UCLA offensive lineman Sam Marrazzo has overcome injuries to expand his role on the offense. (UCLA Athletics/Submitted)

Offensive linemen — particularly interior linemen — usually toil in relative obscurity. But the contributions, flexibility and determination of the Bruins’ redshirt senior Sam Marrazzo are anything but unrecognized by his teammates and coaches.

Marrazzo has played center and guard throughout his Bruins career. He feels comfortable at both positions, but feels most at home at center. Centers, who typically make line calls, take on a lot of responsibility in coach Chip Kelly’s system. The position appeals to Marrazzo because it combines the physical and mental aspects of football.

“The tackles are the most athletic players on the line,” Marrazzo said. “I think the interior is a lot about physicality. Especially at the center position, there’s a lot of the mental side that I think people don’t really understand when it comes to playing offensive line.”

Despite his considerable experience playing multiple spots on the offensive line, Marrazzo has further demonstrated his versality in 2022 by branching off into another position altogether. After a bye week in mid-October, Kelly and offensive line coach Tim Drevno approached him about playing tight end. He jumped at the opportunity and has seen his number of snaps at the position steadily increase ever since.

“I’ve enjoyed it because it has given me more opportunities to be out there,” Marrazzo said. “Playing on the outside is definitely different than playing on the inside. Guys are a little bit smaller, but they’re also a little bit more athletic. It has been a good challenge for me.”

One thing that has not changed at the new position is that Marrazzo has been used exclusively as a blocking tight end. While he has not yet been targeted in the passing game, he is doing everything in his power to change that.

“I’ve been pestering the coaches about that ever since they told me about the role,” Marrazzo said. “I’ll get on the JUGS machine (used to develop and practice receiving skills). I annoy (quarterback) Dorian (Thompson-Robinson) with it all the time, saying I don’t care what the plan is, just throw me the ball. I’ll get open.”

The fact that Marrazzo is even on the field at all to learn a new position is a testament to the ferocity of his determination and work ethic. He tore an ACL late in the 2020 season and after eight months of rehab returned in 2021 only to tear his other ACL in just the fourth game of the year. He needed another nine months of rehab in order to get back on the field this season.

“In the past two years, it’s been about 18 months of rehab with just a four-week break in between, so it’s definitely tested my resolve and my persistence when it comes to playing football,” Marrazzo said. “And my patience. You can always talk about the physical aspects of coming back from injury, but mentally, especially with such a long rehab, you have to have patience in yourself. I think it has definitely made me tougher and stronger as a person mentally and physically.”

Even if Marrazzo had not been able to surmount his injuries and return to the field, his future would not have been any less bright. Far more than just a football player, he has been a fixture on the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll. He landed on it eight times as an undergraduate while earning his bachelor’s in political science. He was also named to the 2020-21 Pac-12 Fall Academic Honor Roll.

Marrazzo, who is now enrolled in the graduate program in transformative coaching and leadership, said that the significance of success in the classroom was instilled in him from an early age. In fact, he even chose to come to UCLA as a walk-on rather than accept a scholarship offer at another school because of the university’s academic reputation.

“My parents aways impressed upon me that athletics are going to end, football is going to end, but knowledge and your degree are things you hold onto and take with you throughout whatever you do in life,” Marrazzo said.

Marrazzo is interested in attending business school in the future and eventually working in a competitive field. A front office position in the athletic world is one possibility that intrigues him. Whatever line of work he chooses, he is confident that his experiences on the gridiron will have played a fundamental role in preparing him for life after the final whistle on the field.

“Something that definitely will count for a lot down the road is me being in high-stress, high-pressure situations a lot and having to learn how to cope with them, having to learn how to manage those situations,” Marrazzo said. “That’s something that not a lot of people get, especially at this young age. And I think that’s something I can definitely take with me.”

Marrazzo also believes that the unique camaraderie and balancing acts that come with being a member of a football team provide invaluable lessons and experiences that many university students do not encounter.

“On our team there are 115 or 120 different guys, all with different personalities, ambitions, egos and backgrounds, and you have to get everybody to work toward a common goal,” Marrazzo said. “That is something that can be challenging, but it’s also really rewarding and it’s also very powerful when you can get that done. That’s something that in the future in any leadership roles that I’m in I’ll look back on my time here and pull from that.”

If Marrazzo can successfully apply what he has learned from football to the world of business, then he will be just as well-known and respected by future co-workers as he is by current teammates.