Beau Branyan has started the past 34 games at either left or right tackle for the SIU Salukis. (Photo by SIUSalukis.com)
By Barry Bottino
For the past 34 games, Beau Branyan has been a fixture at tackle for Southern Illinois.
This fall, that all changes for the senior from Decatur’s St. Teresa High School, who is moving to a new role as a fifth-year player.
“I’ve been wanting to play guard for a while,” said Branyan, who has started 34 consecutive games for the Salukis, including the last 23 at left tackle.
Branyan proposed the idea to new offensive line coach Dan Clark and got the go ahead.
“He was on board with it from Day 1,” Branyan said.
Looking ahead to a potential future in the NFL, Branyan didn’t think his size (6-foot-4, 300 pounds) would fit at tackle. He wanted to be able to show some positional versatility to pro scouts this season.
“I knew the past three years that I’m probably not going to play tackle at the next level,” Branyan said. “After the season, I didn’t want to get into a showcase or an all-star game and they throw me at guard, where I’ve never played, and I’m looking like an idiot out there.”
Branyan has been an important part of a unit that ranked 25th nationally in total offense (415.3 yards) and 13th in first downs (276) last season.
As a team, the Salukis are ranked as high as No. 7 – by Athlon Sports – in preseason polls.
While SIU’s national status hasn’t changed after two playoff berths in a row, Branyan is facing numerous adjustments.
“You’re blocking defensive ends and you’re blocking defensive tackles,” said Branyan, who hopes to take over at left guard for longtime starter and current SIU graduate assistant coach ZeVeyon Furcron. “The biggest challenge is just keeping your eyes up.”
Along with helping the center and tackle on various plays, Branyan has had to adjust to pulling from his guard spot, which he first began playing in spring practices.
“You’re getting a running start and trying to smoke people,” he said. “I love it. That’s my game. It’s a good change.”
Along with Branyan, the Salukis return senior Lucas Davis and sophomore Chase Evans, who started every game last season at right tackle and right guard, respectively. Junior center Jimmy Wormsley started the last seven games at center after an injury to Calvin Francis.
“I love the guys I’m playing with,” Branyan said.
Furcron has maintained some influence among the linemen in his new role, which is a welcome addition to the staff, according to Branyan.
“Z was our leader. Z was a team leader,” he said. “I played next to him for 23 games. He’s my brother. He’s still in the back of the room talking, and his big personality is there. He’s going to be a hard one to replace.”