Jets All Pro Center Kevin Mawae: The heart and soul of the Jets offensive line. (JetsInsider.com Photo)
All-Pro center Kevin Mawae is not only the Jets’ unofficial team leader, he is the elder statesman and for the last seven seasons has been the heart and soul of the offensive line. His streak of 157 straight games is an example of his rock-like persona and when he broke a finger on his right snapping hand during the Jets’ win over San Diego on September 19 some thought the injury might finally sideline the veteran. Although the hand healed somewhat during the bye week, it was no way ready for battle against the Dolphins. A mere mortal might sit out but that’s not Mawae. What was his solution? Cast the injured right hand and snap the ball with his left. You would think it would take weeks to master such a switch, but Mawae did it in just a few days, made his 158th start last week against Miami and helped the team remain undefeated.
“The biggest affect was the pass protection was harder,” Mawae said about playing with the club like cast.
Besides snapping with his left hand, Mawae also switched with G Pete Kendall a few times during short yard situations and was the lead block for Curtis Martin’s only rushing TD against Miami. Martin ended up rushing for 110 yards as the Jets improved to 3-0.
Mawae red-shirted at Louisiana State University in 1989 and the last game he missed was in 1990. He was picked in the second round of the 1994 draft by the Seattle Seahawks and played four years with the Seahawks. The first two were spent at RG before switching over to C in 1996. Mawae started all 16 games at C in 1996. In 1997, he directed the offensive line while Seattle achieved club records for total yards and passing yards. Current Jets LG Pete Kendall played alongside Mawae in 96 and 97.
Mawae then signed with the Jets as a free agent in February of 1998 and has been pulse of the Jets’ offensive line. He has led the blocking charge that has allowed RB Curtis Martin to rack up big yards. Last season, Martin rushed for 1,308 yards and is off to a good start this year with 425 yards through three games. RT Kareem McKenzie talked about how the o-line has been so effective.
“We have a great group of guys who work well with each other,” McKenzie said. “And they have just one overall goal and that’s to get Curtis out in the open field and let him run.”
QB Chad Pennington certainly appreciates the work of the offensive line, as they give him plenty of time to complete his passes and keep him from being sacked. The o-line has only give up four sacks this season.
“(They are) great communicators,” Pennington said. “They do a fabulous job of getting the calls and making sure they are all on the same page. I think that is their biggest strength, they are good with communicating.”
Last year’s starters at LG and RG were Dave Szott and Brent Smith, respectively. Szott retired and the Jets picked up Pete Kendall to replace him at LG after Kendall was released by Arizona in early August. Mawae talked about what Kendall brings to the Jets.
“I think we have experience now,” Mawae said. “We have a guy at one point in his career, 3 years ago was one of the top six guards in the league. He’s a smart player, he plays hurt, so he’s a tough player. It brings us instant depth.”
Smith battled Brandon Moore throughout training camp before losing the starting job to Moore.
For his play, Mawae has earned many accolades He has earned five consecutive Pro Bowl starts for the AFC squad and has been selected to 12 All-Pro teams in the past three years.
Off the field, Mawae donates his time to various charities. Every year, he holds a raffle/auction to raise money for a scholarship in his brother’s name and his high school.
He serves as a spokesman and an advocate for the David Center for autism research and has co-founded “Touchdowns for Special Kids,” a program in which all the members of the Jets’ offensive line contribute money for each offensive TD scored during the season and Bowling with the Jets, a fundraiser to benefit the David Center. He is also helping raise money for Winthrop Winthrop-University Hospital's Child Life Program and Pediatric Services.
Mawae said he is not sure which hand he will snap with this week but will have the difficult task of opposing Buffalo DT’s Pat Williams and Sam Adams. While the consecutive game started streak is important to Mawae, he is a team player.
“We didn’t change our game plan or game plan around my hand,” Mawae said. “The whole reality of it is when it comes down to it, it really doesn’t matter, all that matters is if the team wins or loses.
Head Coach Herman Edwards knows having Mawae on the field is important.
“I think it says a lot about the player, his ability to obviously play with pain because he’s been hurt sometimes where he’s actually played,” the HC said. I think he’s smart enough to where if he doesn’t—there’s a certain standard that he feels is necessary for him to play at. I think the great thing about guys like that that had a history of playing in that many games, the team is still first.”
With the Jets now undefeated and off to the best start since Edwards arrived, Mawae’s leadership and gladiator personality is more important than ever.