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Temple’s Vincent Picozzi passes first starting assignment at center

Usually the right guard, Picozzi replaced injured Matt Hennessy at center and the Owls amassed 537 yards of offense in a 59-49 win at Houston.

Temple running back Ryquell Armstead runs with the football next to offensive lineman Vincent Picozzi against Buffalo on Saturday, September 8, 2018.
Temple running back Ryquell Armstead runs with the football next to offensive lineman Vincent Picozzi against Buffalo on Saturday, September 8, 2018.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Things weren't going especially well for Temple's Vincent Picozzi in practice early last week, as he prepared for his first start at a new position.

Normally a guard, the 6-foot-4, 295-pound graduate of Lansdale Catholic was getting ready to start at center and fill the biggest of shoes. Picozzi would be replacing fellow redshirt sophomore Matt Hennessy, who suffered an undisclosed injury in in the third quarter of Temple's 52-40 loss at Central Florida.

In that game, Picozzi moved from right guard to center, and last week he prepared to start in Saturday's 59-49 win at Houston.

"I had a few bad snaps" in practice, "and it was kind of getting in my head a little bit and made me worried, but during the week I worked with [quarterback Anthony] Russo and Hennessy and kept getting extra snaps before and after practice," Picozzi said Tuesday.

The result?

"I only had one bad snap in the game."

Temple rushed for 312 yards and eight touchdowns and produced 537 yards of offense.

Picozzi adjusted quite well to a position he never had played in a game at any level before filling in against Central Florida.

"I am really proud of him, how he managed the game, because the guy who touches the ball most in college football is the center," Temple coach Geoff Collins said. "Vincent did a great job stepping in in a really hostile environment. We had to go silent cadence, which in a normal situation is taxing."

Hennessy was the Owls' best offensive lineman before getting hurt. He hasn't allowed a single quarterback pressure in 232 pass blocks this season.

Picozzi said the fill-in duty against UCF helped him.

"It gave me a little more confidence going into last week that I played center in a game," he said.

In the shift, redshirt senior Jaelin Robinson moved from left tackle to right guard, and freshman Isaac Moore started at left tackle. That meant Temple had two true freshmen starting at tackle, with Adam Klein on the right side. Redshirt junior Jovahn Fair stayed at left guard, where he has started all 10 games.

While there has been no update on Hennessy's condition, Picozzi has continued to work at center, as Temple (6-4, 5-1 American Athletic Conference) prepares to host South Florida (7-3 3-3) at noon, Saturday, at Lincoln Financial Field.

What helped Picozzi and all the Temple linemen is that they work at different positions throughout practice. Before replacing Hennessy, however, Picozzi played only right guard this season and left guard last year.

At Lansdale Catholic, he also played exclusively at guard, so the transition to center for the former walk-on was impressive.

"I think he did a great job," Russo said of Picozzi, who has made 16 career starts, including all 10 games this season. "It isn't easy, it's a tough position, and he never [started] a game at center his whole life. So, he was able to come in against a tough team like Houston, a team that plays a three-man front with a nose guard right in his face the entire game — that is tough. He came in and played a great game."

Notes: On Wednesday, the NCAA granted Temple walk-on defensive end Zach Mesday a sixth season, and he will play next season. In addition, beginning in the spring semester, Mesday will be on scholarship. Mesday has 21 tackles, including five tackles for loss and three sacks.