Knowing that the middle linebacker position is wide open this year, Austen Jorgensen has made an effort to put himself in contention for playing time.
"I wasn't able to join the team this past spring, so in the offseason I just worked really hard,” said Jorgensen. “I just felt like I had something to prove. I did a lot of film room study and a lot of one-on-one film study with Kelly Poppinga trying to get the Mike linebacker position down. I'm just here trying to show that I've got the heart and effort it takes to be a playmaker out here now that fall camp has started. Getting into my own personal playbook and really studying that is something I've done a lot of."
Prior to coming to BYU from North Sanpete High School as part of the 2007 recruiting class, Jorgensen was already very active in conditioning and in the weight room. As a high school senior, he squatted 550 pounds and took state in the javelin two years in a row. He also came in fourth place in state in the long jump. Much of Jorgensen's summer activities this year revolved around strength and conditioning until a bike accident set him back.
"I focused a lot on conditioning on my own and doing some heavy lifting with Coach Omer," Jorgensen said. "I'm really trying to get my agility side of my game down. I think I lost a little bit after our Cougar challenge after my bike wreck. It took me a couple of weeks to recover and that didn't help me leading into fall camp.”
Now that fall camp is in full swing, Jorgensen is working to apply his summer progress out onto the practice field.
"Right now I'm really focusing on getting the Mike linebacker down, so learning the playbook, knowing the defense and knowing where everyone is supposed to be at is a challenge. I'm feeling more and more comfortable as we go.
"Everyday there is something else to learn," he continued. "At the same time if I stop and realize how much you need to know, it might overwhelm me and I might overdo it and overload myself. Everyday I'm just focusing on one thing and getting better at that as I go. I'm also building my confidence as a Mike linebacker. You have to have a lot of confidence to play the position in order to be sure you're directing people on the defense correctly to be playmakers.
"It can get really stressful learning a new position, having a new coach and having new players. I didn't play with any of these guys before my mission, and so I'm trying not to get overstressed and caught up in the moment because that can really kill you."
Generally players will gravitate towards more experienced players to learn and be mentored, but that’s a luxury that the middle linebackers don’t quite have.
"Yeah, we're young but we are really talented," Jorgensen said. "We've got a lot of guys that really want to hit but at the same time when we get caught up in that our execution isn't as precise or crisp as it was back in ‘07. Back then we had Bryan Kehl, Kelly Poppinga, Markell Staffieri and David Nixon and those guys. We had all those guys that had been in the program for a couple of years and had a chance to really get it down. We've got a lot of young guys inside but everyone's working hard right now. That's the exciting part about this is everyone is fighting and pushing each other to be better. When you have a group of talented guys pushing each other it gets really competitive."
As a linebacker, Jorgensen faces offensive players with a diverse range of abilities and strengths.
"Yeah, I try not to focus on that as much because if I do it will kill me," Jorgensen said. "I just try and focus on my own abilities and what I need to do on defense. The offensive guys can do whatever they want because if we can get our part down then we can stop whatever it is they're trying and do. That's kind of how you have to approach it. You can't really worry too much about the other side. They're going to have their successes but that success is only going to help you learn."
When it comes to being a successful Mike linebacker, Jorgensen outlined two key qualities he feels one must have to be dominant at the position. The first is being mentally tough.
"That's the one thing you have to have to play the Mike linebacker. You have to be mentally tough because you're hitting someone and everybody is trying to hit you.
The second is having speed and athleticism.
"In this 3-4 defense you have to be fast," he said. "You have to have speed because you have to cover receivers, and linebackers are expected to cover a deep post sometimes. I feel fast and I focus a lot on speed. I've been doing a lot of personal training with speed at a place over here called Athletic Republic. That's been my main focus really. I work on my strength a lot but speed is what really kills in this game."