Engstrom, Garrison off to fast starts for Pack | NevadaAppeal.com

Engstrom, Garrison off to fast starts for Pack

RENO – Graduation and injury decimated the University of Nevada’s linebacking corps.

Starters Daryl Towns and Carl LaGrone used up their eligibility, and junior Logan Carter left the team because of back and hip problems. All three were exceptional players, and Carter was being counted on to anchor this year’s defense.

Their departures turned the reins over to a young group of 11 linebackers led by senior Shaun Tagatauli, who is surrounded by two juniors, a sophomore, six redshirt freshmen and one true freshman. It’s a young group, which is improving every day according to Ken Wilson, the Wolf Pack’s assistant head coach.

Two of those younger players – redshirt freshman Jeremy Engstrom (6-1, 230) and redshirt sophomore Scott Garrison (5-11, 225) – have been especially pleasant surprises thus far.

Engstrom, who has started both games ahead of fellow redshirt freshman Nick Fuhr, leads the team in tackles with 12.

“It’s been great. Things are going well,” Engstrom said before Tuesday’s practice in preparation for Saturday’s game (6:05 p.m.) against winless Buffalo. “It’s early in the season, but I’m happy because things are starting to take shape.

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“I’m always chasing that perfect game. I’m happy (with my play) at this point, but not even close to being satisfied. Even a strong performance can always use some improvement.”

That’s a mature statement from somebody that just reached adulthood only two short years ago.

“It definitely starts with your parents,” he said. “I had two older brothers that always played sports, and that’s the way I started. When I first started doing sports, I did it for fun. I started taking it seriously in eighth grade. Because I started when I was 13 or 14. It’s hard to stray from that thinking (of the perfect game).

“At the end of every day, I’ll shut my door at home and try to take 20 or 30 minutes to have to myself. I think about how the day went; what went right and what went wrong.”

It’s what drives Engstrom to be better. He loves to be out there playing, and right now he’s in heaven. He hated working out and then not playing on Saturdays his first year at Nevada.

“I expected to redshirt, and I wanted to redshirt” he said. “It was one of the toughest things I had to do; sitting out and not being in the game-type atmosphere. This year, if I don’t feel much like practicing, I tell myself that it’s game time less than a week away. All the hard work I did (last year) is paying off.”

Engstrom has done well despite not being your prototypical linebacker in terms of height and weight. He more than makes up for it in other areas.

“In high school I was heavier (240) than I am now,” said the former Golden West High star. “In college, it’s not all about size. You have to be able to move. When I see the play, I read the play, take off and make the play.

“Nick (Fuhr) has a little more size. It’s easier for him to sit back and take on an offensive lineman. Weight hasn’t been a problem, it’s been an advantage.”

Wilson agreed.

“He’s not the biggest guy, but in terms of strength and athleticism, he’s right up there,” Wilson said. “Jeremy has played a little better than Nick. Both are going to be good players. Jeremy is a little more athletic; a little quicker.”

Like Engstrom, Garrison may be a bit undersized, but he more than makes up for it with his athleticism and aggressiveness. Currently, he shares time with junior Jamaal Jackson, a converted running back.

“I am a little bit (undersized),” said Garrison, who has eight tackles in two games. “Most of the big schools like you to be 6-2 or 6-3 and weigh 230 or 240. It should be who is able to get to the ball and fill the gap.”

After playing mostly special teams last year, Garrison has opened the eyes of Wilson.

“Of all my guys, Scott is playing better than I would have anticipated,” Wilson said. “He and Jamaal (Jackson) are splitting time, and they are very similar players. Scott runs a little better than Jamaal.

“He’s a hard-working guy. He gives you great effort. Right now, Scott is playing with better effort than Jamaal. He has made the most of his opportunities.”

Garrison, who redshirted his first year and played mainly special teams last year, had two stops last week in the 59-7 win over Sacramento State, including a sack. Against Louisiana Tech, he had three tackles.

With Nevada up 14-0 on Sac State, Garrison and P.J. Hoeper spilled the Hornets’ Tyronne Gross for a 2-yard loss on a third-and-1 play, forcing the Hornets to punt. Late in the first half, he spilled Gross behind the line for a short loss. The Hornets went on to punt, and the Wolf Pack scored with nine seconds left to take a 28-0 lead.

“I’m right where I expected to be,” said Garrison, an all-state defender from San Luis Obispo High. “I didn’t expect to start. Coach Wilson likes to play a lot of guys. He does that because if the first-string guy gets hurt he doesn’t want to have somebody in there that hasn’t played a down all year.

“I’m sure eventually one of us will start. Jamaal played a lot more the first game than I did, but it was about equal last week. I don’t feel pressure (right now) if I do bad that I’m not going to play the next week.”

As long as Garrison produces, there will be plenty of next weeks.

Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1281.

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