LINCOLN — Taariq Allen made it plain to Nebraska assistant Rich Fisher last fall that he would be up to the challenge of returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
The sophomore receiver had the answer before Fisher could even ask the question.
“When I was talking to him about rehab and how much hard work it was going to take, he said, 'Coach, I don't have a choice but to get back. I don't have any choice,'?” Fisher said. “That's kind of always been his attitude, and I've known him since he was in high school.”
Nine months later comes proof that Allen was serious about his pledge.
Both Allen and Tyler Wullenwaber have rebounded from ACL injuries to help restore the Huskers' depth at receiver. And Fisher is even a little surprised by how good they've looked through the first week of fall practice.
“I told them that I'm kind of shocked, actually, in terms of how they're running around,” Fisher said.
Nebraska still has Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa, Jamal Turner and others, but Allen and Wullenwaber rejoin the fray for spots in a receiving rotation that looks like one of the Big Ten's best. Both caught two passes a year ago before their injuries.
Allen was hurt while covering the opening kickoff against Michigan on Oct. 27, a week after he'd caught a game-changing touchdown pass in the 29-28 comeback win at Northwestern. He hoped to be breaking through.
“It was unfortunate, but life happens,” Allen said. “Things happen to everybody. Anything can happen. I can't go back, so it is what it is.”
|MORE BIG RED TODAY UPDATES|
|Want the latest Husker headlines delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for email alerts!|
Fisher, who coached Allen at the Rivers School west of Boston, knows all about ACL injuries. He suffered one as a Colorado linebacker in 1991 and said it takes a “fighting spirit” to come back from the injury. Despite the severity of Allen's injury, the receiver said he never feared that he was done — or that he wouldn't be the same again.
“I'm not going to give up that easy,” he said. “I was only a redshirt freshman, so I wasn't going to give up.”
Wullenwaber tore his left ACL seven weeks before Allen, in the Huskers' first practice after the UCLA game. The junior walk-on from Utica, Neb., was cleared just before the spring game, but said he was still a little unsure of himself right up to Monday's first practice.
“It had been so long,” he said.
Before he knew it, however, he was taking a shot as he planted his left foot in the turf, and the knee was holding up fine.
“That gave me a lot of confidence,” he said. “I feel really good. Sometimes it gets sore, naturally, but it feels awesome.”
Wullenwaber called Allen's recovery “absolutely amazing” and said it helped the receivers to be going through some of their rehab together. Both also credited the Husker medical and training staffs for their work.
Allen was cleared in July and said he hasn't looked back.
“They always say 'don't think about it,'” he said. “You've got to go out there and have confidence in your knee. You did eight months of rehab — you can't think it's going to fail you.”
Even when they were out, Fisher said, Allen and Wullenwaber did a good job of staying involved by hanging around practice and continuing to study. It showed how much football meant to them.
Fisher said it's also easy to tell how much they like being back with their teammates.
“I think both of 'em are excited,” Fisher said. “I mean, it's a lot harder to rehab a knee than it is to be out there practicing.”