At the beginning of preseason camp, even Jack Konopka admitted he never saw it coming. Recruited as a tackle, he was supposed to be buried on the depth chart behind Al Netter or Patrick Ward. NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald saw it differently.
Just three days before camp started, Fitzgerald informed his 285-pound lineman that he had other plans. Konopka was going to be a superback.
Konopka flourished in his new role during the preseason, and found himself on the field in the week one win over Boston College.
"We're going to reserve the right to play the best 11 guys on each play,” said Pat Fitzgerald. “Jack Konopka earned that through camp, he played with an attitude (last) Saturday.”
When Konopka moved to superback, he was poised to make an impact on offense, but had to adjust to the speed of college football—what he believes is the biggest difference from high school and college football.
Konopka was able to fine-tune his game while learning the speed of college football, something which he believes goes hand-in-hand.
“I had to focus on technique, technique, technique,” he said. “Footwork is key; where I place my eyes is key. It helps me know my assignments better so I can go out there and play fast.”
A few days into becoming a superback, Konopka wasn’t expecting an iatrical role in the offense. It was when Northwestern traveled to Camp Kenosha that he found out there were bigger plans for him.
“Coach Fitz sat me down and said he was looking for me to contribute this year,” said Konopka. “He said if I kept doing what I was doing, I would be out there playing.”
The move paid off. When the Wildcats took the field for their first game, there was the true freshman Konopka on the field.
“It was exhilarating,” Konopka said. “The crowd was loud and it was a really fun atmosphere to play a football game in.”
Prior to kickoff, Konopka made a major adjustment which helped him through the game.
“My adrenaline was going pretty good around kickoff, I had to take it down a second,” he said. “I had to focus on technique and what I’m supposed to do, and then just go out and play.”
Konopka’s experience as an offensive tackle helped him at superback. He was a force on the end of the offensive line, and delivered crucial blocks in the running game.
Pat Fitzgerald was pleased with the freshman’s performance in his first game.
“He didn't look like a freshman out there,” Fitzgerald said of Konopka’s play. “He got (Boston College LB Luke) Kuechly down a few times on some option plays, was physical at the point of attack.”
Konopka was satisfied with his first game, but—just as he did all through preseason practices—is looking to improve.
“I played ok for my first game,” Konopka said. “I expect a lot out of myself. I’ve been in the film room a lot trying to correct the little things.”