Purdue's Robert Kugler isn't the first college player to successfully transition from tight end to offensive line. He won't be the last, either.
But few players have access to the type of resource Kugler did when he moved from tight end to offensive line last spring, and then from starting guard to starting center for the Boilers. Not every player has a father who coached both offensive line and tight end in the NFL and in college, and now serves as a college head coach.
"He’s been really helpful," Kugler said of his father, Sean. "When I first switched, I'd go home and he'd take snaps with me and go over footwork and everything. That was good."
While Robert Kugler goes through spring drills with Purdue's new coaching staff, Sean Kugler is in the middle of his first spring session as head coach at UTEP, his alma mater (Sean Kugler played line for the Miners and was coached by Andy Reid). Sean was hired in December following six years as an NFL offensive line coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers (2010-12) and the Buffalo Bills (2006-09). He also coached tight ends and offensive line with the Detroit Lions from 2001-05 and coached offensive line at Boise State during the 2006 season.
Robert grew up around the sport and helped out at the NFL training camps where his dad coached -- setting up drills, lugging equipment to and from the field, picking up clothes in the locker room, whatever was needed. He bonded with players like Eric Wood and Geoff Hangartner, who Sean Kugler coached with the Bills, and Steelers linemen Maurkice Pouncey and Doug Legursky. Kugler still talks to some of them to this day.
"Having my dad coach, it made me become a coachable player," Kugler said. "I take pride in that, just doing what my coaches tell me. That experience has helped me out throughout the years."
It paid off when Purdue moved Kugler from tight end to offensive line last spring. While position switches can be unsettling for players, Kugler always knew it was a possibility.
Although he came to Purdue as a tight end, he caught only two passes as a high school senior. Kugler earned Class AAAA Pennsylvania Player of the Year honors from the Associated Press in 2010 primarily because of his blocking skills at tight end and his prowess as a defensive end, where he had seven sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery.
"They told me whatever I was going develop into was what I would end up being, whether it was a tight end or a D-lineman or an O-lineman," Kugler said. "They just felt the way I was developing, it tended more toward O-line, and they switched me there. It was a good switch."
Kugler was willing to make the switch, but his body had to cooperate. He weighed only 245 pounds in the spring of 2012 after redshirting the 2011 season. He added 35 pounds by the time the season kicked off and was listed as the team's backup center on the Week 1 depth chart.
By Week 8, he had worked his way into the starting lineup at right guard and stayed there for the final six games. The graduation of Rick Schmeig opened up the starting center spot, and Kugler has claimed it this spring. He hopes to add 5-10 more pounds of "good weight" before the season.
"Getting that game experience last year made a lot of difference coming into spring ball," he said. "I just have more confidence. I'm not worried about snapping it and blocking. It's all coming together."
The Kugler football tradition isn't limited to Sean and Robert. Patrick Kugler, Robert's younger brother, signed with Michigan in February and will play offensive line for the Wolverines.
RecruitingNation rated Patrick as the No. 3 guard in the 2013 recruiting class and the 101st best overall player.
"Patrick’s probably a lot better than I am, especially coming out of high school," Robert Kugler said. " It seems like every play, he's putting somebody on the ground."
Robert expects Patrick to wear the same number for Michigan (57) that he dons for Purdue. Michigan and Purdue don't play this season, but Robert has two more years of eligibility remaining while Patrick is just getting started.
"I hope we get a chance to play against each other," Robert said. "That'd be the ultimate thing, to hold bragging rights forever. It'd be a big deal."