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Position change starting to benefit Christian Jegen and UNI defense

After battling injuries, former receiver now starting at safety

Northern Iowa safety Christian Jegen pushes running back Alphonso Soko out of bounds in the 2017 UNI spring game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. Jegen got his first career start at safety last week against South Dakota. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Northern Iowa safety Christian Jegen pushes running back Alphonso Soko out of bounds in the 2017 UNI spring game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. Jegen got his first career start at safety last week against South Dakota. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — Mark Farley continued to tinker with personnel in last week’s 42-28 win over South Dakota. The 18th-year UNI head football coach said Monday that injuries played a role in the changes, but was clear in his praise of Christian Jegen, who received his first career start at safety.

“We gave Christian Jegen the player of the game,” Farley said. “It worked out well this past weekend.”

Jegen, a junior from Shawnee, Kan., spent his first two seasons at UNI producing as a slot receiver and running back. His switch to defense wasn’t a grasping-at-straws move or something that the junior wasn’t expecting. In fact, Jegen was the one who initiated the idea shortly after the end of last season.

“Even when we recruited him that was the hope that he’d be able to (move to defense),” Farley said. “When he saw the opening in the secondary, I think he was excited to take it this summer and he played some safety when he was in high school. Everybody recruited him as a running back/receiver, but I was actually looking at him long-term as a safety. He was the one that decided that was the move that he wanted to make and when the player makes the decision it usually comes out to be a good decision.”

Jegen quickly ascended to first-team safety in the spring. He entered fall camp in the same position atop the depth chart, but injuries kept him from making his debut at the position until last week’s win over South Dakota.

“These injuries they stink,” Jegen said. “Each time I felt like I’m about to get my chance again, then I got reinjured. Just nagging injuries. I’ve never been injured this much in my career so that was hard for me. Then being able to go out there this past weekend and play the way I did was very rewarding for myself.”

After taking hits his first two years as a Panther, Jegen says it’s nice to now be able to deliver them instead.

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Farley’s defense is known for its intricacies but Jegen quickly established himself with the coaching staff as a quick study, earning the opportunity to play right away as a true freshman on offense. Once again, Jegen has been able to quickly ascend the depth chart since starting fresh at safety in the spring, but he acknowledges there’s still a lot for him to improve upon.

“I feel a lot more confident (at safety) than I did (during) spring ball,” Jegen said. “(But) there’s some plays I could have made on the ball that I felt I didn’t do a very good job at. I’ve still got to make sure I’m good at tackling because I kind of struggled with that early making the jump from offense to defense. I think I can improve in those two areas.”

Jegen and the Panthers (3-3, 2-1) host No. 3 South Dakota State (4-1, 2-1) Saturday at 4 p.m. (ESPN+). Saturday’s meeting is the first since the Jackrabbits ended UNI’s 2017 season, 37-22 in the FCS quarterfinals.

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