LINCOLN — Jordan Westerkamp came to the line twice on third-and-long Saturday and realized what the Purdue coverage meant for the Nebraska receiver.
“So I just had to run a precise route,” Westerkamp said. “And they were great balls on both throws.”
Ron Kellogg hit Westerkamp for 23 yards on third-and-13 in the first quarter, with the redshirt freshman having to absorb a hit by Purdue safety Anthony Brown at the end of a post route to secure the first down. It helped set up the touchdown that put the Huskers ahead 14-0.
Tommy Armstrong connected with Westerkamp for 21 yards on third-and-15 in the second, with a wheel route getting him into the secondary and pulling NU out of a hole by moving the chains again.
To Westerkamp, they weren’t anything out of the ordinary as Nebraska rolled to a 44-7 win. The quarterbacks throw it and the receivers catch it, just like the countless times they have done the same in practice.
But with Westerkamp, fellow receiver Quincy Enunwa said, the catch part seems to come easy.
“He has the best hands on the team — best hands,” Enunwa said. “He’s doing his best to make plays, and we’re giving him chances. One hundred percent certain (he has the best hands). You ask any DB or receiver.”
Those who know Illinois high school football would vouch for his efficiency after the 6-foot, 200-pounder caught 235 passes and scored 68 touchdowns for Montini Catholic in Lombard, setting state records in both categories.
Now Westerkamp is trying to carve a new niche with the Huskers, catching three passes at Purdue to give him seven receptions for 83 yards on the season. He enjoyed his largest chunk of playing time Saturday because slot receiver Jamal Turner was limited because of a sore hamstring.
“I told him basically on Thursday that he was starting the game, to give him a good 48 hours to get his mind prepared, and I think he did a good job,” NU assistant coach Rich Fisher said. “Jordan’s a smart guy and a real football-savvy guy, and works hard and prepares. And I knew we wouldn’t lose a beat with him in there.”
The 2Ĺ-hour drive from his hometown in the Chicago suburbs allowed for Westerkamp to have about 30 family and friends at Ross-Ade Stadium. They also saw him catch a 9-yard pass from Armstrong on the Huskers’ first drive, which ended with him fumbling the ball out of bounds.
Westerkamp said his late-week approach was no different after hearing that Turner would be limited, at best.
“I’m always prepared, I’m always ready, I’m just waiting for my opportunities,” he said. “I was able to get a good one (Saturday), and I tried to make the best of it.”
The assortment of practice repetitions leaves Westerkamp comfortable with all three Husker quarterbacks. But the fact that three of his past five receptions have come on passes from Armstrong teases of the possible future connection between the two redshirt freshmen.
They already live together and work together regularly in the offseason.
“We throw the ball around all the time,” Westerkamp said.
Nebraska was returning its top three receivers this season (Enunwa, Turner and Kenny Bell) along with several others, but Westerkamp stayed confident in his ability to help out after spending a year with the scout-team offense.
Again, it was about opportunity.
“I was ready,” he said. “I mean, I was as ready as I can be. I’ve just got to keep practicing hard. I just keep everything consistent and it’ll all work out.”
That philosophy also goes for punt returns, something Westerkamp has added to his workload the past three games. Although it so far has resulted in modest success — Westerkamp gained 12 yards on the four he returned at Purdue — it’s another place where his sure hands come into play.
“A big priority is just to field the ball, but consistency is the key,” he said. “We practice it every single day, so it’s starting to become more natural to me.”