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Cumberland Valley's Kyle Friend relishes first plays with Jets in the NFL

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — With 3:48 left in the game, Kyle Friend finally jogged onto the field.

It was a highly uncharacteristic move for Friend, who was a mainstay in the Temple program. The four-year starter at center played in 43 consecutive games with 41 starts during a stellar career with the Owls. While there, Friend was the first three-time captain.

But this was the Cumberland Valley grad’s first introduction to NFL action with the New York Jets, the team that signed him as a free agent a few months ago. Friend patiently watched from the sidelines, as he was the third and final center to anchor an offensive line.

During his stint, Friend was aggressive in both his running and pass blocking — although maybe a bit too much as he was flagged for a holding penalty in the game’s final seconds before his parents and brother, all of whom were in the stands.

Overall, it proved to be a brief, but rewarding, experience, one that reminded him of his college beginnings.

“It was good to get in there and it was a good experience,” Friend said. “It wasn’t tough watching from the sidelines because I enjoyed watching what the other guys were doing. I am always trying to learn as much as I can from them.

“It was exciting and I felt better about everything after the first play.”

Since he was drafted and began spring workouts and eventual training camp, Friend has relished every moment. He already has drawn raves from the local media as well as comparisons to All-Pro center 32-year-old Nick Mangold as a possible heir apparent down the road.

His stock rose dramatically after he bench-pressed 225 pounds an impressive 41 times during Temple’s pro day. Former Temple standout and current Jets head coach Todd Bowles decided to reach out to a fellow Owl, who has a solid and stout, 6-foot-2, 305-pound frame.

“It really just really has been a great experience,” Friend said. “I am here to learn and I believe we have one of the better lines around and two of the best line coaches around. It also has been something else going up against some of the better defensive lineman in the league. You don’t realize how quick and agile they are. I am trying to take in everything I can at this point.”

Aside from the physical grind, Friend also has encountered a daily mental challenge.

“It really is as much mental as physical,” Friend said. “You have to work to stay focused. You have to come every day ready to learn and put your best foot forward. One of the hardest parts is showing up every day and trying to get better. Since I have been here, I realize that I have to work on every part of my game.

“The coaches at Temple also helped me out a lot on how they set up their strength program. It is not just about getting stronger, but it is also about mobility and how to develop a work ethic.”

Friend’s locker is currently in the Jets’ auxiliary locker room next to the team’s main one. Like Friend, it is filled with later-round rookies and free agents looking to call the Meadowlands their new home. Still, Friend has realized a sense of camaraderie among his teammates in both locker rooms.

“They have been really great and very helpful to me,” Friend said. “In practice, I am always bugging somebody by asking them questions. They probably think I am a little annoying. I am always trying to ask as many questions as I can and they have helped me out a lot. They really have been showing me the way.”

With three preseason games left and a series of cuts in the next few weeks, Friend is hopeful of wearing green and white in the fall. Friend has been rumored to have a legitimate shot at taking the No. 2 center job away from Wesley Johnson, or he could be a practice squad player.

Whatever the case, Friend certainly is satisfied.

“I know I can’t control certain things here,” he said. “All I can do is go out and work as hard as I can. It is really hard to put into words, but it has been all worthwhile.”

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