LINCOLN — Even before they had ever lined up side by side as Nebraska starting safeties, Corey Cooper and Harvey Jackson were there for each other.
They were first paired as roommates in the freshman dorms at NU. They got along well enough that they've shared living quarters into their fourth years as Huskers.
It's worked, for whatever reason, and Cooper and Jackson have become an on-the-spot support system as they've ridden the highs and lows along the way.
“I'll be down, he'll be up, and he'll talk to me and get me right,” Jackson said. “Or he'll be down and I'll be up, and I'll talk to him and then he'll be all right. It's kind of crazy how it turns out, but that's just how it is.”
Just as long as one of them is always staying positive, of course.
“If we're both down, it's a problem,” Jackson said, smiling.
Although they arrived from different places — Cooper from suburban Chicago, Jackson from Fresno, Texas — they have since traveled almost parallel paths.
Both redshirted in 2010. Both played in 25 games and made a similar number of tackles over the next two years — contributing on special teams and as backups — but had their times of frustration and doubt.
Then both realized last winter that, as juniors, their best opportunity was at hand, and they now are trying to enjoy the moment while handling the expectations and critiques that go with their elevation into starting positions.
Their chemistry and connection on the field come from the hours they spend talking football and watching film together, whether in the Osborne Complex offices or at home.
“We pretty much know how each other thinks,” Cooper said.
NU assistant coach Terry Joseph first worked with them in the spring of 2012, but knows well the story of college players who grind away, ride out the good and bad times and just wait for any kind of chance.
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Now that Cooper and Jackson have it, Joseph's message is to “seize the opportunity, but don't put so much pressure on yourself that you can't perform.”
“Nobody is asking either one of those guys to make a great play,” the coach said. “We just want them to make the routine play and be consistent for us. And if we can get that, we can play pretty good defense.”
Joseph, asked about the progress of the safeties, said simply: “they're coming.”
Jackson, a 6-foot-2 210-pounder, is second on the team with 11 tackles after being credited with a career-high seven against Southern Mississippi. He has rotated at times with Andrew Green, a senior who was moved from cornerback.
Cooper has eight tackles, along with an interception, pass breakup and quarterback hurry. The 6-1 210-pounder was among the original seven to receive Blackshirts before the season opener.
“Our job as coaches is to push those guys to levels they don't think they can get to,” Joseph said. “Sometimes it can get frustrating, because constructive criticism to an 18- or 22-year-old is not always what they want to hear. Like I tell them, it's not what my 10-year-old daughter wants to hear, either, but I tell her, too.”
By far their biggest challenge to date comes Saturday when UCLA visits Memorial Stadium. Their predecessors at safety, Daimion Stafford and P.J. Smith, were among the many Husker defenders who struggled last year against the Bruins.
But Cooper said he and Jackson both feel a little more comfortable after having played two games. They've had plenty of time to compare notes, too, and they've always talked the same language despite such different pasts.
“We pretty much had the same goals and wanted the same things, so it's worked,” Cooper said. “We're different, but we want the same things.”
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