Oct. 16, 2012
By Chris Weinman
Redshirt-senior Josh Jelesky was born in Indianapolis and lived in Atlanta briefly before his family finally settled down in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Illinois. Jelesky's football career has taken a similar nomadic arc en route to finding a permanent home on Vanderbilt's offensive line.
Just prior to Vanderbilt football's 2008 National Signing Day, Naperville Central High School Head Coach Mike Stine noted that the Commodore commitment was "willing to do what's best for the team. This year, he moved from his natural position (defensive end) to interior linebacker because that's what the team needed." Once at Vanderbilt, Jelesky continued to prove his flexibility and willingness to help the team by filling a number of roles for the Commodores.
Listed at 234 pounds four years ago, Jelesky came to Vanderbilt as a defensive end. He redshirted during his true freshman season, earning Defensive Scout of the Week honors one week in late November, before contributing to 11 games on defense and special teams the following year.
As a redshirt sophomore, Jelesky jumped inside on the line to play defensive tackle. He was credited with 15 tackles during the 2010 season.
By his fourth season, Jelesky had added 31 pounds to his 6'5" frame. On the second day of preseason training camp, he received a text message from Head Coach James Franklin at 4:45 a.m., saying, simply, "Come see me."
"I didn't know what was going on," Jelesky said. "I had no idea. I walked in there kind of wild-eyed, wondering, `What is he about to tell me?'"
Jelesky wasted little time getting to Franklin's office, and the coach, in turn, got straight to the point. As soon as Franklin uttered the words "offensive line depth chart," Jelesky says he knew what was about to happen.
"He talked to me for a minute and did some convincing, but I'm all for whatever is best for the team, so I wasn't fighting it. I was like, `Let's do it!'"
The transition from defense to offense is not a simple one. Jelesky traded in a thick defensive playbook that he had spent all spring learning since Franklin's December 2010 arrival for an equally large binder basically written in a different language. His preseason camp was spent immersed in learning his new role with offensive line coach Herb Hand.
"During camp when a lot of guys were napping, I would go in and watch film with coach Hand and learn the plays and get the technique down," Jelesky said. "We really focused at the beginning on just figuring out what the plays were, and much less on the technique, because he said that would kind of come once I figured out who I was supposed to block. It was probably halfway through the season before I was really comfortable with what was going on in the offense."
The learning curve was steep, but the three-time Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll student caught on quickly. By the eighth game of the season, Jelesky had earned a starting spot at right guard that he would not relinquish. He credits his teammates with being there to help him make the transition.
"Living with Wesley Johnson and Ryan Seymour was a big help for me," Jelesky said. "After practice, if I had questions and we were just at home hanging out, I could just bounce some things off them. Then Jabo [Burrow] last year got hurt and came out, so he was always on the sideline in practice, and I would go over to him and say, `If this guy does this, what can I do?' That was a big help, too."
Coming from the opposite side of the ball, Jelesky is able to find ways to improve by thinking about how he might have previously attacked an offensive lineman.
"Sometimes it helps," he said. "I can kind of look at myself from a different aspect. When we watch film, it's more than just, `Maybe I did good on this rep,' but what else am I doing wrong that a defensive lineman could look at and see as a weak point? What could somebody exploit?"
Aside from the mental preparation, Jelesky also had work to do physically. He has added another 25 pounds since last fall, and weighed in at 290 pounds before the season began.
The fact that Jelesky now finds himself right at home on Vanderbilt's offensive line should come as no surprise given his family ties to both the position and the university. His uncle, Tom Jelesky, played offensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles, and his maternal grandparents met at Vanderbilt.
Jelesky's grandfather earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from Vanderbilt, and his grandmother attended Peabody College before it became part of Vanderbilt. His mother, Beth, was born at Vanderbilt Medical Center, and her brother lives in nearby Franklin. Jelesky's parents make the trip from Naperville to attend all of his games.
"My parents have come to every game since my redshirt-freshman year," he said. "Even when I wasn't playing they were going to all of the games. They've always been a big part of it."