Justin Gilbert was growing into a solid left tackle his last two years with the Enochs High varsity, enough that a handful of small-college programs began poking around.
When the Eagles discarded their pro-set alignments and converted to the Veer, though, it meant a change for Gilbert.
After playing at 235 pounds last fall, the 6-foot-4 senior-to-be put on 35 pounds and converted to a weightroom warrior.
Those steps were necessary for Gilbert to move to a guard spot and anchor what has become one of the Stanislaus District's top offensive lines.
"With the Veer, and all the running, you need guards capable of getting out and blocking," coach James Stacy said. "They need quick feet so they can pull, getting upfield to the linebacker or outside the tackle so they lead the back."
When Stacy started putting together his offensive line in the offseason, he realized Gilbert was his answer inside.
"I like big guys inside, Justin and (230-pound) Andrew Issa are guards, because they lead the blocks," said Stacy, whose Eagles are third in the Sac-Joaquin Section with 339 rushing yards per game. "In the Veer, it's not as crucial to put those big guys at the tackles."
The offensive conversion is in part a result of what Stacy found on campus: A plethora of fleet running backs and a crew of strong linemen. The Veer is a potent offense when it has those two elements.
Gilbert's been the fulcrum for the O-line because he can attack the defense horizontally or vertically heading upfield to lay out a linebacker or dashing down the line before turning up outside the tackle.
"I went to a personal trainer, (Les) Bonsu, to make sure I put on good weight, not just fat," said Gilbert, in his third year as a varsity starter. "I've been looking at colleges and I wanted to show them that I'm willing to do what it takes."
Gilbert had a recruiting visit to California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks last weekend, and he's been contacted by some Division II programs.
Modesto's a regular stop for Cal Lutheran, a parochial college that plays in Division III: Among four Modesto players on the team is Eric Flores, Gilbert's teammate last fall.
While a skill player can dazzle college coaches with stats and their 40-yard times, a lineman has to hope he can get a coach in front of a computer to look at his film.
"I just finished a midseason highlight film," said Gilbert, whose 3.7 cumulative GPA is appealing, too. "I've got little arrows showing me, and how I am sustaining my blocks.
"Us linemen, we need those films to show coaches how we can play. Having played tackle before, and now the guard, I think that will be an asset."
His play as a junior earned Gilbert a place on The Bee's preseason all-Stanislaus District team in August, and he's done nothing but get better.
"The back reads and reacts most of the time, with Justin and our other linemen giving them an indication of the direction they're going to block the defense," Stacy said. "The backs picks up on that and he makes his cut accordingly."
While it's often Gilbert out front, it can be any of five runners hidden in his shadow as he looks for someone to blast. Four of them average at least 48 yards per game, led by sophomore QB Shawn Munoz (99 yards) and backs Efrem Grimes (83) and Gabriel Lindsey-Turner (76).
Lindsey-Turner has seven TDs, and Munoz, Grimes and fullback Tomas Alvarez each have five through six games.
"We did more pass blocking when I was a sophomore, but I like this run blocking," said Gilbert, whose club faces Gregori tonight at 7 at Johansen.
"You fire out at the guy, hitting him hard and backward. That first push, that opens everything up for the back," Gilbert said. "Once we start moving the defense backward, it's going to intimidate them. We want them thinking of us."