BEATRICE — Five days before the start of the 2022 NFL Draft, Beth Jurgens flashes a smile as she navigates through a steady line that has formed for the big guy at the table set up near the back of Uhl’s Sporting Goods.
“It’s like a family reunion,” she muses.
That’s certainly the feel on Fifth Street as familiar faces stop by to see her son, Cameron, one last time before he becomes only the second Beatrice native in recent memory to hear his name called in the draft and, just maybe, the highest-picked Nebraska football alum in more than a decade.
Cam’s grandmother sits behind the counter for the duration. His great-uncle and great-aunt stop by, too. His brother Colby and his wife hang out for a while. But the family Beth Jurgens is referring to extends well past blood to former coaches and teammates, decadeslong friends and, well, pretty much anybody else that stops into the store over two hours on a windy Saturday morning.
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The stated reason Cam Jurgens is here is to sign autographs and donate the proceeds to TeamMates Mentoring and the Beatrice Orange Booster Club, but this is really, in a way, the pre-draft party before the pre-draft party.
Some of the folks have strong opinions on where they hope Jurgens lands. Some don’t know how the draft works at all, when it starts or how long it lasts — the first round is Thursday night, Jurgens is likely to hear his name somewhere in rounds two and three on Friday, and then the final four rounds conclude Saturday.
Everybody, though, knows about Cam.
“All the talent he’s got, it’s still about the person he is. Not the athlete he is,” says Bryan Cook, the longtime radio broadcaster and current teacher at Beatrice Middle School who has known Jurgens essentially his entire life. “It’s all from his mom and his dad and his family. …
“There’s a kid I teach that’s struggling with academics, but I said, ‘You know what? If you overcome that, you can be the next Cam Jurgens.’ I’m using Cam for my help in middle school to help this kid keep going — I work with behavior students — and I use Cam as an example for kids growing up to be like him. It means the world and Cam doesn’t even know he’s helping this kid out.”
Reed and his wife ended up lingering around the shop for about 30 minutes, making conversation with everyone they knew, which, not surprisingly, was just about everyone.
Jurgens, of course, was a four-star prospect out of Beatrice High and signed with the Huskers in 2018, coach Scott Frost’s first recruiting class, as a nationally coveted tight end. He even appeared in a game wearing No. 44 in 2018.
Then came the big change. Frost thought Jurgens would make an explosive, talented center. He, according to former NU offensive line coach Greg Austin, invoked Dave Rimington’s name when pitching Jurgens’ potential in the middle.
As Husker fans well know, the transition did not happen that smoothly. Jurgens dealt with a serious foot/ankle injury in high school and suffered more foot problems as he put on weight rapidly. His power and athleticism showed through immediately, but mastering the shotgun snap proved difficult and it cost Nebraska dearly at times in both 2019 and 2020.
“When Cam was playing at Nebraska, I’d always miss the ballgame because I was always watching him,” his great-uncle, Richard Friedrichsen, said at the front of the shop as he and his wife, Marlene, prepared to drive back the two hours to Clarks with a couple of signed footballs in tow. “… I really thought with his size and speed they’d make a defensive end out of him.”
It all pretty much clicked for Jurgens this fall at center, though. He surged into a clear leadership role up front. He became easily the most reliable member of the Husker front line. He blocked an Oklahoma linebacker into oblivion on Sept. 17 in Norman, drawing a flag but making a statement at the same time. He occasionally snapped the ball and then pulled to the edge of the pocket to help the Huskers’ struggling tackles in pass protection.
He caught the NFL’s attention, too.
Jurgens declared for the draft not long after the season ended and, when he did, some onlookers wondered if he was making a good decision. Now, though? The general consensus among draft analysts is that he’s the second-best center available behind Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.92 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine in March and suddenly he had more draft profile than ever, at least in the public eye.
“I think it’s been really cool. It’s been fun talking to teams because they see the tape and they get to see what kind of player you are and then they talk to you and see what kind of person you are and you’ve just got to be authentic,” said Jurgens, who added that he believed in his pro potential as a lineman from the day he made the switch, joking that there aren’t many 6-3 tight ends in the NFL. “… It’s funny how people are like, ‘Oh, he’s a big riser in the draft. His draft stock has really improved.’ Nothing’s really changed from the end of the year. It’s the same tape, I’m the same person I was at the end of the year, you know, it’s just teams getting to take a deeper dive.”
The 304-pounder drew rave reviews not just for his impressive physical tools, but also for the fact that he has his own homemade beef jerky and a catchy brand in “Beef Jurgy.”
In fact, the NFL Network marveled at the product during the combine. Jurgens said afterward his phone was swamped with messages, but that wasn’t even the coolest part.
“Our Shopify from the beef jerky sales, I was like, ‘Dang! It must have been good on social media,’” Jurgens said with a laugh.
The Beef Jurgy apparel is not only popular online — Jurgens said they’ve sold shirts in 40-plus states, Denmark and several other countries — and at Uhl’s on this Saturday it’s actually all made in the store here, too.
When athletes were first able to profit off of their name, image and likeness on July 1 last summer, Beth decided she’d fill shirt orders by making them on a Cricut machine. That lasted less than two weeks, the way she remembers it.
“I fired myself,” Beth said after she found herself getting done with work and then making shirts until 11 p.m. “I was like, ‘I am not doing this.’”
“They came in and asked if we could help them out,” said Phil Dittbrenner, who bought Uhl’s in March of 2021 with his wife, Karen, and kept the name of the store that’s been open since the 1950s. “It just went from there. …
“It’s all outstanding to see a local kid do this well. He’s worked hard his entire life for this, so it’s good to see it come to this point.”
After the morning at Uhl’s, Beth and Cam headed to Las Vegas for a multiday pre-draft event held by the NFLPA. Upon returning to Beatrice, they’re set to have a draft party at the house complete with food from Colby and Wendy’s food truck, C&W Rollin’ Smoke. On the menu: wings and a nacho bar. Cam’s request. It’s just the start of a big summer for the Jurgenses. In June, Cam’s sister is getting married in Iowa. By then, he’ll be headlong into OTAs and headed toward preseason camp as a rookie in the NFL.
Where will that be? He’ll know in a few days. But regardless of if he ends up playing in Miami or Seattle or New England or Los Angeles, every trip back here will feel like a family reunion.
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