Will Farniok

Nebraska center Will Farniok runs through a drill during a spring practice in March. "He really took it upon himself this offseason to get bigger, get a great understanding of the playbook," NU quarterback Adrian Martinez said.

LINCOLN — In some ways, this all feels very familiar to Will Farniok.

The favorite to open the season as Nebraska’s starting center is accustomed to jostling with individuals even larger than he is. He’s used to being the young guy who must shout to be heard.

That fall camp environment also describes much of Farniok’s childhood as the youngest of four future FBS offensive linemen growing up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. One brother, Tom, played at Iowa State, while Derek went to Oklahoma. Matt Farniok, a junior, is Nebraska’s starting right tackle.

“I’ve never been scared to be loud and make commands and kind of own up to it,” Will Farniok said.

The 19-year-old redshirt freshman is still the same little kid looking up to a bunch of 20-somethings on the Nebraska line. Only now he’s right in the middle, tasked with being a vocal leader and the metronome for Scott Frost’s up-tempo offense.

Farniok’s ascension has been 18 months in the making. He graduated from high school early to enroll in January 2018 as the new coaching staff was taking over. What was once 265 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame has become nearly 300. A season on the scout team tangling with defensive linemen such as Khalil and Carlos Davis and Damian Jackson steeled him for college football. He watched how previous NU centers Tanner Farmer and Cole Conrad handled the position and was on the travel roster to Wisconsin and Ohio State.

“He really took it upon himself this offseason to get bigger, get a great understanding of the playbook,” NU quarterback Adrian Martinez said of his former roommate. “I think he’s been doing great things for us this fall.”

Circumstances have removed some of the drama from the center competition, though it remains ongoing. Converted tight end Cam Jurgens — a favorite of the staff for his long-term potential — has yet to fully participate in drills while recovering from a foot injury. Another contender, walk-on Trent Hixson, appears to be settling in with the first unit at left guard. Walk-on AJ Forbes has been taking a majority of reps with the second group, and true freshman Ethan Piper is only months removed from switching from the defensive line.

Asked who is pushing Farniok at center, offensive line coach Greg Austin paused to consider.

“Matt, his brother,” Austin said. “That’s his big pusher.”

Will Farniok said older brother would get some credit if both siblings are starting on Nebraska’s front line. If Will is doing anything wrong, he knows a certain tackle who will let him know.

“I’m trying my best to make sure he doesn’t have to do that,” Will Farniok said.

Said Matt: “He’s never really too upset about it. He’s probably just more annoyed and angry with me sometimes.”

Matt Farniok, about to become a three-year starter, said Will’s biggest leap might be his technique. Unlike high school, he can’t just rely on being bigger and stronger than the defender across from him. Will can repeat Austin’s teachings by heart: Drive opponents off the ball by getting under them. Keep both feet in the ground. Maintain a low, even pad level.

Then there’s “command presence,” a trait unique to centers that Austin wants to see. Can Farniok read a defense, clearly communicate the call and block consistently as the offense seeks to snap the ball every 12 to 14 seconds?

“If you yell it out and make sure everyone’s on the same page, you can’t be wrong at that point,” Farniok said. “Just make sure you’re going hard.”

Asked whether he feels game ready, Farniok nods his head. The no-fear-of-failure quality NU coaches emphasize comes naturally to him. But with his first college game likely only weeks away, Farniok still received some good advice from a passing teammate more used to operating in the spotlight.

“C’mon, Will,” Martinez said. “Show a little smile!”

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Evan Bland covers Nebraska football, baseball and other sports for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @EvanBlandOWH.

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