MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- There's an old photo somewhere back home in Cross Lanes, W.Va., of Tyler Rader circa 1993, as a 4-year old dressed in Mountaineers blue and yellow.
It is his first memory of being at a West Virginia game in the blazing sunshine.
By the fall of 1999, he remembers exactly where he was sitting in the stadium when Michael Vick scrambled 26 yards up the sideline to get Virginia Tech into field goal range and beat his Mountaineers.
Today, West Virginia's starting right guard is part of an offensive line that might have finally turned the corner.
Already proven at pass protection, the line paved the way for 360 rushing yards Saturday against Bowling Green, hinting of a prolific and balanced future for the Mountaineers.
Rader, said coaches and teammates, is among the most humble and hard-working of this blue-collar unit. Last week he went from former walk-on to team captain.
"I've never been the most athletic guy in the world. I've always been smaller, always had something to prove," said Rader, who is 6 feet 3, 296 pounds. "You can't control talent. Can't control how good you are. You can always control effort."
That's music to the ears of offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, who is large and -- when he wants to be -- intimidating.
He describes his guys as hard-working, coachable players who want to get better. The other starters are junior center Joe Madsen, redshirt senior left tackle Don Barclay, junior left guard Jeff Braun and redshirt freshman Pat Eger at right tackle.
"We don't have a lot of talkers. We have guys who really work hard," said Bedenbaugh. "They respond well to coaching. They're competitive. They want to be good. And obviously it all came together this week."
Rader, he said, is a classic example of hard work trumping talent.
"He may not be perfect, he may not look pretty, but he plays hard every single down," Bedenbaugh said. "He's not the most talented guy in the world, but he's one guy who gets everything out of what he has."
The line has inched its way along since blocking problems surfaced in the opener against Marshall: The unit flashed improvement in the third game against Maryand, but LSU was a tough game to judge, and then last week was the breakout performance against Bowling Green.
Freshman Dustin Garrison rushed for 291 of those 360 yards as the team eclipsed its season total rushing yardage in one game. In the same game, West Virginia amassed a season-high 15 first downs rushing.
"At Maryland and against LSU we were efficient. We didn't rush for 360, but we were efficient," said Bedenbaugh. "Nobody's going to run the ball on LSU, but the times we did, they were efficient runs."
That progress is a product of a group that cares enough to work hard every day, said head coach Dana Holgorsen.
"It means a lot to most of them. You look at a guy like Tyler Rader, who's a walk-on here and a West Virginia kid. It means as much to him as anybody that's around," Holgorsen said.
"Barclay was, in my opinion, the player of the week. Without a guy like him doing specific things, Dustin [Garrison] wouldn't have gotten free. Joe Madsen continues to be consistent. He gets us targeted and in the right direction. And Pat Eger's been a pleasant surprise and continues to play hard."
Running out of the tunnel for the opener against Marshall was pretty special for Rader. It was his first start. He let himself take in the moment and realize how far he'd come.
"It was pretty cool," he said. "But behind the scenes it's blood, sweat and tears."