As the Florida Gators prepare for the January 8 national championship game with Ohio State, they can point to several leaders that did yeoman’s work to help get them in position to win Florida’s second national title. One of Florida’s unsung heroes and outstanding leaders has been center Steve Rissler, who was selected by the coaches to the All-SEC first team.
All Rissler did this season was take on the task of leading the most inexperienced offensive line at Florida in more than 20 years. Even with the lack of experience on either side of him, Rissler’s unit produced more yards than last season when the Gators had a senior-dominated offensive line and they reduced sacks from 36 in 12 games in 2005 to 22 in 13 games in 2006.
Rissler likely took his cue from Coach Urban Meyer who has made it a point to turn his seniors into vocal team leaders. Meyer needed Rissler to step it up both as a player on the field and a leader off the field since he was the lone returning starter on the offensive line although none of his starts in 2005 was at center.
“I just think the way he coaches he is able to get good players to play up to their potential,” Rissler said about Meyer. “Everyone talks about potential, but he really brings the best out of people. That’s hard to do as a coach, but what he does is call people out and gets the best out of him.
“I think it is how he approaches the players. He will call people out in front of the whole team. It is something hard to do as a player. You don’t want that to happen. So you are going to go out there and bust your butt and get better.”
Florida offensive line coach John Hevesy took it a step further. The staff pushed that leadership role onto Rissler and he responded.
“He’s what we want at the center position,” Hevesy said. “He’s what makes it go. Last year he took over after the bowl game and has done a great job of it. I think right now, because he is a senior I think the kids look to him because of that. We make the kids look up to him and they are responsible to him.
As the lone senior on the offensive line, Rissler has to answer to the coaches for his entire unit. He has become like a parent who is embarrassed when his kids do the wrong thing. For about half the season, the line was responsible for a lot of offensive penalties but those penalties have steadily decreased. The fewer the penalties, the more efficient the offense has run. Rissler is now like a proud papa with his offensive line.
“I think so, being the lone senior on the offensive line,” he laughed when asked about being a proud dad. “I have put in a lot of hard work in the off-season to keep these guys together. We are playing well right now, so we are real excited and will get ready to play.
“I have a house and I invite all the offensive linemen over all the time and we are getting real close. We are all focused on the same goal which is getting better every day and playing hard …we have that chemistry now with the offensive line. We played through injuries and stayed focused and are just a close knit group.”
When Rissler came to Florida from Sarasota’s Riverview High School, he dreamed of being part of championship teams. He is now realizing that dream with the Gators’ first SEC Championship in six years under his belt and a chance to play for a national championship. He is excited about that prospect also.
“It’s amazing, I can’t explain my feelings,” he said. “I have never done something like this or thought of doing something like this. After winning the SEC Championship, this is just the cherry on top right now… It is going to be fun. I am really looking forward to it.”
Realizing the SEC title was something that was going to happen due to the seniors like Rissler that have been the leaders for this team through the good times and the bad in their career. It all comes down to dedication to a cause and lots of work. Rissler was able to share some of his pride with those closest to him after the SEC Championship game.