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September 25, 2013BOULDER, Colo. - Connor Center had no expectations of playing for the Buffaloes as a true freshman. He simply wanted to learn how to play football this fall.
It is easy to see why Miami, Syracuse and Missouri were also trying to sign him. The former prep baseball star from Clifton Park, N.Y., has the size (6-foot-7, 240-pounds) and raw physical ability to be an impact tight end at the college level. It is the experience part he is lacking.
Playing in the AABC Mickey Mantle League the summer prior to his senior year of high school, Center pitched 35 2/3 innings and went 7-0 without giving up a run. A right-hander with a nasty curveball, he threw two no-hitters.
But Center never played a down of high school football. So while CU's other true freshmen are adjusting to the increased speed from high school to college, he is simply learning how to practice. He is 42 practices in, and now knows the difference between a drag route and a stick route.
"The recruiting process was a nice feeling but fall camp was a big wake up call for me," Center said. "Everything being thrown at me was new. I am still learning literally every time I come out here. It has been a really huge transition.
"It has been really hard at times but each day I get a little bit better. Each day I learn a little bit more so it is getting a little bit easier. I am going to keep pushing. It has been hard but it has been worth it. I just have to remind myself to be a football player; be aggressive and use your athletic skills."
Center admits he does not have any real strengths as a tight end at this infant stage of his football career. He knows what he is supposed to do now, though. At least most of the time.
"That was the first step, a big step," he said. "But I am not even close to satisfied with my run blocking or pass catching right now, or really any part of being a tight end yet. Fortunately these are great coaches here that are all willing to work with me and push me."
There is a chance Center could grow into an offensive tackle down the road. But it is not a move that would happen anytime soon or that he has discussed with the staff since arriving at CU.
"Where I am at right now, I just need to learn every day and continue to get stronger, gain weight and just work on the little things," he said. "Anything that I can do to help the team is what I am going to do. Right now it is helping the team on scout team and I want to build myself for the team for the future, whether that is as a tight end or as an offensive lineman."
As Center suffers through growing pains, he often thinks about his departed best friend Chris, who encouraged him to play football before passing away in a car accident.
"I stay in contact with his mom a lot and his family and a lot of people back home and just use him as motivation for me," Center said. "We had a great relationship and I know that he would be so happy that I am here playing football."