Senior Aaron Nielsen has been FIU’s utility player, getting moved around as needed like a coin being used as a lost board game piece replacement.
Nielsen came to FIU as a defensive lineman and immediately was moved to the offensive line. He saw time at tackle and tight end, then started 22 consecutive games at right tackle. Now, he’s FIU’s center, a position the 6-4, 290-pound fifth-year senior hasn’t played before.
That’s where Nielsen is needed after Donald Senat, now an FIU graduate student, ran out of eligibility.
“We needed a guy in there who was a student of the game and really understands the scheme because, obviously, that position kind of directs the whole deal [on the line],” FIU offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler said. “He was the guy who we felt like mentally could do it.”
A shortage of tackles, and offensive linemen overall in 2013, prompted FIU to install Nielsen at right tackle.
“We had to play him at a position he probably wasn’t built for. He’s a great kid, worked hard and fought the fight, but moving him to center is much better for him,” Shankweiler said. “He should have a greater chance for success. Not that he was bad at tackle, but let’s get the kids in the right positions that their bodies are made for. With a couple of the younger kids we recruited and kids growing, getting stronger, that gave us the leeway to move him in there.”
In addition to playing tight end in high school and showing well at various camps, Nielsen pitched for the Orlando Freedom High baseball team. Shankweiler says you usually see such multisport athletes with better ball-handling skills.
Still, he figures Nielsen’s biggest adjustment will be physical rather than mental.
“When you look at our defense, for example, we’ve got 300-pound nose guards. And they line up offsides every play,” he said. “That’s just what defenses do. As a center, there’s no neutral zone. It’s not like you can get a running start like a guard can. So the physical presence of having to hold in there is probably going to be the biggest challenge he has. But we do enough things to help him with double teams and stuff like that, that he’s been productive so far.”