Few are born to handle the confined spaces of the interior line and the nose guard position.
It’s a small zone of 300-pound men pushing, shoving and clawing for yards. The nose guard, lined up across the center, rarely knows which of the other team’s guards will join in on a double-team block.
“That is a man’s world,” University of Washington defensive line coach Ikaika Malloe said.
But Malloe thinks he has the ideal player to occupy that spot for the Huskies in redshirt junior Greg Gaines.
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At 6-foot-2 and 322 pounds, Gaines has the size for the job. And he isn’t afraid of contact, either.
As Malloe points out as the most vital skill to play the position, an ability to maintain leverage against blocks, is something that comes naturally for Gaines.
“He is like a wrestler,” Malloe said. “They know how to fight that way.”
Except Gaines has never even stepped on a wrestling mat. Growing up in La Habra, California, Gaines played football in the fall, and threw the discus and shot put in the spring during track and field season.
The teenager wanted to add a third sport, wrestling. But that idea never gained traction with his parents.
“I probably would have been pretty good at it,” Gaines said. “But my dad said no because (wrestlers) suffer too many shoulder and knee injuries, and that I should not risk that.”
So where did Gaines get his unmatched leverage?
He was born with it.
“For a lot of guys, it has to be natural,” Huskies defensive end Jaylen Johnson said. “You just have to have a feel for it. Greg has just a great understanding where the play is coming from, then throwing his hips and shoulder into the guy.
“You have to mirror where the guy is going and fight back the pressure.”
Gaines said he received the most survival-in-the-Pac 12 training in his first season from former teammate Danny Shelton, now with the Cleveland Browns. Shelton was also a standout football player and wrestler at Auburn High School.
“He showed me a ton of stuff,” Gaines said. “Every single (repetition) I’d take, he’d come over to me and help me figure out what I was doing wrong. He was awesome.”
In 2015, he was an understudy to Elijah Qualls at nose guard, starting five games. And last season, he started right next to Qualls at defensive tackle for all 14 games.
Now, Gaines is the full-time nose guard.
“It takes a special person to play nose guard,” Malloe said. “But he kind of owns that inside.”