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Bucs center Pyke sees career come full circle

Joe Avento • Nov 23, 2018 at 1:05 AM

JOHNSON CITY — It’s a special bond, the one between a quarterback and his center. Simply based on where they start many plays, it’s a relationship unlike any other in sports.

For East Tennessee State’s Matt Pyke and Austin Herink, it’s been a four-year run that will end in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

“I told Matt’s girlfriend that I’m closer to him,” Herink said. “I’ve had my hands under his butt for the past four years.”

Herink has started 40 games at quarterback over the past four seasons. Pyke has started all 44 of his career at ETSU.

The two, along with the rest of the Bucs, get at least one more game. They play at Jacksonville State on Saturday in the first round of the FCS playoffs. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on ESPN3.

The next time Herink takes a snap from Pyke, he’ll be doing so from an award-winning center. Earlier this week, Pyke was named the winner of the Jacobs Blocking Award, going to the Southern Conference’s top blocker.

The award caught him by surprise.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet, but it’s awesome recognition,” Pyke said. “I got the news at a team meeting. It was fun.”

Herink was one of the happiest Bucs when he learned his center had been honored.

“Coolest thing ever,” Herink said. “No one deserves it more than him. I’ve seen the way he works. I’ve seen all the effort he’s put in.

“Matt, he’s not a big rah-rah guy. He doesn’t say much, but when he talks, everyone listens.”

During the Bucs’ last game, a 38-27 loss to Samford, Herink used a wrong word at the line of scrimmage while calling signals during his team’s first touchdown drive.

“Matt turned around and looked at me and laughed as we were getting ready to run the play,” Herink said.

Pyke was the center on the first ETSU team when the program was brought back, the one that got physically manhandled by a couple of non-scholarship schools. Those growing pains have made this season even more special.

“It means a lot,” Pyke said. “To see this team grow, the experiences we’ve had, especially the senior group, it’s been awesome to see this place thrive and grow.

“I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else. It’s been awesome having Austin back there. We’re not done yet, though.”

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