It's easy to spot Beau Cherry on the Cal State Northridge offensive line.
Look to the left. See those 300-pound mountains, the 6-foot-3 tackle and 6-5 guard?
Nah, neither is him. That's David San Vicente and Taffe Aina.
Look to the right. See those 280-something guys?
Not there, either. That's freshmen Tim Shoffeitt and Keith Kincaid.
All right, move your eyes to the fellow about to snap the ball, the one who looks comparatively malnourished.
Now you've found Cherry, all 6-2 and 270 pounds of him, sandwiched between a mass of humanity. But don't rush over with a creatine-spiked malt. Cherry knows where he stands.
"I pretty much gave up the NFL dream after I stopped growing after high school," Cherry said, laughing.
Cherry didn't give up his goal of starting his senior season in college, so he bolted from a lusterless backup role at Division I-A Eastern Michigan to starting center at I-AA Northridge.
It was a sensible move for Cherry, who played at Saugus High and Valley College.
"I saw the opportunity for me to play here, so I took it," Cherry said. "No player wants to watch from the sideline. This is my last year and I wanted to play.
"Plus it's good to be back home. . . . The phone bill was really tough."
Cherry went to Eastern Michigan after helping Valley win Western State Conference South Division championships in 1995 and '96. He played sparingly last season and sought a playing opportunity elsewhere.
He found the Matadors, whose run-and-shoot attack is similar to what Cherry played at Valley.
"It took a couple of weeks to get used to the offense because I got used to another system," Cherry said. "It's going to be fun playing in that kind of offense again."
Cherry's familiarity with Northridge's system makes Aron Gideon, the offensive line coach, rest easier. The Matadors, who open at I-A Boise State on Saturday, are woefully inexperienced on the right side with Shoffeitt and Kincaid.
Gideon expects Mike Barnes, a senior transfer from Arizona State, to replace Shoffeitt at right guard. But Barnes just arrived at Northridge after sitting out last season and might not be ready by Saturday.
That makes Cherry's presence in the middle more crucial.
"It's always difficult to find good centers," said Gideon, who played the position at UCLA from 1989-92. "We rely on our centers to identify [opposing] defenses. I tell our centers they are the voice of confidence on the line. . . . Beau is a reliable guy."
Northridge nose guard Sean Beard, a junior transfer from Mt. San Antonio College, faces Cherry at practice and likes what he sees.
"He's very sound," Beard said. "He's got quick feet and knows his assignments. He's smart."
He's also loud, a characteristic Cherry says is one of his best qualities.
"I'm not as gifted size-wise, but I make up for it with my brain and mouth," Cherry said. "But I'm always looking to improve. I think I've come a long ways."
Cornerback Mel Miller, a two-year starter at Washington, practiced with the Matadors Tuesday for the first time. He is expected to play Saturday at Boise State. . . .
Northridge also expects defensive tackle Levi Line (Royal High) at practice today. He is a transfer from Nevada. . . .
Howard Henry, a senior cornerback, quit the team for personal reasons.