Penn State fans didn’t expect Hunter Nourzad to start at left guard Saturday at Michigan.
Neither did Penn State’s coaching staff. Or the man himself, for that matter.
But regular starter Landon Tengwall hurt himself during warmups and the fifth-year who transferred from Cornell before the season started in the Big House.
So Nourzad got the start and told reporters via Zoom Tuesday that he felt ready.
“I was very prepared going into the game,” Nourzad said. “I think every single offensive lineman that traveled was just as prepared as I was. The coaches really put emphasis on that because, at all times, you’re kind of just one play away from going in there and playing. So, I was fine. I felt prepared when they told me what the deal was.”
Nourzad played 49 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, which is his highest total of the season and, thus, his Penn State career.
Nourzad didn’t play in Penn State’s home games against Central Michigan or Northwestern as he was dealing with an injury.
In his previous two appearances, in the home opener against Ohio and at Auburn, Nourzad combined to play just 33 snaps.
Three days before Penn State’s season opener at Purdue, Franklin told reporters in his first weekly press conference that the team planned on giving Nourzad “starter reps” at both guard positions. Franklin also noted that Nourzad is capable of playing center.
Before Penn State, Nourzad played four seasons in the Ivy League. After not playing as a freshman, Nourzad became a full-time starter in 2019 and did quite well, earning second-team all-conference honors. Nourzad didn’t have the chance to play college football in 2020 due to the Ivy League canceling its season, but came back the next season and had success, earning first-team all-Ivy League.
Nourzad entered the transfer portal late last November and picked Penn State in early February.
Because the Ivy League didn’t have a season in 2020, Nourzad has an extra year of eligibility if he wants it, but hasn’t decided on that yet.
For most of this season, Tengwall and Sal Wormley have been Penn State’s starting guards.
Tengwall and Wormley have been with the team, thus, practicing and playing against Big Ten competition longer than Nourzad. Nourzad’s had to grow accustomed to playing against Power Five competition.
Getting used to that was a challenge, but Nourzad feels offensive line coach Phil Trautwein and Penn State’s staff have helped him get acclimated.
“It was definitely an adjustment,” Nourzad said. “I think it was a bigger adjustment than I was expecting, but the tools that coach Trautwein and all the other coaches provided for me in camp, they got me ready for it.”
The 6-foot-3, 312-pound Nourzad said that the defensive lineman he goes against in the Big Ten is “probably 60-70 pounds heavier” than the ones he faced in the Ivy League.
The game is also more rapid.
In his weekly press conference Tuesday, coach James Franklin said Nourzad has been versatile for Penn State and compared him to another fifth-year “Swiss Army Knife” on Penn State’s line; Bryce Effner.
“Yeah, it’s been good,” Franklin said, “Hunter, we look at a lot like Effner. We view those guys as starters for us. Having him available and able to play was obviously really important after losing Landon because he went from being in a rotation to starting and being the guy.
“Everything happens really fast and way quicker,” Nourzad said, “and obviously, you’re dealing with bigger guys and general, and also, you’re moving up to the Big Ten from an FCS conference. So that was a challenge. But the coaching staff did a really great job all throughout camp getting me ready and adjusting me. So I think it’s gone well.”
Penn State’s 41-17 loss at Michigan didn’t go the way any fan, player or coach wanted.
But Noruzad feels the unexpected start will benefit him in the long run.
“In my opinion, you can always do better, and I think it was a great learning experience,” he said.