List at 6 feet 2 inches tall and 284 pounds, Lichtensteiger is the shortest and lightest of Washington’s linemen, but he worked his way into a starting job four seasons ago and has found a way to stick – using his mind to compensate for his size deficiencies.
After missing the final 11 games of the 2011 season with torn ligaments in his knee, Lichtensteiger reclaimed his job in 2012 despite the fact that the Redskins used a third-round pick on SMU product Josh LeRibeus, whom they planned to groom to take over at left guard.
Lichtensteiger gutted his way through a painful 2012 campaign as he worked his way back into form following the 2011 knee surgery, and helped pave the way for Washington to lead the league in rushing. This offseason, Washington re-signed the player that Coach Mike Shanahan describes as his best run-blocker to a five-year contract.
Lichtensteiger is coming off strong outings against Detroit and Oakland and looks to continue the momentum as Washington begins a crucial stretch tonight in Dallas.
In today’s Gameday Q&A, we catch up with Lichtensteiger to talk about a number of topics, including his start in football, the key to his success and his favorite pastime.
MJ: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
KL: I had no idea. I didn’t have any long-term goals as a kid.
MJ: When did the NFL become a goal?
KL: I didn’t think I could play professionally until my junior year [at Bowling Green].
MJ: Have you always been undersized for your position, or were you pretty good-sized in high school?
KL: Yeah. We were just talking today. I was the heaviest out of all the five [Redskins] starting O-linemen in high school. I was about 300.
MJ: What about height-wise?
KL: I was the same height. I thought I was 6-4 then. Over time, the measurements became a little more precise, and turns out I was 6-2.
MJ: That had to be disappointing.
KL: To get notched down? Yeah, it was a depressing realization.
MJ: And what happened? Overtime, everyone just passed you by in the size department?
KL: (Laughs). Yeah, I think the next to lightest guy is Monty (center Will Montgomery). He hovers around that 300-pound range.
MJ: You’ve worked your way up in the league from backup to starter. What’s the key to overcoming limitations?
KL: Having coaches that believe in you. And you have to be a little crafty. It’s not about overpowering guys. It’s not about using length. Some guys get away with bad technique because they’re physically stronger or have better tools in their toolbox. But for me, I guess, it’s outworking somebody, fitting the scheme well and just having a little bit of a mean streak, I guess.
MJ: Did you have that mean streak in high school?
KL: I guess I kind of did. In high school, I was just bigger than everybody else, and I played small high school football teams, and everyone was tiny, and it’s fun to hit littler people. Now, the roles have changed where I’m the little guy hitting the bigger people.
MJ: What position did you play in high school?
KL: Actually, I did everything. I played offensive and defensive tackle, I was a long-snapper, and I did kickoffs, too. … I was pretty good [as a kicker]. I had a couple touchbacks. I didn’t do field goals.
MJ: How did you settle on football as your sport back then?
KL: I was just a big kid and it came naturally. Actually, my school didn’t even have football. My dad was on the school board and was like, ‘I think this would be a good time for this school to have it.’ I think that also corresponded with me coming up into that age. It all came together pretty well for me.
MJ: How did you find a way to stand out despite going to a small college?
KL: Thankfully, I was able to get drafted pretty early (fourth round by Mike Shanahan in Denver in 2008), and that gives you a little leeway, at least early in your career. But then, I found myself on the street in 2009. So, it goes back having coaches believe in you: having Mike give me an opportunity to come here, and to think enough of me to put me in there in game situations.
MJ: What career path would you have chosen had it not been for football?
KL: My degree is in criminal justice, but I never really wanted to use that. I certainly don’t now.
MJ: How did you pick it then?
KL: I went into college undecided and took one of those college courses – a find-your-major kind of course. And I was just reading about it, and I guess Bowling Green has a good program for that. I did enjoy it. A lot of interesting information, but not necessarily something I want to go into.
MJ: What do you like to do when you’re not playing football?
KL: I’ve got four kids. So that pretty much dominates my time. It’s fun to watch them play games. My oldest is in baseball right now, and it’s pretty competitive. So, I go to watch baseball games, or go out in the back yard and just play around with them.
MJ: What kind of a fan are you?
KL: I try not to say anything. I cheer for him and try to be positive. You can’t really rip on the umps because they’re all like 12 years old, so you look like a real jerk if you get in their face.
Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at email@example.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesday.
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