LINCOLN — Had Nebraska I-back Ameer Abdullah chosen to enter the NFL draft instead of returning for his senior season, it appears the NFL wouldn't have minded.
In explaining his decision to return at a press conference at Memorial Stadium on Thursday, Abdullah said the draft grade he received from the NFL College Advisory Committee was “really high — definitely high in the first half of the draft.” Asked if he would have left for a first-round grade, Abdullah briefly paused, smiled and said, “It was very high — it was right around that ballpark.”
Abdullah announced last week in a statement that he is returning next year. The main reason — getting a history degree, which he's due to earn in December — hadn't changed. The reason as to why that degree meant so much hadn't changed, either.
“Not a lot of people can say 'We have nine college graduates in our family,' ” said Abdullah, a Homewood, Ala., native who is the youngest of nine siblings. “Especially an African-American family. That's huge.”
Abdullah expanded on his motivation for his senior season, too. He didn't divulge personal yardage goals — he has a chance to become the Huskers' career rushing yards leader as well as the first Nebraska back to post three 1,000-yard seasons — but did admit there are areas of his game he can improve: ball security, pass blocking, finishing runs.
“A lot of guys get to a point of complacency where they've reached their ceiling, and I feel like I haven't even scratched the surface,” Abdullah said. “I feel like I can come back and really improve as a back.”
And grow as a leader. Abdullah said he wants to win a Big Ten title and play more of a vocal role in trying to lead Nebraska to its first conference crown since 1999. Abdullah expects seniors-to-be Josh Mitchell and Kenny Bell — the first teammates he told of his return — to join him in that effort.
“I feel like I really have to be the voice of the team now,” Abdullah said. “... I really need to step into that role and get through to our younger players what the attitude is for our team and what the standard is for our team.”
Abdullah's oldest brother, 36-year-old Muhammad Abdullah, didn't hear the press conference. But the lawyer in Birmingham, Ala., would have been nodding his head to it. Muhammad, Ameer said, was a key adviser in the decision to return.
“He's very wise,” Ameer said. “He knows a lot about life. He's been through just about any situation you could imagine. He really gave me a lot of comfort in coming back, a lot of insight about the pros and cons of leaving.”
When Ameer decided Jan. 7 to return — he wouldn't announce the decision for two more days — Muhammad said he knew before any of Ameer's coaches or teammates did.
In a phone interview, Muhammad explained his counsel in brief by saying: “We finish what we start.”
And in full: “I say, hey, what's stopping you from doing both — getting a degree and playing in the NFL? Why go back (to school) when you can do it now?” Muhammad said. “You have to create as many options in life as possible.”
The average NFL career for a running back, Muhammad said, was four to five years. If Ameer had the average career — a good stint in the league, millions of dollars — he'd still be done with his NFL career in his 20s. Better to get the degree now than go back later, he said.
“Who wants to come back to school after you leave school?” he said.
And Ameer's ready to accept the risk of an injury in 2014. A former Husker and mentor for Abdullah — Rex Burkhead — slipped in the 2013 NFL draft after his senior campaign was dashed by several aggravations of the same knee injury. Burkhead spent most of his rookie season with the Cincinnati Bengals inactive for most games.
Abdullah understands he could get hurt, too. He rolled his ankle this year and fought through it in Big Ten play. No big deal, he said. The risk of coming back didn't seem to be too big of a deal, either.
“Obviously there's a risk,” he said. “There's a risk walking down the street.”
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Video: Ameer Abdullah talks with the media