player he became.

“I’d rather be in a phone booth and duke it out with you, instead of running all over the place,” he said. “I was a brawler. I wasn’t overly athletic, so I’d try to out-effort you or outmuscle you.”

That approach, along with a scholarly approach to learning his craft and an appreciation for good advice and coaching, served Doug well.

Doug arrived at Boston College in the fall of 1994, redshirted a year, then started at left guard in all 46 games in four seasons. Two were under Dan Henning and two under Tom O’Brien. He twice was All-Big East First Team and won the Thomas F. Scanlan Award as a senior.

The Philadelphia Eagles picked Doug in the 1999 draft’s third round. He played six NFL seasons before a spate of injuries sent him into retirement at age 30.

In Doug’s BC career, the Eagles’ combined record was 17-29. It was a time of coaching transitions, and the wins and losses reflected it. But for Doug Brzezinski, it was also a chance to get a superb education – in football, in academics, and in the game of life.

“The biggest thing I learned was how to deal with adversity. In high school, we had only lost one game. At BC it was frustrating at times, but it opened up my eyes. A naïve, straight-laced high school kid meets reality,” he said.

Doug and Co-Captain Mike Cloud

Doug and Co-Captain Mike Cloud

A 49-7 loss to Army in Doug’s first season was a dose of that reality. So too was that 26-31 Notre Dame loss in his final home game three seasons later. The stymied fourth-and-one call to Mike Cloud was “a slow-developing play, a counter-action to the right that gave time for their second-level guys to catch people up,” he recalls ruefully.

“I learned that you’ve just got to go out and do your best, regardless. You can only control yourself. Work hard and let the chips fall where they may, you might get lucky,” he says.

Doug had been looking forward to play for Tom Coughlin and his line coach, Mike Maser. They departed shortly after Doug accepted the scholarship offer, picking Boston College over Notre Dame. Doug was shown around by Ben Velishka on his recruiting trip. He liked the friendliness and good humor of the players.

Doug also liked Eagle players’ work ethic, and that Boston College seemed to accomplish more with less than some other programs. Maser’s candor was also appealing. Rather than promising him an immediate starting berth, the coaches warned that he’d have to earn everything he got, and would have to go to class and study as well.

Getting the starting assignment as a redshirt freshman was a surprise. Doug had expected a lengthy apprenticeship like the one he’d gone through at Catholic Central. But he was a quick study, and he loves to talk about the intelligence and discipline that offensive line play demands.

It might look like a brawl in a phone booth, with behemoths shoving other behemoths. But as Doug describes it, O-line play is a combination of delicately choreographed flash mob and high-speed physics lesson. He also maintains that, unlike the skill positions where natural talent reigns supreme, the offensive line is a spot where anyone who’s willing to work at it can become proficient, if not a star player.

“Offensive line is a game within a game. You’re making about a hundred calls within the space of five seconds. A linebacker moves, a safety comes over, and as the ball’s been snapped you’re still adjusting the blocking scheme to what they’re doing.
“It’s not just ‘you block that guy, I block this guy.’ It happens organically, the flow of whole unit working together,” he explains.

Doug liked what he learned at BC from line coach George Warhop. He also pointed out that Jeff Jagodzinski was particularly good at analyzing opposing defenses and designing offenses to exploit weaknesses. Tom O’Brien’s arrival at the helm was another life lesson for Brzezinski.

“Tom was like Lee Marvin in ‘The Dirty Dozen.’ He had that dry sense of humor. He also said ‘you’ve got to put it in the bank.’ The effort and hard work you put in during the offseason will be there to call on when you need it during the season. That still works for me now. Things I did, efforts I put at work eight years ago, relationships I made, are paying off. Treat people the way you’d want to be treated.”

Halfway through the 2004 season with the Carolina Panthers, Doug felt something give way on the third play of a game. He played the rest of the half with a broken pelvis, one leg flopping around and virtually useless. The surgery was his fourth procedure in two years. He’d also had shoulder problems.

Surgery was another experience that has served him well. He is now with Stryker Medical, a supplier of orthopedic devices and other advanced medical technology. Doug is officially a sales rep covering the region around Washing DC. But his real job is working alongside surgeons in the operating room as they replace hips, knees, bones and joints with his company’s products. Operations can demand on-the-fly changes in strategy and materials, just like offensive line play,

Perhaps the best part of attending Boston College, he says, was meeting his with during freshman orientation. He and the former Alise Karchmer – who wasn’t into football at all – hit it off immediately. They started dating in junior year. They live in Maryland with son Luke, 3, and daughter Natalia, 5.

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