CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley said after finalizing his 2018 recruiting class this spring that his team needed to add depth at linebacker.
Duncan Ferch, a mainstay at inside linebacker the previous two seasons had graduated, and 2018 starter Chris Kolarevic’s return from a foot injury by the season-opener wasn’t a guarantee.
Farley and his staff accomplished their first goal by signing six linebackers in the 2018 recruiting class. Among those six signees was Iowa Central Community College transfer Spencer Cuvelier, who was an early enrollee that made an impression on linebackers coach D.J. Vokolek in the spring.
“... (Cuvelier’s) football IQ is very, very good,” Vokolek said. “I’ve been very impressed with how studious he is, how much he wants to learn the game.”
Cuvelier, who racked up 96 tackles, 22 tackles for loss and four sacks in his freshman season as a Triton, put himself in the mix as a starter after the spring. However, Farley and defensive coordinator Jeremiah Johnson’s defense has a reputation for a steep learning curve, something Cuvelier discussed with The Gazette earlier this month on media day.
“There’s a lot to learn and I’m (trying) to continue to learn as well,” Cuvelier said. “It was nice coming in (for) the spring because I was able to learn some defense and actually learn what the coaches wanted from me. So this fall (I’ve tried) to apply that more than I could in the spring and with watching film and stuff like that, it’s going well.”
With a 19th-year head coach who was a former middle linebacker for the Panthers, it’s easy to understand why fulfilling this particular role comes with different pressure than nearly any other position on the team. Cuvelier’s perspective, though, gives a glimpse into why Farley and his defensive staff have quickly grown confidence in the Cresco native.
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“I could always sharpen everything up, I’m happy, (but) never satisfied,” Cuvelier said. “(That’s) kind of the motto I go by.”
Cuvelier may not be satisfied with his grasp of the UNI defense just yet, but remarks by Farley just last week indicate a coach who’s confident in his new starter at middle linebacker.
“(Spencer) was probably the best addition to our team in the offseason,” Farley said. “Why I say that is, boy, he’s well-liked by his teammates, (has) a tremendous personality, has a presence and a likability about him and he has the work ethic and the talent to go with it. So, he’s really helped our linebacker group. We needed someone like that in our linebacker group and we found it in Spencer.”
Cuvelier and the Panthers open the season at 11 a.m. Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames against No. 24 Iowa State (Radio: 1650 KCNZ, TV: FS1).