It wasn’t long after Nathan Eldridge received his release from the University of Arizona football program that Oregon State offensive line coach Jim Michalczik got a text message.
“Hey, coach, I’m leaving Arizona.”
Michalczik recruited Eldridge to UA and coached him until returning to Corvallis to join Jonathan Smith’s staff in December 2017.
Michalczik replied, asking if Eldridge had gotten his release and if he was sure about the decision.
“And he was kind of, ‘I want to get a new start,’" Michalczik said.
Eldridge’s decision to join the Beavers as a graduate transfer wasn’t made overnight but wasn’t exactly difficult.
While Eldridge did not want to get into specifics about why he wanted to leave Arizona, there is no doubt the catalyst for his decision to come to Corvallis was the presence of Michalczik.
During his freshman year at UA, Eldridge met with Michalczik daily, trying to get in as much extra work with the coach as possible.
Michalczik’s approach to coaching was a new experience for Eldridge.
“That’s why it was so cool because just the way he explains things is a lot different,” Eldridge said. “He’s not going to just give you the answer, he’s going to give you hints and let you figure it out yourself. Because each player is different and so each player takes things differently and he notices that. He’s more than just a coach, he’s a mentor to me.
“We just built a really strong relationship. He’s definitely one of the best coaches around and he’s more than just a coach to me. He’s more like a father figure to me. He was a good mentor to me, so that’s what brought me over to Oregon State.”
Eldridge added that he was impressed by Smith and the rest of his staff during a visit to OSU and knew that there was a good chance to get on the field with the departure of starting center Sumner Houston.
“Coach M did discuss that, that there was potential for me to play and so that was definitely a factor as well,” Eldridge said.
He had to finish out classes and graduate from Arizona before enrolling at Oregon State, so his arrival was delayed until the middle of June.
Eldridge started all 25 games for Arizona in 2016 and 2017 and played at a high level for the Wildcats.
In 2017 he was selected to the Associated Press all-Pac-12 second team and was honorable mention on the Pac-12 all-conference team.
He was on the Rimington Trophy preseason watch list in 2017 and 2018, but suffered an injury prior to the 2018 season and was sidelined for the fall.
He said he’s now 100% and ready for 2019.
“He’s a good athlete but he’s a competitive guy. He’s a hard worker, he’s a guy that loves football and loves offensive line play,” Michalczik said. “He wants to win and he wants to win every play. So that mentality is what you’re always looking for.”
OSU offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren said Eldridge did a good job in the weight room and is excited about the experience the center brings to OSU.
“He’s played games in the conference and he’s played games in the conference for our offense line coach,” Lindgren said. “So there’s some familiarity with some of the calls and how he identifies fronts and some of the things like that. So I look for him to jump right in and be able to compete to help us out on the front.
“The thing that I’m most excited about is he’s played center, he’s snapping it consistently and just from a mental standpoint he’s a seasoned guy, a veteran that’s had to make calls, identify fronts. I do think his ability to get leverage and his athleticism are two things that stand out on tape.”
The Beavers have some talent at running back, with Jermar Jefferson and Artavis Pierce leading the way.
Eldridge is ready to blow open some big holes for them this season.
“Absolutely. Jermar had an awesome season last year and we were definitely watching him and he’s a really good player, so I’m super excited and I can’t wait to get to work,” Eldridge said.
“I love running the ball as an offensive lineman and we’re definitely going to pass the ball as well. So I think it’s a great fit. I’ve been getting along with a lot of the guys and I think we have a good group of guys and we’re going to do big things this year.”
Like any other player, Eldridge will have to earn a starting spot. He will not be handed the job just because of his history.
“There’s nothing guaranteed here,” Michalczik said. “We’re going to play the best five. And I’ve talked to him and he knows it. In this sport there’s a lot of proving yourself, not only to the coaches, but to your teammates.”
Nevertheless, Michalczik already knows Eldridge’s capabilities as a player and his attributes as a person.
“When you spend as much time as we do with your players there’s a lot of getting to know them off the field personally and a lot of those things, especially when you recruited them, which I did, too,” Michalczik said.
“I think we had a good relationship when I was there and I hope that continues here.”