April 20, 2014

Elyria
Mostly sunny
72°F
test

Avon Lake offensive lineman Christian Pace heads to Michigan

Division I colleges across the nation rushed to shower Avon Lake offensive lineman Christian Pace with scholarship offers before his senior year.

Pace reciprocated the swift action by picking Michigan, and enrolling in summer school so he can graduate in January and begin taking classes in Ann Arbor before spring practices begin.

“The recruiting process started slowly, then it was like a roller coaster that I’m blessed that I’ve gotten the opportunity to experience,” Pace said. “Not many people get to play past high school, and it was definitely my dream and I’m one of the fortunate ones who get to experience it.”

Two dozen schools offered the 6-foot-4, 275-pound Pace a scholarship after he was ranked the No. 5 center in the nation by Rivals.com. Pace has only played tackle for Avon Lake and listed guard as the position he wanted to be recruited for on ScoutingOhio.com, but the center position may be a natural fit for his athleticism and field awareness.

“He’s very intelligent,” Shoremen coach Dave Dlugosz said. “Some players understand: I’ve got to block this player on this play. Christian can look at the defense and he understands the concept of the play, and he’s capable of making adjustments not only for himself but for the rest of the team as well.

“He plays tackle for us, but Michigan is going to move him to center, where he’ll be responsible for making most of the blocking calls.”

Pace isn’t 100 percent sure that move will happen, as the Wolverines have redshirt sophomore David Molk firmly in place. Pace said Molk is already on the watch list for the Rimington Award, which is given to the nation’s top center each season.

“He’s probably going to be there for awhile,” Pace said. “It doesn’t matter to me, wherever I get the best opportunity, I’ll go. I’d love to go in there and start right away, but that doesn’t happen very often with any high school kid going into college.”

That’s one of the big reasons Pace decided to graduate early from Avon Lake and get to college in time for the valuable spring training and spring game Division I schools use to prepare for the next season. For the next six months, however, Pace will concentrate on his senior season with the Shoremen.

“Our goal is to go undefeated and I didn’t want anything to distract myself or anyone else,” he said. “It wouldn’t have killed me if (the recruiting process) went into the season, but it feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and now I can relax and just be a kid again.”

Pace’s physical attributes are indeed impressive. Even with his massive body, he manages to run the 40-yard dash in 5.0 seconds and can jump 8 feet, 5 inches in the standing broad jump. He benches 335 pounds and squats 475.

But it’s watching the lineman in action that had college scouts’ jaws dropping from coast to coast. His eight-minute highlight reel is filled with plays where Pace flattens linemen, then flattens linebackers and flattens defensive backs — over and over and over again — while running backs run for touchdowns and quarterbacks spend days in the pocket looking for a receiver.

“I had a number of college scouts tell me that might be the best senior lineman tape in the whole United States, it was that good,” Dlugosz said. “He’s a very, very physical player. He’s an individual that has tremendous footwork and he’s very agile. He loves the physical part of the game and he knows how to finish blocks.”

The tape and the data worked, and schools came out of the woodwork to try to lure Pace to their programs. He made trips to Buffalo, Boston College and Ohio State before getting his first good look at Michigan. He also went to Michigan State, Indiana, Pittsburgh, Bowling Green and Northwestern before a second trip to Michigan ended his search.

“My decision came down to three things,” Pace said. “One was my comfort level with the coaches and the overall atmosphere of the school, the second was the academics and the third was the football program and its (past) success.”

So trips to Florida State, Wake Forest and Stanford — among other potential suitors — were canceled and Pace threw himself back into the textbooks for his summer classes.

“I plan on enrolling in classes at Michigan in January,” Pace said. “It’ll be a culture shock and I’ll have to mature pretty quickly.”

Speed hasn’t been a problem for him so far.

Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com.