The road to Michigan’s starting front five hasn’t been the easiest route for fifth year senior Patrick Kugler.
In fact, his journey is still incomplete.
Kugler, who has been a backup offensive lineman throughout his first four years at Michigan, is smack dab in the middle of the competition at starting center. While nothing is set in stone as of yet, he appears to be the front runner to nab the starting spot after a strong spring camp.
"I think it's just kind of a mindset. It's my last year, it's go big or go home. I've got to leave a legacy here at Michigan. I don't want to be known as the guy who came here five years and was a backup five straight years,” Kugler said, who made his first career start against Hawaii in 2016, appearing in five games. “I've got one more year to put my legacy down and hopefully I can do that starting here at the University of Michigan."
Kugler has a positive perspective, considering with the accolades he had coming to Michigan in 2013. He was, after all, the No. 1 center in the country, a five-star prospect, and was perceived to be the centerpiece of another dominant U-M offensive line.
But right when he arrived in Ann Arbor, Mich., he hurt his shoulder, sidelining his career. Then, well, he acknowledged he simply lost out to better players for playing time.
"I had the shoulder (injury) when I got here,” Kugler said. “There weren't too many injuries, there were just good players and I got beat out a couple times. That's the truth and that's the truth, I got beat out last year, the year before. It happens. You've got to fight through adversity and I'm hoping this fifth year I can really be a senior leader on this team and come out and hopefully start but I'll understand my role whatever it is. I expect to start like everyone else should."
Kugler is the first to admit it’s been a struggle to sit and wait for his opportunity. But he says he’s had help when he’s needed it. His father, Sean Kugler, has been constant voice in his ear. His father, of course, has over 25 years of coaching experience, and has been coaching at his alma matter UTEP since 2013, where he also played on offensive line himself in his playing days. But along with his dad, Kugler says his support hasn’t stopped there.
"I definitely leaned on my dad a lot (and) my brother,” Kugler said. “Coach (Tim) Drevno has helped me through this whole situation, and I've got a lot of good friends. So it's definitely been a struggle. But it's definitely a struggle I wouldn't change it for the world, I love Michigan and I've made memories here that I wouldn't forget."
Memories aside, Kugler’s has been focused with a business-like approach this spring. He’s learning passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton’s new offense. He’s also competing with another talented center, early enrolled freshman Ceser Ruiz, who like Kugler, comes to Michigan as the No. 1 ranked center in the country. So, there is a lot to take in as he gears towards hopefully solidifying himself in the front five, but he’s also trying to solidify the unit as whole too.
"It's a little bit of a different offense so it's just kind of getting that down. I mean, it really was just getting the whole line to work as a unit,” Kugler said. “Center, that's probably one of the main things I've got to do is get everybody on the right spot and we have a lot of guys that don't have a lot of experience including myself. It was just about getting everyone to be cohesive together and I think by the end of the spring we were a good offensive line unit.”
Michigan’s opening game against Florida on Sept. 2 in Dallas is roughly four months away. Kugler may or may not start in that game, but it’s not going to stop him from preparing this off-season as one of the leaders of U-M’s relatively young offensive line.
"This off-season is a very big off-season. We're a very young group besides me and Mason (Cole). To be the only two seniors on the offensive line, so it's just about getting the group together,” Kugler said. “Lots of people are studying abroad so it's just about getting them in shape and attack this summer unlike we ever have because we're going to be a very young group and we've got to just come out and be the heart of this offense."
And maybe when it’s all said and done this fall, Kugler will be front and center.