Michigan has a nose for finding dominant, physical, veteran centers in the NCAA transfer portal.
It started with Olusegun Oluwatimi last season, the transfer center from the University of Virginia who won the Rimington and Outland Trophy with the Wolverines in 2022. He was then drafted in the fifth round of the 2023 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks.
Now, it’s Stanford transfer Drake Nugent.
Nugent, similar to Oluwatimi, dominated at his previous program, starting all 12 games for the Cardinal in 2021 and 2022. He was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention by the league’s coaches as a junior and senior, and only gave up four sacks in each of those seasons.
Going from one of the top academic schools in the country to another is already impressive, but gaining a brand new team’s trust, learning an entirely new playbook, and going from one of the leaders to the new guy in the locker room is a giant feat in itself.
For Nugent, however, the transition was not only smooth, but it sparked his love for football again. Last season, Stanford went 3-9 overall and 1-8 in Pac-12 play. That cannot be fun for any player, especially a captain and a competitor with a winning mindset.
“Honestly, it’s kind of refreshing (coming to a new program),” Nugent told the media Tuesday night. “At Stanford, we didn’t really win very many games there. And I love those guys there. I mean, I was I was captain last year, which was great. But, I just feel personally I needed a new change, just to spark my love for football again.”
Obviously, coming to a program such as Michigan, the standard for winning is higher. With that standard, though, comes responsibility.
“Not to say I didn’t love it last year, but (coming to Michigan), it just gives me no excuse,” he said. “I come in with competition (and) I gotta be on my stuff every day. Whereas at Stanford, you can give yourself that excuse. Even though I would like to say I didn’t, it’s there.”
It’s no secret head coach Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan coaching staff hold their players to a very high standard, and players like Nugent are very aware of that.
“Of course it brings pressure and it’s not just ours but it’s the whole community, the fan base, everyone expects to win games,” Nugent said. “That’s also a good thing. As I’ve always said, ‘Pressure is a privilege.’ When people (have expectations) of you, it’s a good thing. Who wants to have someone expect bad things from them? You never want that. So it’s a privilege to be able to come into a place that’s already expecting to win a lot of games, and I can see myself adding to that.”
Nugent has a lot of high expectations for this season. With Michigan aiming for the National Championship, filling the shoes of an NFL draft pick and competing against Greg Crippen for the starting job at center, the pressure is never off. Nonetheless, Nugent has led a locker room before. While he isn’t going to carry the same leadership as he did last season, his veteran presence doesn’t go unnoticed.
“Toughness, grit, hard worker, he’s able to do everything,” defensive lineman Rayshaun Benny said Tuesday night.
Crippen added: “We’re both very competitive people. And we’re both great players. And we’re both going out there to try to be as best you can every day.”
Nugent may be the new guy in the locker room, but he has already gained the respect of his teammates and coaching staff. With a winning team around him and his newfound love for football, the sky is the limit for the grad transfer.