Aaron Prier quickly ran off the field during Saturday morning’s scrimmage, holding his stomach with his left arm.
As soon as the ISU senior from San Pablo, Calif., was on the sideline, the floodgates opened and he lost his breakfast on the grass just beyond the new turf field.
Seconds earlier Prier had taken a shot to the stomach from senior cornerback Vai Peko while running a route as a receiver.
That’s right. Prier, who was recruited to Idaho State as a defensive back but switched to running back when the team ran into depth issues at that position his freshman year, is now a receiver for the Bengals.
“They told me about two hours before practice on Tuesday that I was switching,” Prier said. “(Head coach Mike) Kramer came up to me and asked me what I (thought) about it. I’m always up for a challenge. It’s more playing time. We had an OK rotation at running back, but we throw a lot. I really want the ball in my hands. Whatever the team needs me to do, I’m willing to do it.”
When his stomach was greeted by Peko’s helmet at full speed Saturday, it was Prier’s fourth practice as a wide out. How to avoid or deal with that contact — and keeping his meals where they belong — is one of the many aspects of playing wide receiver he’s hoping to learn during spring practice.
“It’s definitely different,” Prier said. “At running back you don’t have as many routes. At receiver, there are a lot of different plays and routes. It’s a lot different running, too. I’ll have to get used to that as far as conditioning goes.
“I’m going to get it done. On day two I was picking it up pretty fast. We’ll see how it goes.”
Kramer and the Idaho State coaching staff proposed the idea to Prier last Tuesday, one week into spring practice. The reasoning is a compliment to him as an athlete.
With an offensive backfield that includes standout starter Xavier Finney plus steady backups Dan McSurdy and Braeden Mitchell, who both emerged late last season, Kramer wanted Prier to help in an area of greater need. More than that, he’s too talented to keep on the shelf.
“He’s one of our top five athletes in terms of height, weight, size, speed, ability, strength, endurance and savviness,” Kramer said. “We have a pretty good core of running backs and he moves to a position where we can get him on the field every snap and not have to share.”
And while it will take some time for Prier to adjust to his new position, Kramer already has him penciled in as a starter when the season kicks off in the fall.
“He makes big plays,” Kramer said. “He adjusts to the ball well in flight. He’s got excellent athletic skills. He’s got excellent temperament. I think he has a tremendous opportunity and he should have a great year for us.”
ISU is also looking for help at the cornerback position. Since Prier was recruited to play there in the 2011 recruiting class, there was some thought among the coaches to move him back there.
“I told them I wanted to stay on the offensive side,” Prier said. “It’s my senior year and I want to score some touchdowns. It feels good to know that they really want me on the field. I want to show up for my team.”
Prier wants to make an impact at receiver. He’s open to the move for that reason. He’s willing to do whatever the team needs him to do if it means more success.
“Growing up my dad always told me, ‘Don’t be good at just one thing,’” Prier said. “I look at myself as a competitor and an athlete. I’ll go play O-line if they need me to. If I don’t know how to play a position, I’ll learn it.”
With junior Madison Mangum temporarily sidelined with a tweaked left knee, Prier is getting hands-on instruction before and after every rep.
“Madison is my coach right now. He’s following me around and telling me which routes to run,” Prier said. “Coach (Sheldon) Cross is helping me on the sidelines as well. But Madison is helping me a lot.”
Prier continues to work hard during spring practice to learn to play receiver. Time is of the essence with just eight sessions remaining.
“It’s important to learn the position during spring practice,” Prier said. “They told me they wanted me to try it out and I could switch back if I needed to. I’m going to give it my all. This spring is really going to determine whether I want to stay at receiver or not. Right now I’m liking it. Hopefully I get it down so I can play in the fall.”