RENO - Chris Barker and Jeff Nady heard Chris Ault's message loud and clear.
"The offensive line reached a point in the middle of the season last year and shut down," Ault said two weeks ago as he addressed the media before the team's first fall practice. "They just never got better."
The words of the Nevada Wolf Pack's head coach hit home.
"First of all, he's right," senior tackle Jeff Nady said. "There were games last year when we'd get the ball with six or seven minutes to go with a lead and we couldn't get a first down. In the past we'd get the ball at that time of the game and the other team wouldn't get the ball back. That's on us."
When Ault criticizes his offensive line -- the unit he dubbed "The Union" nearly 30 years ago - he knows his words will be taken to heart.
"Yeah, I think he criticizes us like that because he knows we can take it," Nady said. "We're a tough group. He knows we're tough emotionally. He can call us out like that and he knows we won't quit. It does leave a bad taste but he knows all that does is make us want to work even harder."
Barker, who has started all 40 games of his college career at guard since the first game of his freshman year in 2009, also agreed with Ault.
"Some people probably got tired as the season went on," Barker said. "They might not have been used to working that hard. Some younger guys might have fallen off the train. We have good leadership but it could have been better."
"When it's happening, it's hard to put your finger on it," Nady said. "You see some things that are going on and you don't like it, but the team is still winning so you probably don't say anything.
"All that does is motivate us to work even harder. We don't like to lose. Our young guys now know what it's like to lose. You never want to teach them that way but they'll learn from it."
It's no secret that Ault thinks of The Union as the heart and soul of the Wolf Pack. And Barker and Nady, who have started 23 of the Pack's last 24 games together, are the unquestioned heart and soul of the Union.
The two seniors are one of the top tackle-guard combinations in the country. Barker was a First Team All-Western Athletic Conference selection a year ago and Nady was on the Second Team. Both are on the pre-season All-Mountain West team this year. Barker is on the watch lists for the Lombardi and Outland awards while Nady is on the Lombardi list.
At nearly 13 feet and over 600 pounds combined, Nady and Barker are the protectors of the pistol offense.
"It's a privilege to play with them," said sophomore Matt Galas, who is expected to start at center this season. "I just wish I could have played with them my whole time here."
In many ways, Nady and Barker combined are the key to this entire season. The defense, for the most part, will be very inexperienced and will likely go through a learning process filled with peaks and valleys. That leaves the offense to set the tone and carry the team, especially early in the year. And when you talk about leadership, especially on offense, you are talking about Barker and Nady.
"They are our two most experienced guys," Ault said. "And it's because of them and their leadership, the Union has a chance to be real good."
Ault, though, didn't hesitate to send another message to the Union.
"When it's fourth-and-one with the game on the line, we've got to fine a way to get it done," he said. "Last year we had some challenges with that."
Barker and Nady are more than willing to accept that challenge.
"Of all the offensive lineman, Jeff is the one who is the most vocal," Barker said. "I'll say things once in a while but Jeff is the guy who will let you know what he thinks right away. That's how he leads. I'm more quiet, more of a lead-by-example guy. He's the vocal one. We work well together."
"Yeah, I'm more confrontational than Barker," Nady smiled. "I can see when things are bothering him and I'll be the one to say it when he'll stay quiet most of the time."
Both Barker, who came to the Pack from Etiwanda High in Fontana, Calif., and Nady, who came from nearby Douglas High in Minden, red-shirted in 2008. That season the youngsters learned what it means to join the Union from veterans like center Dominic Green and tackle Alonzo Durham and Mike Gallett.
"He told me what it was all about, what I had to do to be a part of this," Barker said.
"When you are young you watch and learn from the older guys," Nady said. "And for us, it was guys like Dom Green. You just watch the way they carry themselves and go about their work everyday."
That is the heart and soul of the Union It is a tradition of hard work that the older players hand down to the young players. And now it's time for Barker and Nady to hand it down to the youngsters like Galas.
"The offensive line takes it upon themselves to be a leader for the whole team," Nady said. "We always try to out-work everybody in practice everyday. Everyone on the field knows the offensive line is going to push the hardest. There's never a time when we want to fall down."
Both Barker and Nady are in their fifth year in the Pack football program. They sat on the sidelines as true freshman in 2008 and watched sophomores Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua lead the pistol offense to national prominence.
The next year Barker started his very first game at, of all places, Notre Dame.
"I was real nervous before that game," Barker said. "Just playing Notre Dame and walking into that stadium was special. But after that first drive I knew I could hang with those guys. I was young and I really didn't know what I was doing. The veteran guys gave me a lot of help but after that game I knew I could play."
Nady played in just three games in 2009. It wasn't until the fourth game of the 2010 season at BYU that he was thrown into the starting lineup after an injury to Steve Haley.
"My whole thing was to come in here and live up to my family name," said Nady, whose father Joe Nady played baseball for the Pack and his uncle Jay Nady played football. "I wanted to live up to the Nady name and make them proud."
The Pack has gone 28-12 with Barker in the starting lineup and 16-7 with Nady.
"This year is special because it's our last year," Barker said. "We want to leave our legacy for the young guys to follow."