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Brandon Fusco has come along way from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, earning a starting spot on the Vikings’ line despite not starting until his senior year in high school.

Charlie Neibergall, ASSOCIATED PRESS - AP

Reusse: Fusco shed blocks to become rock on Vikings O-line

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE
  • Star Tribune
  • September 4, 2014 - 6:30 AM

Brandon Fusco played college football at Slippery Rock University in western Pennsylvania. The outcome of Slippery Rock’s football games has been a point of interest in stadiums of numerous major college teams through the decades.

“They announce our scores in a lot of places, but where Slippery Rock is a big deal is Michigan Stadium,” Fusco said.

Steve Filipiak was the public address announcer for the Michigan Wolverines’ home games in 1959. He was looking at the Western Union ticker for up-to-date scores to announce, saw a game involving Slippery Rock, and decided to announce it to the crowd.

There was a large reaction from the fans, and giving the Slippery Rock score has remained a tradition in the Big House — so much so, that “The Rock” was invited to play a home game there (against Shippensburg) in 1979 and drew a Division II record crowd of 61,143.

Slippery Rock also played Wayne State at the Big House in 1981 and will return this season on Oct. 18 to play Mercyhurst.

“I don’t hear as many Slippery Rock jokes as used to be the case, but people still find the name to be strange,” Fusco said. “It’s a nice little college town and western Pennsylvania … it’s still a great football area.”

Fusco will be starting at right guard for the Vikings in Sunday’s opener for the third consecutive season. He was in the lineup for 32 of 33 games in 2012 and 2013, missing only last December’s game with Philadelphia due to a knee injury.

Reliability leads to cohesion with an offensive line. The Vikings have had that since Matt Kalil was drafted fourth overall and Fusco moved into the lineup as a second-year player in 2012.

Left to right, Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Fusco and Phil Loadholt started all 16 games (plus a playoff game) in 2012 and had one game missed apiece for Fusco, Loadholt and Johnson in 2013.

“This is our third year together,” Fusco said. “After that long, with the hard workers we have, you don’t miss a beat as far as knowing the other guys. John Sullivan is our leader … he calls the assignments, gets us going, and we take it from there.”

Fusco’s bio says he didn’t play football until his senior season at Seneca Valley High, a large suburban school north of Pittsburgh.

“That’s not true,” Fusco said. “I’ve played football since I was a kid. I just didn’t make the lineup until my senior year in high school.

“It’s kind of amazing. We’re one of the biggest schools in the area, and Don Barclay, who plays for the Packers, was our left tackle, and I was on the line, and we went 1-9.”

Fusco’s football future was vague until his high school coach dropped off a tape while on a visit to Slippery Rock. The coaches for The Rock — yup, that’s the athletic nickname — contacted Fusco and offered a partial scholarship.

He was a redshirt in 2006, started all 44 games at center in the next four seasons and wound up with an invitation to both the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine.

“I don’t know how the NFL found me,” Fusco said. “They say if you’re a good player, the scouts will find you.”

The Gene Upshaw Award as the Division II offensive lineman of the year assisted in the discovery, presumably.

The Vikings took Fusco with their third sixth-round selection in the 2011 draft. Only first-rounder Christian Ponder (now a No. 3 quarterback), second-rounder Kyle Rudolph (a standout tight end) and Fusco remain from that nine-player draft.

Fusco had the equivalent of an NFL redshirt in 2011, playing in only three games. He claimed the job at right guard in 2012 after veteran Geoff Schwartz had an injury in training camp. That wound up making Fusco a member of what’s becoming an Iron Five for the Purple.

Brandon is a bachelor and lives in the Uptown area with his brother Josh, a fraternal twin. Josh was a rugby player at Clarion (Pa.) State and moved to Minnesota a year ago. He’s now managing a retail place in Eden Prairie.

And then Josh comes home to tidy up the condo while Brandon is putting in those long hours of preparation at Winter Park, right?

“We’ve been best friends forever, and it’s great having him here,” Brandon said. “But as a roommate, he’s a slob. And he usually wins, because I can’t take the mess.”

 

Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. preusse@startribune.com

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