Finish strong. That is what Gage Cervenka is determined to do in his final season at Clemson.
“Finishing is my thing,” the senior offensive lineman said this weekend. “Coach Swinney always preaches – like we always have a word for the year, what can you do to help the team out. And so my word for this year for me is to ‘finish.’ Finishing blocks, finishing my career – just make sure I finish in everything that I do. So, that’s kind of what I’m relying on this season.”
Heading into his final college football campaign, Cervenka is in a much different place than he was when he arrived on Clemson’s campus as a freshman.
The Greenwood, S.C., native came in as a defensive tackle. Now, he enters 2019 as the Tigers’ starting right guard on the O-line.
Looking back, Cervenka recalls the slow learning curve that he endured while making the transition from defense to offense
“I switched over from defensive line about this time in fall camp four years ago,” he said. “I switched over, and it took me forever to learn just the inside zone, which is probably one of the most basic, easiest things we do here at Clemson. It took me forever just to grasp that.”
After redshirting the 2015 season, Cervenka served as the backup center during the entire 2017 season before earning a starting role at guard (and one spot start at center) in 2018. He made eight combined starts and played 549 snaps across 15 games last season.
“Towards the end of this last season I ended up playing guard, and I just found a home there,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it a lot more than center. I still practice there a little bit to stay fresh in case anything happens. But I really felt like I could be more beneficial for the team at guard. The coaches gave me that choice, and that’s kind of what I told them.”
As Cervenka looks to “finish” his career with a flourish, one of his main focuses as an offensive lineman is finishing blocks.
One of the strongest members of the team who tied the program position record for bench press reps at 225 pounds (43), Cervenka prides himself on playing with an attitude and a mean streak.
“Just having that ‘nasty’ is what I like to say,” he said. “Just finishing blocks. A lot of guys, they’re good on the point of attack, but they might not understand where the play goes or something like that, so they don’t fully understand how the play works … where the ball could go. So they kind of just go and then they might give up a little bit, and their guy may make a tackle a few yards downfield. But if they would have stayed on that block, finished the block, then that running back or whoever’s got the ball could break it and take it to the house for a touchdown.”
Cervenka heads into his senior season having played 711 snaps over 31 career games, so the experienced veteran has not been caught off guard by anything so far in fall camp.
It’s business as usual for the bulldozer up front. The biggest challenge for him in camp has simply been Mother Nature.
“This heat,” he said with a smile. “Nah, it’s actually been a very good camp. Nothing’s been too crazy. It’s always just learning the playbook, just knowledge and trying to show how things work to the younger guys. But nothing really has set in my mind as too hard, other than just coming out here and just grinding every day through the heat.”