Throughout the fall, tight end coach Sean Beckton has made the hierarchy in his room very clear. There’s sophomore Jack Stoll at the top, redshirt freshmen Austin Allen and Kurt Rafdal battling it out for the second spot and then everybody else.
Beckton hasn’t missed an opportunity to praise the work Stoll has done since the new staff arrived in Lincoln, and Wednesday was no different.
“He’s very, very knowledgeable of the game,” Beckton said. “He’s a kid that really is like a sponge. He’s in there early watching tape. I’ll walk by, check the tight ends room and he’s in there going through game plans. Every situation in practice he has a question that may occur right there. He just basically adjusts because the film study that he gets in on a daily basis. Very, very knowledgeable; very, very conscious as far as his technique. If I’m not around, he’s going to ask Coach [Scott] Frost, he’s going to ask Coach [Greg] Austin or somebody. He’s going to find somebody to get that question answered. He’s benefitted from really being a student of the game.”
Allen and Rafdal often get lumped together as the “twin towers" considering they stand out in the room at 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-7, respectively, but each has his own strengths and race for second-string reps is still neck-and-neck.
“The differences between the two, I think: Kurt’s a lot more polished as far as a route-runner, and I think Austin is a lot more polished as a blocker right now," Beckton said. “Both of those guys are competing every single day to pull up on their deficiencies and try to even those things out and we’re working on a daily basis to try to pull those guys up to where Jack is. Jack is really playing at a complete level as far as me seeing him in practice every single day. Those guys are trying to pull up next to him and they’re working extremely hard. It’s a really good, fierce competition there between those two guys on a daily basis and I move them around. I’ll give you two today because you worked a lit bit harder in that particular day, or if there’s a period where I think Kurt’s working harder than Austin, I’ll move him ahead of him.”
The rest of the room consists of freshmen and sophomores, and Beckton said he’s getting those guys extra reps after practice to further the development of the whole group.
“They’re coming along well,” Beckton said about the other young tight ends. “When you have guys, right now, that are on the scout team, I like to always try to utilize those guys after practice a little bit just to get a little bit of extra work in as far as technique, fundamentals, route-running, understanding landmarks and blocking. So when those guys’ numbers are called to come up and play, they’re ready to go.”
Katerian Legrone and Cam Jurgens are the only other tight ends currently on scholarship. They both still have a ways to go to be complete tight ends and to be able to do everything Beckton asks of his players, but the coach is confident the freshmen can contribute to the team.
“Obviously we recruited those guys this year and from what the body of work they gave us throughout training camp, those guys can help us in some fashion,” Beckton said. “Right now, Katerian’s just a little bit behind mentally. Cam’s way ahead physically of Katerian right now but both of those guys are developing well and we’re excited to see the future.”
Jurgens has turned heads in camp with his sheer power as a blocker, so much so that Frost called him one of the strongest players on the team recently.
“He’s just naturally gifted as far as his lower body strength, and then he plays with such leverage, when he explodes into you, strikes you, most guys go back,” Beckton said. “I’m really excited to see what he’s going to do with this football team in the future, down the road, and of course, right now.”
Listed at 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds, Jurgens is the heaviest player in the room already as a true freshman, and he’s caught the attention of other coaches on staff as well to the point where Beckton has to fight to keep the Beatrice product in his room.
“It’s a daily battle,” Beckton said. “The offensive line coach, defensive line coach are messing with the kid every single day. I’m trying to keep him in my room for as long as I can. He wants to help the football team in any kind of way; that’s the kind of kid he is. We’re going to utilize him. We’re going to figure out what’s the best place to play him to help the football team and roll from there. He’s aware of his situation.”
Jurgens has come a long way since the end of his high school career, which was cut short by a serious ankle injury in the Orangemen’s regular season finale. He missed the whole basketball season but returned for state track. Since then, he’s continued to rehab and is now back near full strength according to Beckton.
“For the most part, I think, through training camp, he had his days where you could feel it kind of lingering a little bit when it comes to fatigue or what not,” Beckton said. “Since we got into the season, he’s strengthened it to where he can go a full practice without having any issues any more. I think he’s back to 100 percent.”
Last season at Central Florida, Beckton played nothing but upperclassmen with four of them seeing action including three as full-time contributors. Nebraska doesn’t have any upperclassmen at tight end, however, so Saturday at Colorado will provide fans with their first look at Beckton’s young group.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.