LINCOLN — Nebraska assistant coach John Garrison said the best thing he saw from Cole Pensick last August might have been Pensick’s reaction when he didn’t win the starting job at center.
Pensick kept working after Justin Jackson took the No. 1 spot, and that left the Husker staff knowing it had a capable and ready No. 2 with a good attitude going into the season.
And when NU suddenly needed help at guard, Pensick jumped into a preseason drill and performed well enough that he would ultimately help the offensive line there during his junior year.
“I think he moved forward,” Garrison said. “To say he was not affected at all would not be accurate. You could tell it bothered him, and I think that’s a good thing. For a guy to act like he didn’t care, I think that would be disappointing.
“He was affected by it, but he didn’t allow it to affect his play. He came out and worked his tail off, and ended up being a big part of what we were doing last year, especially at the end of the year.”
Pensick returned to a familiar scene through Nebraska’s first week of spring practice. As he did a year ago, the senior from Lincoln Northeast is making another run at trying to win the center job.
To Pensick, though, it didn’t really matter whether Garrison and Barney Cotton told him center or guard when the Huskers were making offseason decisions.
“Wherever they were going to want me to play is where I was going to go,” he said.
Pensick wouldn’t mind staying in the middle of a Husker line that has the potential to be a veteran bunch with Spencer Long at guard and fellow seniors Jeremiah Sirles, Brent Qvale and Andrew Rodriguez among the tackles. Long said Pensick has started out well this spring.
“He’s very comfortable at center,” Long said. “I think he’s comfortable at guard, too, but when he moved back I think it was just natural for him.”
Garrison said Pensick can wear the “utility belt” on the NU line, but said the 6-foot-2, 275-pounder is probably best suited for center. Working Pensick there also has cleared more reps for some young guards like Jake Cotton, Mike Moudy, Ryne Reeves and Corey Whitaker.
Pensick said he prefers center, too, because the defenders are closer as the ball is snapped and “you can get on them a lot quicker than at guard.”
Pensick felt as if he gave it his best shot as he and Jackson battled through spring practice and preseason camp in 2012. The two remained great friends through the competition.
“We just thrived off each other,” Pensick said. “Obviously, he had attributes better than mine and I had ones that were better than his, and we just loved to compete and had a blast.
“Obviously when I didn’t win it you’re a little bummed. But I didn’t want to just sit back and have everyone feel sorry for me.”
When the line coaches needed a guard during an August drill and none seemed immediately available, Pensick felt as if he knew enough about the position to jump in. That led to him eventually getting significant game reps behind Seung Hoon Choi at left guard through the season.
Pensick split his practice time about 50-50 between center and guard along the way, and then started the Capital One Bowl at center for an injured Jackson.
It wasn’t long after when Pensick was told that he would be at center with Mark Pelini, Paul Thurston and others for spring ball.
“They just said, ‘You got it,’” Pensick said. “It just kind of happened.”
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