Sometimes, quarterback dreams die hard. And then there’s the case of Josh Kern.
Kern, a quarterback for his entire football life, didn’t sprint for the transfer papers when the Arizona coaches told him after last season they would like him to stop throwing passes and start catching them.
“I came here to play football, not quarterback,” Kern said after Friday morning’s workout. “It’s not really that big of a deal.”
Kern just completed his first week of practice as a tight end for the Wildcats, doing so with a smile.
“I’m finally getting to play some football,” he said.
“It’s physical. Playing quarterback, I didn’t get hit that much. I was joking around the other day, the last time I got tackled was my last high school game.”
Kern was recruited to Arizona to play in the passing spread offense run by former head coach Mike Stoops, and he didn’t de-commit when coach Rich Rodriguez arrived in Tucson with his read-option playbook. Kern ran for 750 yards as a senior at San Antonio Clark High School but didn’t fit the usual profile of a Rodriguez quarterback.
He and classmate Javelle Allen redshirted last season, but Allen was a bit further along and got to stay in a more-crowded quarterback competition this spring while Kern switched jobs.
“I was pretty excited,” Kern said of his reaction to the position switch. “In high school, I always wanted to play some receiver or something like that. Now, that I’m taller and trying to gain some weight, it kind of makes sense.”
Adding weight to his 6-5 frame is the first order of business. He ended last year at a little less than 200 pounds, but he says he’s up to 210 and is looking for another 15 to 20 pounds by the start of the season.
“I’ve already picked up a bunch of protein and am trying to drink a couple of shakes a day, stuff like that. Just keep eating,” he said.
“Because I’m a little underweight, some of the physical stuff is hard, but I’m trying my hardest.”
Rodriguez has noticed.
“He needs to gain some more weight, but he’s a tough guy. He’s competitive. He’s athletic,” Rodriguez said. “I think it’s a really, really good move for us and for Josh.”
Perhaps this experiment will work out as it did about a decade ago at Arizona, when Steve Fleming was moved from quarterback early in his career and became a starting, and productive, tight end.
“It’s been a little hectic,” Kern said. “But it was good being a quarterback because I knew what a tight end would do. It’s the blocking techniques that are new.”
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Arizona held an abbreviated practice Friday morning, focusing on footwork and “more fundamental things,” Rodriguez said. The early practice allowed the players to start the university’s spring break after attending classes later in the day.
The team is set to resume spring ball on Wednesday, March 20, according to a schedule distributed to the media, although Rodriguez said they could pick up again on March 18.
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The coaches will have time off during spring break, but Rodriguez said some will stick around because there will be recruits and walk-on candidates making unofficial visits to campus.
He said he’s hoping to get away to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 basketball tournament, which runs Wednesday through Saturday.
“I love college basketball and I love watching our team play,” he said.