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Vikings Duff holding the line

Senior center from Reynolds has built a good career at PSU

For all the talk of quarterback Sawyer Smith and running back Mu'Ammar Ali, the Portland State offense literally centers on Derek Duff.

The 6-2, 325-pound senior from Reynolds High will be hiking the ball and blocking for Smith, Ali and others when the Vikings take on Oregon at Autzen Stadium at 4 p.m. Saturday.

'He's one of the most intelligent guys we've ever had on the offensive line,' says PSU's 14th-year coach, Tim Walsh.

Duff has been a starter for two years. He moved from guard to center last year when Antonio Narcisse was injured, finished the season at right guard, then returned to center this season when Narcisse finished his eligibility.

'There was a time during his redshirt freshman year that we weren't sure he could ever contribute here,' Walsh says. 'Next thing we know, he's starting last year at Oregon State.'

Duff not only started, but he also finished 2005 being named the team's most improved player.

'Derek's big and Derek's strong,' Walsh says, 'and he's one of those guys who's fun to coach because he's blue-collar. He puts on his hard hat - his helmet -and goes to work.'

Duff and the PSU offensive line hadn't reached the high expectations for them until last Saturday, when they helped spring Ali for 160 yards rushing on 29 carries.

Duff compares Ali, a transfer from New Mexico State, to former Viking tailback Ryan Fuqua. They are similar in size (Ali is 5-8, 200 pounds; Fuqua played at 5-11, 200), and both wear No. 20.

'It took the line a while to get used to blocking for Mo, because he has a different style from Joe Rubin at that position the last few years,' Duff says. 'Joey was able to run through defenders. He got a lot of five-yard runs that may have been one-yard runs for other guys. But if we can sustain our blocks, Mo will get some long runs.'

In the last two weeks, Smith has passed for 481 yards and four touchdowns in victories over Idaho State (34-13) and Eastern Washington (34-0).

Duff says the Vikings' intention to be more balanced on offense this season also took the line some time to execute well.

'It's definitely a different style of Portland State offense than we were used to last year with Rubin,' Duff says. 'We have a lot more to do. We're not rushing 60 times a game.'

A two-time league champion in wrestling while at Reynolds, Duff plans to graduate Dec. 7 with a degree in marketing and advertising.

First, the Vikings will take a swing at the Ducks, then finish the Big Sky Conference season at Northern Arizona and Sacramento State, hoping for two impressive victories that might earn them a spot in the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs.

'Then I hope to find a job,' Duff says.

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