LINCOLN — Imani Cross has a different word for the progress he hopes to make from his first to his second year in Nebraska's offense.
When asked about the “big jump” from being a freshman to having a year in the system, Cross brings his definition out.
“I'd say it's a continuation,” the sophomore running back said.
A process of understanding. A march through comprehending.
Whatever it is, coaches and teammates say Cross is doing it.
The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder out of Gainesville, Ga., had a short-yardage and power situation role in the Husker offense last year as a true freshman. He played in all 14 games and averaged 5.9 yards per carry. His seven rushing touchdowns were third on the team.
There was the 11-carry, 62-yard debut in the season opener. And the 100-yard game three weeks later. And the back-to-back Big Ten games with two touchdowns. And a score in the conference title game.
“Imani became very valuable for us as a thick, big bullish kind of back,” NU running backs coach Ron Brown said.
But Brown doesn't just see Cross as a finisher.
“I think he's more than just a hammer,” the coach added. “I mean, he's not the fastest guy in the world, but he has a good instinct and good eyes and sometimes he beats people to the spot because he studies the game and has a good feel for things. He also does a very good job of seeing holes and getting to places.”
Cross said the offseason was spent working on the details. Pass protection. Footwork in the backfield. Reading blocks. Catching passes.
Decisions rather than reactions. And making quick decisions, Cross said, starts when he lines up.
“Not just getting the ball and making a decision,” he said. “Making presnap reads and doing things that are not only going to make me better but put my linemen in better position to make their blocks.”
He went to school again on the Husker playbook. He watched more film than ever.
Cross trimmed down a bit in the spring and got a little quicker. He's as solid a body as they come, but it's not all brawn.
“He's such a dedicated guy,” Brown said. “I'm not sure you're going to find anybody really that outworks the kid.”
It was one of the main reasons the Husker staff asked Cross to be a source of guidance for the freshman backs, including the highly touted duo of Adam Taylor and Terrell Newby.
As Brown puts it, Cross was designated to be “the guy that kind of schools those incoming freshmen because of what he went through last year.”
Cross said he was humbled by the gesture.
“I remember last year coming in as a freshman, things come at you pretty quickly, plays come at you quickly,” Cross said. “You've got to make decisions and to have somebody there to help you with that is extremely helpful. I was happy that I was chosen to help those guys.”
He's even learning things about himself through that process. New lessons come regularly. Even makes him feel a little bit old at 20.
“Mentally I feel older and older,” Cross said before correcting himself. “I feel wiser. Let's delete older. Let's say wiser, like I'm growing gray hair or something.”