The Center of Attention
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

The Center of Attention

August 24, 2017

There were some serious battles along the offensive line this spring. We saw redshirt freshman Boe Wilson get some snaps at the right guard spot in place of Tanner Farmer, but the fall has been relatively quiet for positions battles.

There has been one spot though, where things have gone back and forth since the spring. Sophomore Michael Decker and junior Cole Conrad battled for the position, but Conrad ultimately won the job, being named the starter by Mike Cavanaugh last week.

It might have been a mild surprise to Conrad, who didn’t think he had the better spring of the two players.

“[Decker]’s a great center. He’s a smart kid and he has good technique. It was a battle,” Conrad said. “It was neck-and-neck for a while. I thought he might have had a better spring than me, honestly. But you’ve just got to keep working, keep grinding and keep growing and things worked out.”

Conrad spent all of his time at tackle during the 2016 season, starting the final five games of the season as David Knevel was slowed by injury. It was also the position he spent all of his time at in high school and about half of his time practicing at this spring before the Nebraska staff moved him to center. That’s part of the reason why Conrad felt Decker might have held the edge in the position race entering the summer.

“I was a little off, I guess,” he said. “That was kind of getting back in the swing of things at center.”

But don’t mistake a position switch for inexperience.

“He’s really not new,” starting right guard and fellow junior Tanner Farmer said. “When you think about last year, whenever David was injured a little bit, Cole stepped in and he was the starter for half the season. Cole has just as much playing time as I do and a lot of the other guys.”

Conrad’s story is a classic Nebraska tale. The big man from Fremont came to Nebraska as a walk-on with no scholarship offers out of high school. In a week, he’ll start the home opener at center and if the transition looks seamless, know that there’s probably more going on behind the scenes. Things are a little more complicated at center.”

“[Snapping] was the thing I kind of struggled with first off,” Conrad. “It’s not just lining up and blocking a guy. You’ve got to snap the ball and then go find a guy, find who to block. [It’s] recognizing what the defense is doing and making your calls.

“It was definitely a change, for sure, moving from tackle to center, but things are working out.”

Coach Mike Riley agrees.

“I think Cole has always had the confidence that that was what he could do,” Riley said. “When given the opportunity, he proved himself to be a good football player and a very reliable person.”

Now Conrad will get to prove himself worthy of being the anchor and quarterback of the offensive line. Yet another walk-on success story at Nebraska.

It never quite gets old.

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