TCU center James Fry entered "the zone" while studying game film Monday. Every day this week he went deeper, mentally focusing himself on one thing and one thing only: Grambling State.
Fry stopped taking calls, sending texts and basically went into a trance-like state for the week in an effort to avoid distractions. Few Horned Frogs games have provided more distractions than today's 6 p.m. season opener at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
It's the first game in the $164 million renovated stadium, TCU's first game as a member of the Big 12 Conference, and coach Gary Patterson can become the school's all-time wins leader with a victory.
"Those are all big deals, but I try not to think about those things," said Fry, a senior and one of two returning starters on the Frogs' young offensive line. "I try to blank my mind out and think defense. Where are they blitzing? That's all where my mind is at right now."
Never miss a local story.
Senior right guard Blaize Foltz is in a similar zone. But they've been in the trenches for several seasons, both starting all 13 games in 2011. The other three offensive linemen have one combined start.
Sophomore left tackle Tayo Fabuluje and true freshman right tackle Aviante Collins are making their debuts. Halapoulivaati Vaitai, a true freshman from Haltom High School, backs up Collins. Both are big (6-foot-6, around 310 pounds) and talented, but inexperienced. Fry and Foltz said no one will notice the offensive line, at least not for the wrong reasons.
"To us, they're not young anymore," Foltz said. "I think they're going to do fine."
Said Fry: "Since I've been here, I think they're the best freshmen we've had on the offensive line. It's just amazing to see what [Collins] brought to the table. Big V is right there behind him."
Patterson tells his team during practices in the stadium to imagine a sold-out crowd flooding the field with noise. During a few practices the team even pipes in crowd noise to see how players handle the distraction.
"When you imagine people in the stands and sold-out games your hands start sweating and you get tingly," Fry said.
"You get the butterflies in your stomach and you're ready to go. As a freshman, you come in and it's overwhelming. But now I call it the zone. You don't even notice the crowd."
The players credit 12-year offensive line coach Eddie Williamson for turning young players into sturdy lineman on a yearly basis. In fact, concerns about the offensive line season after season gets a big eye roll from Foltz.
"It's every year," he said. "You're not going to notice [us] and that's what you want with the offensive line."
Fry has already gotten into the act this week. He has been under the radar and off the grid, except maybe a call from his mom.
"I don't talk to anybody else," he said. "I was even asked about how my high school team did. I had no idea. My mind is focused. I kind of feel bad, but I can't focus on anything other than this because if I do I'm going to get thrown off."
1Historic achievement Coach Gary Patterson, already poised to go down as a legendary figure in TCU history, becomes the Frogs' all-time wins leader with a win today.
2Casey Pachall TCU's quarterback has a knack for playing big in big games. The new stadium, new conference and season opener make it huge.
3Young defense The secondary took it on the chin against Baylor in last year's opener. The defensive backs aren't facing the eventual Heisman winner today, but inexperience remains an issue.
4Offensive line First-time starters anchor both tackle spots, including freshman right tackle Aviante Collins. Will depth concerns prove unwarranted?
5 Stadium debut The game is not the only story as TCU takes newly renovated Amon G. Carter Stadium for its first spin.