CEDAR FALLS – Call it a full-fledged audition for Jack Wegher.
With top-returning rusher Marcus Weymiller out of spring practice while recovering from injury, and Trevor Allen, Northern Iowa's second-leading rusher last year behind Weymiller experimenting at safety, Wegher, a transfer from Purdue is getting the bulk of first team reps for Northern Iowa through five of 15 spring practices.
"Jack is a very intelligent kid," Panther tight end and running back coach Nick Danielson said. "Highly intelligent. He has jumped right in. With him he is familiar with a lot of things we are doing on offense.
"What he has had to do is translate it. I'd teach him a play and he'd say, 'that's this.' I realized he was taking it from his terminology coming from his two years at Purdue and flipping it over to the way we are calling things."
A native of South Sioux City, S.D., Wegher led Sioux City Heelan in rushing in 2012 as a freshman with 615 yards and seven touchdowns, before transferring to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
At IMG, Wegher rushed for 646 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior, before serving as captain on the team as a senior when he averaged 8.1 yards per carry and 12.0 yards per reception. He enrolled early at Purdue in 2016, and was one of just two true freshman to play during the 2016 season where he saw action in six games on special teams and caught two passes for 37 yards against Northwestern.
Wegher, whose older brother Brandon played with Carolina in the NFL, missed all of last season after having surgery for a torn labrum, transferred to UNI after Purdue's appearance in the 2017 Foster Farms Bowl against Arizona.
He said the Panther coaching staff was up front with what they expect.
"They said they needed someone to take the load off Marcus a little bit," Wegher said. "I like to think I could get on the field every play, but I know that is not possible.
"Like I've said, I'm here to do anything for the team and if that is every play, I'll be out there every play. It is whatever the team needs ... just want to be a good teammate."
Wegher, who will have three seasons of eligibility left, has played in the UNI-Dome before, and that is what attracted him to play for the Panthers. Wegher's 2012 Heelan squad played in the Class 3A state championship game where he rushed 13 times for 39 yards while the Crusaders lost 49-21 to a Decorah team lead by future Iowa star Josey Jewell.
"The atmosphere in that game was electric and that was only a high school game," Wegher said. "I can't imagine what it is going to be like when we play North Dakota State or whomever else.
"It's been a lot to pick up, but you just have to hit it running and not look back. The coaches are great. The players are great. This is exactly what I was looking for."
Wegher will be in the mix at running back with Weymiller, Alphonso Soko, Tyler Hoosman, Jon Nzombo with Allen and Christian Jegen, who has played his first two seasons at running back before also switching to safety this spring, when UNI opens pre-season camp in August.
"I've been most impressed with how fast he picks things up," Danielson said. "He didn't have a missed assignment in day one or day two.
"He is talented in the receiving game, but there is no question we are returning a pretty good stable of running backs. I've told the guys, we have no starting running back right now."
FIVE DOWN, TEN TO GO: Panther head coach Mark Farley has seen progress in the five practices UNI has been able to hold this spring, the veteran coach just wishes it was more.
"We are making progress in the O-Line and D-Line," Farley said. "We've focused more on the interior seven because that is where we are healthier.
"It was a good week. There was progress, but we're two weeks in and have had only five practices and I wish we were further along. But you got to take it in stride because we've only had five practices, two, three in pads."
INJURIES: UNI's receiving group has been short-handed the past two practices as junior Jaylin James and sophomore Isaiah Weston both missed Saturday's 2 1/2 hour practice.
James was dressed in pads, but did not participate in any of the live, no-tackle scrimmage the Panthers conducted at the end.
Defensive back Nikholi Jaghai also missed Saturday's practice.