The Washington Times - March 30, 2009, 11:51AM

Truth be told, Phil Costa wanted to play center all along.

Not that he was complaining about rotating around the guard spots the last couple years while Edwin Williams started for three seasons at center.

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Williams was perhaps the most durable of Maryland’s offensive linemen in recent seasons, ensuring few opportunities at center for pretty much anyone else.

Until now.

“I was definitely looking forward to it, because I enjoyed playing center more,” Costa said. “I played guard because I had to, but I wanted to play center. I think I’m just built more for a center. My body type, a little shorter arms, stouter. I like being able to call all the defenses, too, being the captain of the o-line, the quarterback of the o-line.”

OK, so it’s some parts pragmatism and some parts desire to be in the middle of things. Makes sense. But the 6-foot, 300-pound Costa is the graybeard on a line with no shortage of youth.

Maryland will break in at least three new starters next season. For now, Lamar Young and Justin Lewis are probably the favorites to take over at guard. Either Paul Pinegar or R.J. Dill seems like the best bet at right tackle, though Dill is working at left tackle this spring while Bruce Campbell spends some time on academics.

Basically, Costa is the one guy who’s actually played a lot in the middle of the line, and it’s a valuable trait for a unit very much in transition.

“He’s been the backup center and played center throughout his career here,” offensive coordinator James Franklin said. “It’s not like we’re putting a guy who hasn’t done it before. We’re probably going to have two new starting guards, so to have a center there who can tell guys what to do and help them out and they can lean on him a little bit is very important. “

And lean they will. Five of Maryland’s top seven offensive linemen were seniors a year ago, and while the unit underperformed its expectations, that still leaves a lot of holes to fill. In a doomsday scenario, Costa might be the only lineman with starting experience – and not even at his new position.

At the same time, his voice is likely to be the strongest on a unit filled mostly with relative unknowns (and flat-out unknowns as well), a sharp turn from a year ago.

“I do like being in the middle because you can help everybody – two guys to the left and two guys to the right – and kind of communicate everything,” Costa said. “I think last year, it was too many chiefs last year and not enough Indians. Everybody kind of wanted to be the leader and there were too many guys trying to take the role.”

He’s the obvious choice this time around, as well as the ideal guy to turn to in search of a preview of the seldom- or never-used guys in Maryland’s o-line pipeline. And while he was clearly tempted to rattle off a lot of names, he settled for one.

“I think R.J. Dill,” Costa said. “I could name a lot of guys, but he’s one guy that really sticks out to me. I think he’s going to be a good player here.”

Maybe even this year. But there’s little doubt Costa will be in the middle of Maryland’s o-line this season – just the way he hoped it woulkd turn out all along.

Patrick Stevens