By BEN JOHNSON
Colten Nevel had a goal in mind all summer long: unseat Cayle Shambaugh as Northeastern State's rover linebacker during fall camp.
That ambition became a lot easier when Nevel showed up for practice in mid August. At that time, he found out that Shambaugh had opted to drop football to focus on his baseball career at NSU.
"I didn't know until the first day that we got here," Nevel said. "I was ready to take his spot, anyways, so it didn't really matter."
It might not have been that simple for Nevel, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound junior from Catoosa. NSU head coach Kenny Evans had a lot of faith in Shambaugh as the linebacking unit's third member with Jack Gray and Langston Jones.
"I was worried, because Cayle had started there for two years," Evans said. "It was worried about it all summer."
It wasn't that Evans was selling Shambaugh's successor short. What had Evans concerned was what all the job entails while playing rover.
"It's a very difficult position because it's such a hybrid position," Evans said. "Sometimes you could be lined up as a safety, or you could even be by the (defensive) line."
No sweat, Nevel said.
"I knew I was ready [to play the position] last year," said Nevel, who served mainly as a key component on special teams in 2012, recording 16 tackles in 10 games.
"I just knew I had to keep working hard, and I'll fit in right where I needed to."
Sure enough, Nevel's plan worked to perfection.
It didn't take Nevel long to be named the RiverHawks' starting rover, beating out Donnie Fuston for the spot.
"We were going to let the position play out," Evans said. "And there's no doubt that Colten has risen to the top."
Despite claiming the spot atop the depth chart, Nevel said he and Fuston still have a solid working relationship.
"We still help each other," Nevel said. "It's almost like we're not competing, because we're there to help each other out more."
NSU's season-opening game at Pittsburg State is still more than two weeks away. But Evans said the chances of a last-minute switch at rover are virtually nil.
"Right now, the gap has separated between them," Evans said of Nevel and Fuston. "A lot could happen, and we hope injuries don't happen. But for right now, Colten is a solid starter."
In the offseason, Nevel put on 20 extra pounds, compared to the RiverHawks' final game at Central Oklahoma in 2012.
"He's a tall, rangy player that can do a lot of things," Evans said of Nevel. "He's gotten bigger and stronger from last year."
Now, according to Evans, all Nevel needs is time to mature during actual games.
"Colten filled in at times and was a very active special teams player [last year], and he's definitely going to have an opportunity to do some things," Evans said. "He can do some things that Cayle couldn't; he just doesn't have the experience."
That's all about change in the upcoming months.