The time has come for Nevada quarterback Carson Strong.
In a matter of two weeks, the redshirt freshman rose to the top of the Wolf Pack quarterback depth chart. He beat out former Florida State Seminole Malik Henry after fifth-year senior Cristian Solano broke his throwing hand in practice. Strong’s impressive training camp opened some eyes.
Strong is anxious to make the most of his opportunity. A chance he’s anxiously waited for since his first action on the field last season against Portland State. (He did not play enough to burn a season of eligibility.)
“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 are high, but head coach Jay Norvell and offensive coordinator Matt Mumme have instilled faith in the young signal caller. Nevada was the only school to offer Strong a scholarship in 2017 during his tenure at Wood High School in Vacaville, California.
That same trust in Strong segued to this season. He was right in the three-man mix for the starting gig under center. Solano and Henry caught most of the spotlight, but Strong made quite the first impression with the rest of the starters on offense.
Strong is looking to repay the favor when the Pack kickoff the season against the Purdue Boilermakers at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 30 at Mackay Stadium. He is the first Nevada freshman to start a season opener since Mo Jones did so in 1998.
“My coaches believe in me and it’s given me some confidence running this offense,” he said. “They’ve put so much faith in me and I want to show them by helping lead this team to where we want to be.”
Strong has the tools to take the reigns of Nevada’s offense. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound gunslinger has a quick release and goes through his progressions. On occasion, he’ll make opposing linebackers bite on a quick head fake. When the pocket collapses, he can step up to avoid the rush while keeping his eyes downfield for an accurate strike.
“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.”
Junior tight end Reagan Roberson has been impressed by Strong’s motivation for improvement.
“He’s done well for sure,” he 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 confidence isn’t limited to the field. It bleeds throughout the locker room. He sits next to senior linebacker and team captain Lucas Weber, who said he’s quickly turned into a vocal leader for a young Wolf Pack squad.
“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.”
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 can provide some spark to help lean on the run game.
Strong has the arsenal to make the Wolf Pack one of the more potent offensive 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 strapped on the cleats full-time, Strong used his bulky frame on the basketball court. He averaged 18.1 points, and 12.8 rebounds per game and recorded 21 double-doubles in his junior year for the Wildcats.
On the gridiron, Strong threw for 2,732 yards and 26 touchdowns as a junior. An OCD lesion in his knee — which required surgery — kept him out of both sports for his senior year. Despite the injury, he graduated high school early to shift his focus on a collegiate football appearance.
“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.”
Strong was a three-star recruit, but the offers didn’t come. That was, until Nevada offered him a scholarship on the spot when he stopped by Reno for a campus visit.
He immediately blended into the culture coach Norvell has built over the past two seasons. In his redshirt season, Nevada had its first 8-win season since joining the Mountain West and topped it off with a 16-13 Arizona Bowl victory over the Arkansas State Red Wolves.
“I didn’t get too many offers coming out, but I felt at home here from day one,” he said. “I loved the coaching staff, the atmosphere. They had a 3-9 season when I showed up, but I wanted to be apart of this culture. I knew we could be something special, we proved it last year.”
Norvell has kept the decision for who starts Week One under center under wraps for the most part. But no matter who the coaching staff chose, he was looking to see who wanted the starting quarterback job the most .
“We have a great group of guys who are all hungry for a spot,” Norvell said earlier this season. “But the one thing we value is commitment. We want to build a program that’s committed and desired to win.”
Now that Strong has control of the offense, he’s driven to show Nevada made the right choice.
“I’m just going to do whatever I can to win games,” Strong said. “That’s the only thing that matters to me.”
— Isaiah Burrows
- Nevada vs. Purdue
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30
Where: Mackay Stadium, Reno