First, the Iowa Western standout was ranked as the No. 1 junior college center by JCGridiron.com. Additionally, the Huskers haven’t signed many Reivers — the only other to land in Lincoln is reserve offensive lineman Brian Perez, who spent 2017 in Council Bluffs as a reserve tight end.
But the Iowa Western coaches think Wegener, a 6-foot-2, 300-pound lineman from Algona, Iowa, is equipped to handle the pressure.
“There isn’t a better player that we’d like to send down that way for that staff to evaluate,” said Donnie Woods, Iowa Western’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. “Josh has the mentality of a guy that’s going to come in and put the work in, regardless if he’s the No. 300 center in the country or the No. 1 center in the country. That is what sets Josh apart.”
Wegener came to Iowa Western in 2017 as a highly touted defensive tackle, a “must-get’’ from the north-central part of Iowa, Woods said. In a program that has finished in the top three nationally six of the past seven years, he upheld those credentials. He broke into the rotation for coach Scott Strohmeier in his first season before tearing the ACL and meniscus in his knee in the fifth game.
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Woods then broached the notion of moving Wegener to the other side of the ball.
“What I saw in him was a kid who I thought could direct our offense up front,” he said. “He’s super smart, and I need that guy at the center. Our centers have to be able to identify (middle linebackers), set the blocking schemes.
“All those little things that you need to play offensive line, Josh has. So when he made the switch, it was kind of a home run for us and for him.”
Wegener initially was skeptical about the move, but warmed to it. He earned first-team all-conference honors despite going down in the ninth game with a lisfranc injury in his foot, a torn ligament between his first and second metatarsals.
At that time, Wegener held several FCS offers while FBS teams were entering the mix. But those FBS schools started to lose interest.
“Not many schools are looking for a mid-year injured guy to come in and not really play spring ball,” he said.
The 20-year-old graduated from Iowa Western with a 4.0 GPA, making him eligible for academic scholarships. That reduced the stress of seeking a full ride, and he looked seriously at Nebraska and Iowa State. Wegener decided on the Huskers, thinking his skills fit well in their spread offense.
Woods said he diligently watches offensive line film of the nation’s top junior college programs.
“As I went through the film, I couldn’t find one guy that was able to do the stuff that Josh was able to do,” Woods said. “So when it came out that he was the No. 1 center in the country, it wasn’t a shock to us.
“He’s bought into the development side of it. When a guy starts playing with the technique you’re asking him to play with, and he has all the intangibles, the sky is the limit.”
Andy Jacobson, Wegener’s high school coach at Algona, said his former pupil has earned everything that’s come his way.
“He’s a great example of setting a high goal and not settling,” he said. “Nebraska’s going to get a guy that is going to come in and work his tail off.”
Wegener is rehabbing his foot in his hometown. Then he’ll head to Lincoln late this spring, and join the team for summer workouts before enrolling in the fall.
If those in the Nebraska program are going to form opinions on Iowa Western based on his actions, he’s fine with that.
“I’m going to represent a lot of what Iowa Western is about,” he said. “I know that a lot of people are going to look at me and say, ‘This is why we do or this is why we don’t recruit Iowa Western.’
“There’s some pressure there, but I’m not too worried about it. I think who I am and what I believe in matches well with Iowa Western’s philosophy and with Nebraska’s philosophy. Stay out of trouble and work hard. There’s not much more you can ask for, you know?”
Woods isn’t a prognosticator, but if Wegener’s play leads to more Reivers joining the Nebraska program, he won’t be surprised.
“I’m not going to sit here and say that Josh Wegener’s going to be a 12-game starter for Nebraska,” he said, “but somehow, someway Josh will impact Nebraska football. And I know it’s going to be in a positive manner and we’ll be proud of however it all shakes out.
“They’ll understand how Scott (Strohmeier) runs the program, and that they need to take a few more guys of ours.”