When Cameron Jurgens snaps the ball, pulls, and is suddenly 10 yards downfield on a block, it’s still a little jarring.
Hail Varsity’s recruit profile for Jurgens listed him at 225 pounds when he entered as a freshman ahead of the 2018 season. His current Husker bio lists him at 270. While there’s probably a little wiggle room in the actual number itself, the weight added and the overall transformation Jurgens’ body has undergone since becoming a Husker is something special. Given all that added weight, the foot injury he suffered last season might be extra concerning, but by all accounts, the redshirt freshman center is healthy right now in spring ball. Nebraska says it is managing him to keep it that way.
But that weight, that extra strength needed to handle nose tackles in the Big Ten, it hasn’t cost Jurgens—a tight end a year ago at this time—his burst. When Nebraska moved him from the edge of the offensive line to its middle, head coach Scott Frost said it was because Jurgens had freakish athleticism and paired it with some of the best blocking instincts on the team.
That athleticism still there?
“Oh yeah,” offensive coordinator Troy Walters said. “Oh yeah.
“He’s athletic, he’s powerful, not only is he going to get on his block but he’s going to create movement up front and create a new line of scrimmage. He’s still a little rusty, still learning the position, but by fall he should be in good shape. He’s a tough worker, hard worker, and he meets with [line coach Greg] Austin when he can.”
Nebraska wants a very specific breed of center, which can be kind of hard to come by. The offense involves zone running and blocking schemes, more perimeter action than a Steph Curry shootaround, and still a little bit of between-the-tackles physicality. To have a guy who can pull and get out in space on four straight plays, then line up on the fifth and knock a guy 5 yards back at the line of scrimmage is to have a star.
That’s why Jurgens is now a center. “He fits that bill,” Walters said.
For each open practice the media has observed, Jurgens has been the top guy at center. It’s assumed he’s the leader in the clubhouse right now. But he isn’t a done pancake (couldn’t resist).
The position change is still a work in progress, and the rough spots don’t sound like they’ll be smoothed over until the fall. He’s got two weeks in the spring, the summer and then fall camp to get “where he needs to be” in terms of understanding the pre-snap assignments of a center, understanding the calls and having the quarterback-center exchange down.
To his credit, it doesn’t sound like there are regular mishaps in practice. Quarterback coach Mario Verduzco doesn’t notice Adrian Martinez going out of his way to help the line get right or Jurgens get set. He doesn’t notice anything technically alarming that would otherwise wreck a play. Austin sees stuff because he’s looking, but the line isn’t drawing outside attention to itself.
Walters says that group is still working on gelling as a whole. Sophomore Trent Hixson appears to have taken hold of the left guard spot on the line, with Jurgens and junior Boe Wilson handling the other two interior spots.
Redshirt freshman Will Farniok is settling in at center No. 2 behind Jurgens, with redshirt freshman AJ Forbes pushing as well. Quarterback Noah Vedral says Forbes has been working at more than just center, but he’s making the most of those reps with Hunter Miller sidelined.
“They’re getting better,” Vedral said of the centers. “All of them. And we need all of them. Just like we saw last year, injuries happen and we need two, three guys ready to go. They’re getting a lot better. Cam’s doing well having to move from a different position, so we like what we’ve seen from him, but Will and AJ have also done a really good job.
“It’s kind of like quarterback, the more we have that can play and play well, the better we’ll be.”
Vedral has maybe the most unique vantage point. He knows what kind of line play and center play is required to make this offense soar. To have an athlete at center, he says is a major benefit, “especially with a lot of our zone stuff, [Jurgens] being able to get out there and get on people quickly, is really nice.”
And when he gets the chance to show off that athleticism, even past the halfway point of spring ball, it turns heads.
“Who doesn’t it surprise?” Vedral says. “The man’s a freak of nature.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.