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Bitonio, a junior who has started the past 22 games, has emerged into arguably Nevada's best offensive lineman. That's high praise considering fellow linemates Chris Barker and Jeff Nady, both seniors, are potential NFL draft picks after this season.
look like a basketball player. I had more of a future in football."
"He always comes out with the most energy," Hiller said. "He's one of those guys that even toward the end of the week, he's always bopping around and I'm, like, 'Hey. Save your energy a little bit.' He's a jovial guy. He loves football. He's a very good student. He's kind of a gym rat guy. He loves sports. He's always talking pro football and college football. I just think he lives and breathes football."
"The first time I saw him I knew he was a special athlete," said Barker, adding Bitonio should have been named all conference last year. "We were watching him do vertical jumps and he had the highest one out of anybody and he was clearly heavier than everybody. I was like, 'Wow. This guy is an athlete.'"
Pack practice, doesn't complain about the fact he's underrated. But that doesn't necessarily mean he doesn't feel that way.
Hiller grades out every lineman after every game and no player on the line has had a better season than Bitonio, who along with Nady has consistently graded out the best this year. Following closely behind them are Barker and center Matt Galas.
"It's definitely special," Bitonio said. "He was with me for 3 years. He taught me a lot. He taught me what being a part of 'The Union' really meant. He was the guy I thought I'd be with for 5 years, so this is a big game. Fresno, in general, we always have to beat them.
Despite playing on a high school football team with multiple FBS bound players, almost all the scouts missed on Bitonio. One week before signing day, Bitonio's only offers were from FCS schools. But three days before the 2009 signing period opened, Nevada took a chance and offered him a scholarship.
Bitonio attributes that athleticism to his diverse background in sports. He was a roller hockey player from ages 5 9. He took up basketball around the fifth grade before adding football in the eighth grade. As a high school senior, Bitonio averaged a double double as an all conference basketball player at Long Beach (Calif.) Wilson High.
But that's just what offensive tackle Joel Bitonio has done during much of his Wolf Pack career.
"He doesn't ever say it, but I can kind of read between the lines," offensive line New Balance 574 Trainers Navy coach Darren Hiller said. "He definitely has an axe to grind in that regard. He really respects his fellow linemates, but I think he wants to be known as an all conference guy, and the way he's played he's definitely deserving of that."
Joel Bitonio emerging from shadow of talented linemates
"I loved both sports," New Balance 990v4 Grey
Quietly, Bitonio has become just as dominant as those two perhaps more so. But, for much of his career, Bitonio's strong play has been overshadowed by Barker and Nady, who are one year his elder and have racked up all conference awards. Bitonio is still waiting for his first all conference honor.
Hiller said Bitonio has already become an "undisputed leader" of the line because of his every day enthusiasm. He's a likely captain's pick next season when Nady and Barker, who have both been captains, depart.
Bitonio might have the most raw talent of any player on the Wolf Pack's strong offensive line. He's started every game since his sophomore season, he's a high intensity player, he's bull strong and has a nasty demeanor on the field. But his biggest strength is his athleticism, which his linemates marvel at.
The risk has paid off. Bitonio hasn't allowed a sack in his Nevada career and has become a mauler in the run game, which has averaged 260.6 yards per game this season (eighth in the nation).
Bitonio said Saturday's game against Fresno State holds special meaning for a few reasons. First, it's against the rival Bulldogs. But it also marks the return of ex Wolf Pack offensive line coach Cameron Norcross, who was Bitonio's position coach until leaving for Fresno State last offseason.
The jovial Bitonio, the most energetic player during every Wolf New Balance 373 Navy
Junior tackle Joel Bitonio hasn allowed a sack in 22 career starts at Nevada. (John Byrne/Nevada Media Services)
Bitonio said. "I just settled on football because I look more like an offensive lineman than I New Balance 990 Grey Black
When you stand 6 foot 4 and weigh 315 pounds, it's hard to go unnoticed.
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