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Connor McGovern making family proud as Broncos starting center

Fargo native grew up in blue-collar environment that has served him well in Broncos' trenches.
Credit: AP
Denver Broncos offensive guard Connor McGovern (60) takes the field during an NFL preseason football game between the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In what has become an inadvertent achievement in recent years, a certain status has been bestowed upon those whom Wikipedia deems worthy of a biography.

Connor McGovern has attracted Wikipedia’s notice – the Broncos’ center from Missouri, not the Cowboys’ Connor McGovern from Penn State, although the Nittany Lion alum also has his own online bio.

Someone from Wikipedia writes up the biographies from afar and written under McGovern’s “Personal Life” was how he “comes from an affluent family from Fargo, North Dakota.”

With status comes a stigma that is far too narrow in scope.

“We’re a blue-collar family,’’ McGovern said in a sit-down interview with 9NEWS this week. “I didn’t know I came from an affluent family until I came to the NFL and they told me I came from an affluent family.’’

The money came from potato farming. It’s a family-owned business started by Ron Offutt, Connor’s grandfather, and is now run by Connor’s father, Keith McGovern. Potato farming may pay large bills, but it does not sound like a life of leisure.

Anyone who knows McGovern can see he was brought up with a work ethic. In the offseason, he’ll train with former Colorado Buffalo and NFL lineman Matt McChesney, whose Six Zero Strength + Training facility is around the corner from Broncos’ headquarters.

McGovern doesn’t just lift weights. For many years he was a competitive powerlifter. While he’s eased back on the heavy plates for football flexibility reasons, he also trains by boxing.

There are easier ways to work out. And easier positions to play than the offensive line.

“Football definitely runs in the family and I’ve been just taking that hard work I learned from my family to the football field,’’ he said.

Grandpa was a football player and wrestler in college. A cousin, Griffin Neal, was a quarterback who played in Germany and briefly spent time with the New Orleans Saints.

“When stuff isn’t going right all we know how to do is work harder, so that’s where I got that from,’’ McGovern said.

In high school, McGovern played both ways, as most North Dakota prep kids do, and he preferred the defensive line to blocking against defensive linemen.

“It was a little bit more fun tackling people and chasing the quarterback,’’ McGovern said. “But then I realized I wasn’t going to be able to do that in college.’’

At Missouri, he played right tackle, right guard and, as a senior, left tackle. Everything but the position he plays now with the Broncos, which is center. He’s been in the middle of things since Matt Paradis tore up his ankle in game 9 of last season.

“When I transitioned to offensive line, I really embraced the grind,’’ McGovern said, as any son of a potato farmer would. “My college coaches did a really good job with my technique. I didn’t really have technique in high school. I was bigger than everybody else so I could just toss them around.

“So I really embraced the technique side because there’s not a whole lot of what you do on the offensive line that you do every day in life. Like at wide receiver, non-professional football players will run. Same with a lot of other positions but a lot of our stuff is backing up. A lot of people out there aren’t going out pushing their cars.

“We don’t relate to what an everyday person does. So I really embraced the skill aspect of it and really tried to improve my technique.”

As a fifth-year senior at Missouri, McGovern quickly came to respect his true freshman quarterback. Drew Lock. The Mizzou Tigers returning starting quarterback, Maty Mauk, was suspended after the fourth game, thrusting the freshman Lock into the meat of the SEC schedule, ready or not.

Later, more than 30 Mizzou players threatened to boycott the final three games unless their school president resigned. He did and Lock, who is now a Broncos’ rookie quarterback, and his team finished out the season 1-2.

“He came in in a tough situation,’’ McGovern said. “There was just a lot of stuff going on at Mizzou at the time and he was able to come in and do what he did then and not let that break him. He didn’t let that down year affect his career. He came back and really helped turned that program back to what it was and played really well. That aspect of him – not let the tough times get him down – was impressive.’’

The Broncos as a team have demonstrated similar resilience this season. They started 0-4, but two losses were on walk-off field goals. They have since gone 3-2 and will bring quarterback Brandon Allen into his second NFL start today against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“We’ve been so close every game,’’ McGovern said. “We’re one play away from being 6-3. And then everyone in Denver, Colorado has a different feeling about this team. We know that. No one is discouraged. Everyone knows we’re right on that cusp, we’re so close to greatness and putting up a lot of points.

“At the bye, I was going back and reevaluating how the first-half has gone … we were definitely setting ourselves up to have a breakout game and I go into every game thinking it’s going to be that game.’’

It seems like just as McGovern is starting to come into his own, he will soon be eligible to leave through free agency. He didn’t play as a rookie, started the final five games at right guard in his second season, then started at right guard and center in his third year.

He has become a full-time center in this his fourth season, the position that has been referred to as the quarterback of the offensive line because of its responsibility in barking out defensive alignments and pass protections to the blockers on his flanks.

There were issues with McGovern’s shotgun snaps in training camp but he figured it out in time for the regular season.

And by figuring it out, it’s exactly that.

“Running (the blocking schemes) is a lot of geometry, figuring out angles,’’ McGovern said. “It ends up being a lot more math than you’d expect playing center. I was decent at math so I put it in numbers and shapes and do it that way. So even if they’re showing a look I’ve never seen, I apply a numbers system to it and it seems to help you pick up a blitz a little bit better.’’

So for all you youngsters out there, pay attention in math class. Chances are math can be applied later in life.

“It’s critical thinking,’’ McGovern said. “Especially when you get into the higher math, a lot of its critical thinking. Math without numbers gets a little bit different. I really enjoy the cerebral part about it.’’

As an upcoming free agent, McGovern is about to soak in some numbers that will make his well-to-do relatives proud. The league’s No.16, or dead-average center in terms of pay, Philadelphia’s Jason Kelce, makes an average of $8.2 million a year. The 10th-highest-paid center, Dallas’ Travis Frederick, makes $9.4 million a year.

That’s a large potential-jump for McGovern, who is presently the 26th-paid center with a $2.025 million salary in the final year of his contract.

“It is exciting to know you could be compensated for all the hard work and all the grinding since middle school,’’ he said. “That second contract is what every guy in the NFL is hoping for. Not that I need any more motivation to go out and play well but it’s definitely there and I’m excited for the offseason. I’d love to stay here but however free agency evolves you never know.”

Why does he want to stay in Denver even though he’s been through more losses than wins since he started playing in 2017 – and has had an ever-changing group of offensive bosses?

“Start with Broncos fans are amazing,’’ he said. “The staff here is amazing. I think we have the best young talent around the league. We’re a young team and (offensive line coach Mike) Munchak says it all the time when you look at the Steelers offensive line, they’ve been together for so long. You could see it when Munch was showing us their tape. They just know how each other makes every single block.

“This is my fourth offensive coordinator in four years and it’d be nice to stay in the same offense for my fifth year. There’s a million reasons why I’d like to stay here but how free agency works, you never know. But wherever I am, I’ll be excited to keep my career going.”

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