Cam Jurgens’ cattle farm and athletic beginnings in Nebraska prepared him for a new role with the Eagles (2024)

Frank Verducci, a former Nebraska senior offensive analyst, couldn’t help but laugh when he first watched Cam Jurgens’ high school tape.

A supercut of plays portrayed a hulking Beatrice High School tight end storming downfield, the ball tucked in the crook of his arm, with pint-sized opponents trailing in his wake. Jurgens put up blocks and bodies flew backward — evidence of the strength he cultivated en route to multiple Nebraska Class B and All-Class state titles in the shot put and discus.

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“It was literally the saying, ‘Like men playing with boys,’” said Verducci, now a senior personnel analyst at Nebraska. “It was comical. We would just sit there and laugh at highlight after highlight because poor kids would bounce off him. They’d run away from him.”

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But when Jurgens entered the program in 2018, Verducci and the coaching staff, led by then-head coach Scott Frost, determined that he wouldn’t play tight end for long. Nebraska lacked a young center with starting upside. Jurgens, despite weighing roughly 250 pounds at 6-foot-3, displayed the high-contact traits, the initial quickness, and the explosiveness on film that made him an attractive candidate to start at center.

Now, two years after his three-year stint as the starting center at Nebraska, the Eagles’ 2022 second-round pick (No. 51 overall) is making another transition. This time, the 303-pound Jurgens is sliding over a spot to right guard as the apparent front-runner to replace former starter Isaac Seumalo, who signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in free agency.

Unbeknownst to him at the time, a lifetime of preparation set up Jurgens for the initial switch to center in college. His transition to right guard in the NFL is just an extension of that trajectory.

“He’s scaled a smaller version of the mountain,” Verducci said. “I’m sure this one he’ll do just as well.”

Work ethic nurtured on the farm

Beth Jurgens will always remember the shoes.

Whenever Cam, her youngest of three, would have friends over at their house on their cattle farm just outside of Pickrell, Neb., which boasts a population of fewer than 200 people, the children left their shoes at the door. Jurgens’ were always twice the size of his friends’.

“He kind of grew pretty quick, but yet a lot of kids that maybe grow fast have an awkward stage,” Beth said “Cam never really had an awkward stage. He was just always very athletic.”

Jurgens took after his brother Colby and sister Courtney, who are eight and four years his senior, respectively, by competing in a variety of sports throughout his adolescence. Kindergarten tee-ball gave way to baseball, then basketball, soccer, and eventually flag football at the YMCA. Jurgens graduated to tackle and played nearly every position on the field except for offensive line and defensive line, sticking with tight end and linebacker later in high school.

He also balanced sports with assisting his father, Ted, on the farm. In the 100-degree summer heat, Jurgens stacked hay bales up to the barn rafters, holding his breath to avoid inhaling clouds of dust. He sprayed swaths of thistle in the pasture in an attempt to keep the weeds from popping up again the next year.

“There was never any complaining by him,” Jurgens said of his father, who also worked as a full-time welder. “It was always like, ‘There’s work to be done; go do the work.’ I guess that’s all I knew growing up and seeing him work and his work ethic. That definitely rubbed off on me to where it wasn’t just like working on the farm. I can put that work ethic into everything I do, and I think I put a lot of it into sports.”

No matter the sport, Jurgens excelled. He became one of the top throwers in the shot put and discus in Nebraska, following in the footsteps of Beth, who was a seven-time national champion in the same events and a 12-time All-American at the University of Nebraska at Kearney in the 1980s.

Following Jurgens’ freshman year of high school, a vacancy opened up on the track and field coaching staff, and Beth agreed to fill in on a temporary basis. One season turned into six, as Beth coached her son through high school, observing how his even-keeled temperament helped him find success on the field.

“He never seemed to get too high or too low,” Beth said. “He just did really good at maintaining his composure. You could never count him out, because sometimes in the throwing events, if he was maybe not at the lead, and somebody else went ahead of him, he just had that real desire to go out and compete. He’d come back and throw farther.”

A week after Jurgens won the Class B state title in the discus as a freshman in late May 2015, Beth had signed him up to attend a couple of Nebraska football camps 35 miles north in Lincoln. He returned home in June with a scholarship offer.

Becoming a ‘cheat code’

Salads were not included in the tight end-to-offensive lineman diet plan, Beth gathered, when Jurgens visited home following his first year at Nebraska.

Meat and potatoes dominated the dinner table. Jurgens pounded nutrient-dense protein shakes in between sets in the weight room. Those shakes returned for encores after he ate full meals, seeing as he found it easier to slip extra calories into his diet when he drank them. The Midwestern delicacies of cinnamon rolls and chili occasionally appeared on the menu, a combination Jurgens likened to grilled cheese and tomato soup.

“I was a little nervous putting on that much weight,” Jurgens said. “And then I realized it was pretty easy. I feel like I had the mentality of an O-lineman. I love to eat food. I love the camaraderie in the O-line room. I love to complain about running, so I fit in there. I was done trying to run 40-yard post routes and not get the ball thrown my way. I’m like, ‘Why don’t I just do something where I can hit somebody every single play?’”

Jurgens estimates that he added roughly 45 pounds going into his first year as a starter. The weight gain was made easier by his limited ability for activity. In the midst of his first year while learning the ropes at center in practice, Jurgens sustained a stress fracture in his foot, partially because of his rapid weight gain. He suffered the same injury to his other foot in the offseason.

The stress fractures limited Jurgens’ potential to take quality reps at center in practice as he prepared to assume the starting role. Jurgens was thrown into the fire in his first week against South Alabama in 2019. His debut at center went well, as he tried to make calls, be confident, and rely on his athleticism throughout the game. But roughly halfway through, Jurgens recalled getting hit by a wave of full-body cramps, a byproduct of not having much of an offseason or a training camp for conditioning.

“I can remember his first year playing center for us, when we’d get in games and we’d have an outcome by the middle of the fourth quarter, there were times where we would consciously take him out of the game,” Verducci said. “It’s almost like a pitch count in baseball.”

» READ MORE: Eagles’ Cam Jurgens is learning the ropes at guard and beefing up one rib eye at a time

But even though he was still getting in proper shape early in the season, and he was working his way through well-publicized snapping issues, Jurgens remained diligent in his effort to master the position. Jurgens, Verducci, and then-offensive line coach Greg Austin would pore over the young center’s film after practices. The coaches emphasized that center was like the quarterback as far as calling out protections and creating the patterns in the run game.

Instead of focusing on his individual assignment like he would as a tight end, Jurgens made it a priority to improve his understanding of the entire offense. Not only was he learning and executing his duties as a center on any given play, but he also committed the responsibilities of every other position to memory.

While the adjustment wasn’t easy, Jurgens found reassurance in Verducci’s success transitioning players to the offensive line when he coached the position at Iowa, including former Green Bay Packers left tackle Ross Verba (a high school tight end) and former Kansas City Chiefs center Casey Wiegmann (a high school running back). If everything went according to plan, Verducci was confident that Jurgens would be a high draft pick in the NFL.

“He was like, ‘It might [stink] right now, but there’s a future here,’” Jurgens said. “‘You’re a good athlete, and you’re going to be a really good O-lineman. You’ve just got to stick with it.’”

» READ MORE: Cam Jurgens is on guard with Jason Kelce returning as the Eagles’ center

By the time Jurgens reached his third year as a starter in 2021, he said he felt like the offense and his technique were ingrained in his muscle memory, allowing him to play quicker. Jurgens also was able to fully flaunt his athleticism and his competitive drive. Verducci recalled a play during Nebraska’s game against Oklahoma that season when Jurgens blocked a defender 34 yards down the field past his initial point of contact before dumping him out of bounds.

Jurgens was flagged for unnecessary roughness. Still, the play encapsulated what Jurgens was all about as a football player, showcasing his agility, explosiveness, and power against a smaller, supposedly quicker athlete.

“Just having someone that athletic at center, especially in the Big Ten, that allows you to do a lot of stuff,” Eagles tight end and former Nebraska teammate Jack Stoll said. “He was a cheat code, basically, in the Big Ten.”

Another ‘athlete’ along the Eagles offensive line

Jurgens was thrilled that Jason Kelce’s retirement plans this offseason never evolved past the idea stage.

When the Eagles selected Jurgens in the 2022 draft, he was billed as the heir apparent to the 35-year-old center who has held the starting role for the last 12 years. But following the Super Bowl LVII loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Kelce’s contract year, he decided to put retirement off for at least another season and return to Philadelphia on a one-year, $14.25 million deal, keeping his spot atop the starting throne while Jurgens waited in the wings.

“I was very excited for him,” Jurgens said. “I was kind of hoping he would, so I called him and told him, ‘I can’t wait to play another year with you. It’s so fun. I’m gonna do everything I can to get on the field and play with you and keep learning with you.’”

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Jurgens won’t be waiting to start for long, evidently. Seumalo’s departure opened a different vacancy on the offensive line and Jurgens has exclusively taken first-team reps at right guard throughout training camp. The prospect of Jurgens starting this season became apparent during OTAs, but he had been practicing at guard since last season in case Kelce decided to return this year or if one of the starting guards suffered an injury.

Now, Jurgens is learning how to communicate effectively with his fellow starters, including Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson, in his latest position change. He’s also readjusting his spatial awareness and getting his footwork down under the tutelage of offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.

In just a few weeks, Stoutland said he has seen more of Jurgens’ strength put to use on the field, given that Jurgens previously was uncovered against even fronts as a center. But even before the team hit the field for camp, Johnson was struck by his power.

» READ MORE: ‘Nasty streak in him’: Eagles draft pick Cam Jurgens is a mauler whose athleticism is the difference maker

“Cam’s a war daddy,” Johnson said. “He comes in. He’s super strong. That’s the first thing I noticed about him in the weight room, just what type of numbers he’s putting up, like 550 in front squats. So one of the strongest guys on the team.”

Johnson also likened Jurgens’ snap quickness to Kelce’s, with both players able to rapidly get to the second level in the screen game. Jurgens reminds Stoutland of former Eagles guard Brandon Brooks because of their similar “tremendous” feet and body quickness. Verducci pointed out that the faster a guard can get on a bigger defensive tackle, the more likely the guard is to have a better success rate.

Regardless of the comparisons, Jurgens knows who he is and who he’s not.

“I don’t want to be your prototypical big mauler or slow right guard,” Jurgens said. “That’s just not the kind of people we have at the Eagles. We have athletes along our O-line.”

Jurgens has always tried to use his athleticism to his advantage, no matter the sport. As he scales another mountain with Week 1 on the horizon, he keeps one core tenet at the heart of his journey:

“I want to be a football player instead of just an O-lineman.”

Cam Jurgens’ cattle farm and athletic beginnings in Nebraska prepared him for a new role with the Eagles (2024)

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