Nevada Sports Net columnist Chris Murray is known to be a bit wordy, so we're giving him 1,000 words (but no more than that) to share his thoughts from the week that was in the world of sports.
* THE NEVADA FOOTBALL TEAM hasn’t announced a starting quarterback for its season opener against Purdue yet – that is expected to come over the weekend following Nevada’s final scrimmage Friday – but it would take something wild for that player not to be redshirt freshman Carson Strong, who has been working with the first string since Cristian Solano broke his hand in the first week of practice. Since Strong is a young pup not many know a lot about, here are 11 interesting facts about the Wolf Pack’s new leading man.
* MJD BOOSTED HIS CAREER: Former NFL running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who played in the league from 2006-14, was one of the first people to believe in Strong. On a whim, Strong went to the Bay Area to try out for Jones-Drew’s seven-on-seven team and actually made the roster. Strong was an unrated player who had just finished his junior season of football and had zero scholarship offers. But Jones-Drew’s belief in Strong helped him elevate into an FBS-level quarterback. “He was the first guy to tell me I had potential to go D-I and since he was a former NFL player it gave me a lot of confidence,” Strong said. They remain friends.
* NEVADA WAS LONE OFFER: Despite being ranked a three-star recruit by Scout at the time of his commitment to the Wolf Pack, Nevada was the only school to offer him a scholarship, and he quickly gobbled it up. Strong pledged to the Wolf Pack in June 2017 at the end of his junior school year and canceled all his camps, which limited other programs from seeing him on the recruiting circuit, which benefited Nevada in the long run.
* HIS RECRUITERS HAVE LEFT: Nevada’s recruitment of Strong wasn’t a long and drawn-out process. The Wolf Pack started recruiting him about six weeks before he committed. His lead recruiter was Jason Kaufusi, the Wolf Pack’s former defensive line coach who took a job at UCLA this offseason. Mason Miller, an offensive line coach who has since left for Washington State, visited Strong's high school campus in Vacaville, Calif., and watched him throw. Shortly after, Strong was playing in a basketball tournament in Reno when he visited Nevada's campus and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Matt Mumme showed him around and offered him a scholarship on the spot.
* HE WAS GOOD IN HOOPS, TOO: Strong, who is 6-foot-4, also was an excellent basketball player for Will C. Wood High, a school known more for its hoops than football. As a junior, Strong averaged 18.1 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game and tallied 21 double-doubles while learning a lot of leadership skills that still serve him well today. His family thought Strong’s future might have been in basketball. “I liked them both equally,” Strong said of the two sports. “People asked me which one I would have chosen. I didn’t have to choose because football chose me. That’s where I had interest.”
* HE MISSED HIS SENIOR SEASON: Strong didn’t play either sport as a senior as it was discovered he had a OCD lesion in the back of his knee that required surgery. The cartilage in one knee was only 20 to 30 percent attached, so screws were put in place to firm up that situation. He had limited mobility for the next 8 months and had to sit on the sideline for the football and basketball seasons. It might have been a blessing in disguise as Strong was able to join Nevada a semester early in January 2018, which wouldn’t have been the case without the surgery as he wanted to play his senior season of basketball. As a result, Strong is the longest-tenured of Nevada’s four healthy quarterbacks right now despite his youth.
* HISTORY IN THE MAKING: If Strong starts against Purdue, and barring injury that will be the case, he will be the first freshman to start at quarterback in a season opener since Mo Jones did so at Oregon State in 1998. That one didn’t go so well. The Wolf Pack lost, 48-6, while Jones completed 13-of-26 passes for 140 yards before being pulled in the second half. Jones was switched to wide receiver for the team’s next game. My guess is Strong won’t be a receiver for Nevada's second game of the season (at Oregon).
* SPEAKING OF OREGON: Strong made his father paint his room in Oregon Ducks colors and hang the team’s logo when he was in elementary school. Carson attended the Ducks' Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin in 2011, which was the last season Nevada played at Oregon. The Wolf Pack will return to Oregon to play the Ducks in its second game of this year, a stadium Strong grew up wanting to play in – until he learned one thing. “I was a big Oregon fan until I realized you had to be fast to play for them,” Strong joked. Oregon and Cal were his dream schools.
* THE FAMILY NAME: Both of his parents are named, Chris. Good name! (Technically, his mom goes by Kris). As for the younger Strong's first name, Carson can't be more Nevada since it's the state capital.
* HE’S EMOTIONAL: Despite being a freshman, he’s a vocal leader, not afraid to pump up the team before the game and during touchdown celebrations or to scold receivers if they run the wrong route or aren’t fully focused. That emotion is a good thing, his coaches and teammates said, but it’s something Nevada has tried to work on when things aren’t going well. “When I first came in here, I was probably just a little too hard on myself,” Strong said. “I would get really frustrated when I wasn’t going too good. You just need to play the next play.”
* A STRONG WORK ETHIC: Strong knew he was going to redshirt last season, but that didn’t keep him from putting in the work. Coaches recalled Strong taking a handful of footballs from Nevada’s locker room on a frigid February night prior to the start of last year and going to the practice field where he spread out some tackling dummies across the field and used them as targets. The coaches laughed at the scene and then turned the lights on for him. Work ethic is not an issue.
* HE’S A RAIDERS FAN: Strong's first memory of football was playing catch with him dad in the backyard as they waited for Raiders games to start. “I was a born-and-raised Raider fan, diehard until the day I die,” he said. He hasn’t had much to root for, however. The Raiders reached the Super Bowl when he was in diapers but have made the playoffs just once in the last 16 years. Strong predicts that will change this season. “We’re going to go 10-6 and get a wild card,” he predicted of the 2019 season with a smile.
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.