Nevada redshirt freshman quarterback Carson Strong lives up to his last name.
It’s not just his powerful arm that can thread the needle from nearly 50 yards out on the field. It’s his mental toughness to stay optimistic after he didn’t receive any collegiate offers during his senior year at Wood High School in Vacaville, California.
Nevada jumped on the opportunity and offered Strong a scholarship during a campus visit in 2017. Two years later, Strong is the center of attention for the Wolf Pack heading into the 2019-20 season.
The redshirt freshman has claimed the starting quarterback position, beating out former Florida State product Malik Henry after fifth-year senior Cristian Solano broke his throwing hand in practice.
Strong is prepared to make the most of this opportunity. His last appearance on the field was against Portland State on Aug. 31 of last season before redshirting.
“I’ve been ready since I first stepped on this field,” he said. “I’ve put together a solid camp and I want to prove to myself and my teammates of what I’m capable of doing on Saturdays.”
Expectations have been mounted on his shoulders, but there are high hopes surrounding the young signal-caller. Strong has impressed fellow teammates and coaches during spring practices and training camp, including junior tight end Reagan Roberson.
“He’s done well for sure,” Roberson said. “You can tell he really wants to get better at what it takes to play at one of the highest levels. It’s starting to click for him, he’ll make those necessary adjustments and that’s important.”
Strong’s eagerness and confidence oozes through the locker room. His locker is next to senior linebacker Lucas Weber, who said he’s turned into a vocal leader for the Pack.
“I really enjoy this swagger and confidence about him,” Weber said. “I didn’t know he was like that, but he has this showiness about him. It’s nothing cocky, it’s just confidence. As a young kid, he really rallies around the guys… He isn’t afraid to step up and take that vocal role.”
Strong has all the tools under center to be successful. At 6-foot-4, he has a quick release and goes through his progressions. He can make opposing linebackers bite on a quick pump fake. When the pocket collapses, he can step up to avoid the rush while keeping his eyes downfield for an accurate strike.
Those same attributes were put on display during Nevada’s Silver and Blue spring game this past April. He threw for 195 yards and led the offense to the endzone twice.
“I try to work at putting the ball where it needs to be,” he said. “It’s something I practice each and every day. I’ve been in the film room with Coach Norvell and Coach Mumme and it’s helped me read the defense. Quarterback is a mental thing just as much as it is physical, so I’m trying to put it all together.”
Nevada’s explosive supporting cast could help ease the load on Strong. Wide receivers Kaleb Fossum, Elijah Cooks and Romeo Doubs combined for 135 catches for 1,644 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
In the backfield, he’s joined by reigning Mountain West Freshman of the Year Toa Taua. Devonte Lee, Kelton Moore and Jaxon Kincaide round out the backfield, providing some sparks to help lean on the run game.
The offensive line is anchored by senior left tackle Jake Nelson and right guard Nate Brown to keep him upright throughout the year. Strong has the arsenal around him to make the Wolf Pack one of the more potent teams in the Mountain West Conference.
“We have so many weapons on this team, it’s unreal,” he said. “All I have to do is distribute the ball and let my playmakers make plays, I have a real easy job. The offensive line has been great and I’ve really formed a rapport with the guys.”
Before he stepped foot on the gridiron, Strong used his bulky frame on the basketball court. He averaged 18.1 points and 12.8 rebounds per game while in high school. Additionally, he recorded 21 double-doubles in his junior year for the Wood High School Wildcats.
On the field, Strong passed for 2,732 yards and 26 touchdowns to just four interceptions as a junior. He suffered Osteochondritis Dissceans — a cartilage and bone lesion injury in the knee — during his senior year that kept him out of both sports.
Despite the injury, Strong graduated high school early to shift his focus toward a college football debut.
“I loved both sports so much,” he said. “But it all came down to colleges and their interest in me. So football was an easy choice from that standpoint.”
Even as a three-star recruit, Strong didn’t receive any offers until Nevada came into the picture. The young gun has bought into the program head coach Jay Norvell has built over the past two seasons.
“I didn’t get too many offers coming out, but I felt at home here from day one,” Strong said. “I loved the coaching staff, the atmosphere. They had a 3-9 season when I showed up, but I wanted to be a part of this culture. I knew we could be something special, we proved it last year.”
Now that Strong holds the reins to the offense, he’s driven to prove Nevada made the right choice under center. Strong and the Pack kick off the season against Purdue on Aug. 30 at Mackay Stadium.
Strong will be the first freshman to start a season opener for Nevada since Mo Jones did it in 1998 against Oregon State.
“I’m just going to do whatever I can to win games,” he said. “That’s the only thing that matters to me.”
Isaiah Burrows can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.