GRAND FORKS -- By the time Joe Pawlak walked on the practice field for the first time this fall, the new University of North Dakota offensive line coach already knew plenty about the school's football program.
He grew up in Illinois and played offensive line at Northern Illinois. His position coach was Rod Carey, who came from UND.
After his playing days ended, he became a grad assistant at Northern Illinois. The other grad assistant with him was Jake Landry, the former Grand Forks Central and UND quarterback.
"Applying at North Dakota was a no-brainer," said Pawlak, who met UND offensive coordinator Danny Freund through Landry. "I really wanted to be here. Just getting the opportunity to interview was huge."
Once Pawlak landed the job, he initially moved in with Landry's parents, Bill and Jill. Bill was an offensive lineman at UND and gave Pawlak the lay of the land and introduced Pawlak to other former UND offensive linemen.
"We would always talk about what it meant to be a hog," Pawlak said. "At North Dakota, offensive line is an important position. It's something special. Bill did an awesome job. I got to meet other former offensive linemen. It's a brotherhood. I stay away from using the term 'family,' because it means something different to everyone, but I was telling my group that I want us to be close. We're tight. We have to have each other's backs.
"Meeting former players who played here, whether it was two or three years ago or in the 70s and 80s, they'll all tell you the same thing. They just want to see the program succeed and the unit get better collectively. It's really cool. I look forward to it and I embrace it every day."
The offensive linemen may have a slightly different look this season.
None of the projected starting five -- left tackle Matt Waletzko, left guard Ryan Tobin, center Patric Rooney, right guard Kyle Hergel, right tackle Sean Russo -- are 300 pounds. And only one of the 10 offensive linemen in the two-deep are at that mark.
The lighter offensive linemen are by design and something Pawlak took from his time as a grad assistant at Iowa.
"Force is mass times acceleration," Pawlak said. "You can be a huge offensive lineman, 315, 320 pounds, but if you can't move off the ball, if you can't accelerate off the ball, what good is that going to do? If we're 290, 295 and we can move off the ball, we're running and attacking. That's what we're looking for.
"When I was at Iowa, some of the greatest offensive linemen I've seen there -- like James Ferentz, he's still in the NFL -- were 290 pounds. Ferentz is 6-2, 290, but he's been in the NFL six, seven years now, because he can move and he's so quick. Our guys are starting to learn that right now. We're going to be physical and that's letting them sell out and be confident. I'm excited for this."
Pawlak said he doesn't think there will be a major shift in blocking schemes.
"We're going to run an inside zone," he said. "They've run inside zones in the past. We're going to run some inside zone slant. We're not going to be all over the place. We're going to have what we do and get really good at it and master the fundamentals. Scheme is important, but fundamentals are really important.
Pawlak went to high school at Grayslake, Ill. He was at Northern Illinois from 2007-11, helping the Huskies to a MAC championship as a senior. Pawlak started for three years.
"I was by no means an extraordinary athlete," he said. "I just got lucky. They ran out of athletes and had to put me in."
Pawlak said one of his edges as a player was knowing and understanding the offense. That will be something he emphasizes to his players.
"The three characteristics we look for in our offensive linemen is they've got to be tough, smart and physical," Pawlak said. "Those are the three qualities we preach about each and every single day. I think these guys are hungry. We're going to play the five best. I don't care if you're a freshman or a senior. Everybody is going to have their role defined. They're going to know their role and they're going to help the team and program get better."