TAMPA — Just by its in-the-trenches nature, the offensive line gets its share of blue-collar metaphors, such as hard-hat work ethic and bring-your-lunch-pail mentality. Austin Reiter can appreciate the references.
Reiter, in position to be USF's starting center in the fall as a redshirt sophomore, got much of his strength and demeanor working for his father's construction company. The 6-foot-3, 278-pounder got that way breaking up pavement with a 25-pound sledgehammer and lugging hundreds of 75-pound blocks to build walls on job sites.
"My parents really raised me to have a strong work ethic," said Reiter, a graduate of Lakewood Ranch in Manatee County who played sparingly last season.
"It's really backbreaking stuff. Every summer, I was working with Dad from 6 a.m. to 6 in the (evening). My dad's a real hard worker. He doesn't just stand around on a job site."
Richard Reiter played on the offensive line for the University of Cincinnati 30 years ago. Austin could have followed him there but chose to stay close to home. He enrolled in January 2010, a week before Skip Holtz became coach. The staff has seen an emergence this spring as Reiter jumped at an opening in the starting lineup.
"He's all of the sudden been put in a situation where, 'You know what? We need you to be the guy.' And he's matured immensely," offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler said. "He's going to end up being a really, really good football player over the next three years.
"As a line coach, you're looking for kids that have a little — I have to be careful how I say this — a little grit in their neck. He's a tough son of a gun. He'll fight you now. He's a hard-nosed kid. The guy works hard."
Ask Reiter what he remembers as the most grueling challenge of construction work, and he'll pick up an imaginary Allan Block, a 75-pound piece of stone used to build retaining walls. He would unload a pallet of 15 into a vehicle, drive them to the back of a house, unload them then repeat the process over and over. A project might have 2,400 blocks before a wall is done.
"You really get your arms going," said Reiter, who could move 900 blocks in one day as part of a two-man crew. "My high school coaches really loved that."
Reiter's father, who played with former Florida and current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer at Cincinnati, said his son starting working for him one summer when he wanted extra money to buy a motorized scooter. He remembers one contract retiling gas stations in Georgia that called for shifts starting at 9 p.m. and running until the morning so the station could still serve customers.
"He loved it, and he loved the pay," his father said. "But I told him the other day I was quoting a job for 1,800 Allan Blocks, and he said that if he never sees another Allan Block, it'll be too soon."
Reiter remembers working on construction jobs with his father when he was in grade school, swinging the sledgehammer when he was 13. So he also is comfortable working and holding his own when surrounded by older, more experienced colleagues.
He has the least college experience of USF's projected starting line, matching right tackle Quinterrius Eatmon as the youngest. And he will have the chance to be USF's first three-year starter at center in the Big East era.
USF's coaches like the way he has taken charge of a veteran line despite his youth.
"He's always been talented, has always had very good athleticism for the position," offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. "But just the ability to run the line, to be the guy making all the calls, being able to execute that, as he develops and continues to get game experience, he has a chance to be a really good player.
"It's been fun to watch him because he was the one guy of the group we started camp with who hadn't really played when it counted. We're pleased with where he started from and where he's at."
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com. View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf.