In the last five years, the average Power 5 FBS program has added about 17 high school offensive linemen to its team. There are about 224 of these guys each year during that span. The pool we’re working with is 1,120 players.
Of all those players, 654 of them (58.4%) have been labeled as tackles coming out of high school.
Another 361 guys (32.2%) have been labeled as guards.
There have only been 105 centers added from the high school ranks. Rather, guys labeled as centers coming out of high school. That’s 9.4%.
Where are all the centers?
It’s an interesting question.
Nebraska has taken one in the working time frame, Will Farniok, and yet used just about anyone on the roster you could think of before going to Farniok in a game. His brother, Matt, slid from right tackle to right guard before the start of the year and then when Nebraska’s starting center, Cam Jurgens, was out of the game for whatever reason in 2020, Matt slid again over to center.
The Huskers took Jurgens, a 4-star tight end prospect coming out of high school, added a buffet’s worth of weight to his frame and has tried to teach him how to snap.
That seems to be the rage right now.
In the Big Ten, the percentages are about the same. The league as a whole has seen 249 high school offensive linemen signed to its programs in the last five years, 58.6% of those players have been labeled as tackles, 32.1% as guards, and 9.2% as centers (23 guys).
Six Big Ten teams have only signed one center over the five-year span—Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State, Nebraska, and Rutgers. Wisconsin hasn’t signed a single guy labeled a center coming into college.
What’s interesting—and we’re going a bit out of the timetable here—is that the Badgers won a Rimington Trophy in 2019 with a player, Tyler Biadasz, who was labeled as a defensive end coming out of high school.
In fact, of the last five winners of the trophy given to college football’s best center, none have been guys labeled as centers when they began their college careers. Alabama’s Landon Dickerson was a tackle, NC State’s Garrett Bradbury (2018) was a tight end. Ohio State’s Billy Price (2017) and Pat Elflein (2016) were defensive tackles.
Positional data in high school can sometimes be wonky, and great players on so-so teams tend to play all over the place, so there’s that, but the consistency here is interesting.
There is something to be said for having your best lineman in high school play tackle. Typically, a high school isn’t going to have enough quality linemen for a coach to feel like he can play a Division I prospect at center. One coach we spoke with could only remember one guy he had that he felt would have made a P5 center… and he played tackle.
Part of that is the fact that a coach can naturally do more with tackles within a given scheme. You need to protect your quarterback. If you have a right-handed thrower, you need one of your best guys blocking the blindside.
It also doesn’t particularly feel like offensive line coaches around the country are overly concerned about finding guys that played center in high school. They feel like they can teach guys the position if they have the other measurables a program is looking for.
Plus, it can be sold to prospects that learning multiple positions helps them down the road to potentially play in the NFL. Elflein is playing guard in the NFL. So is Price. Nick Gates, a former Husker who started 25 straight games at left tackle while in Lincoln, is currently the New York Giants’ starting center.
It’s an interesting position.
Jurgens’ career so far has shown the developmental timeline is not the straight line people might like it to be, but Nebraska isn’t alone in trying to make this particular move work.
Greg Smith contributed additional reporting for this story.
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.