LINCOLN — Moments before one of the best plays of his football career, Darien Chase made one of his worst.

The senior had maybe a minute to process what had just happened. His high school team in Vancouver, Washington, had traveled 700 miles to play another talented club in the San Francisco area and hung tough into the night. But with a late two-point lead, Chase underestimated the speed of the man he was covering from his cornerback position and gave up a jump-ball score in the end zone.

With seconds left and a hostile crowd jeering him, Chase popped the ensuing kickoff return for an 85-yard winner.

“The fans thought I sucked because I gave up the touchdown,” Chase said. “So it felt pretty good to return it.”

Chase recalls that story when he needs a reminder to never give up. He could have when he felt like the only “ranked” recruit in the Pacific Northwest without a scholarship offer through his junior season. Or when he wanted to play receiver in college but seemingly everyone insisted he focus on defensive back.

But as on a deep pass on one of his signature vertical routes, Chase kept his eye on the ball. Nebraska offered a scholarship in October, and the 6-foot-1, 185-pound standout with speed to burn was sold during an official visit soon after. “All-around offense” is how coaches describe his future role to him. He plans to sign Dec. 19 and arrive in Lincoln next summer as part of the 2019 class.

“Usually when you go on a visit, it’s like ‘Every visit is the greatest’ or whatever,” Chase said. “But that feeling stuck with me and is still with me ever since I left there.”

Chase’s credentials could inflate his ego if he let them. A 65-catch senior year for 1,004 yards and 14 touchdowns along with 39 tackles, two interceptions and 10 pass breakups as a key piece for undefeated state champion Union High School. Offers included Washington, Oregon, Utah and Boise State. A composite four-star recruiting profile.

Instead, Chase asked Union coach Rory Rosenbach if he should hold off announcing his college choice until after a key rivalry game so it wouldn’t be a distraction. After a hip pointer knocked him out on the first play of the state semifinal, the Division I prospect was the biggest sideline cheerleader and a de facto coach for teammates.

“In the 2018 world of me-me-me-me kind of guys, he’s just a super unselfish superstar,” Rosenbach said. “There were games where he didn’t catch a ball or maybe one pass, but we won by 35 and he was as happy for the kids that scored as when he scored himself.”

Chase scored on one of the first snaps of the title game a week ago, catching a 20-yard touchdown on a fade route inches from the sideline. With Union up big late, he still sprinted downfield on a quick-kick punt and laid out to keep it on the 1-yard line — even though, Rosenbach insists, the refs erroneously called for a touchback.

Chase is an only child. His mother is a project engineer at a local hospital and his father was formerly part of the special forces and Army. He says with a laugh that he probably received more discipline than “regular parents” provide, though it was no laughing matter growing up.

“I’d go to my friends’ houses and, I don’t know, there’d be a sock on the floor,” Chase said. “At my house, that’d be a pretty big deal and I’d have to go pick it up right away.”

That upbringing bled into football. He was always sure to be coachable and a good listener, especially after transferring to Union as a junior. Union quarterback Lincoln Victor, who has known Chase since he was 8, said his friend has never been afraid to ask for feedback from coaches and teammates. They trained together during the summer, and Chase found a tutor to help improve his own academic test scores that were already good enough for most universities.

Chase had originally planned to announce his college choice on his mother’s birthday in August. But with only Boise State offering him at wideout and a lack of conviction about his options, he decided to wait.

Victor said that off-the-field maturity helped Nebraska land a player with a knack for thriving in big moments.

“He’s such a dynamic playmaker,” Victor said. “He has so many aspects of his game where you look at him and it’s just like, ‘He has the “it” factor.’ He can turn games around for Nebraska, and I think it’s such a good pickup for him because as (coach Scott) Frost is building that program, he’s one of those guys that can really turn a program around. Not only what he brings as a receiver but an athlete.”

Husker coaches found Chase through a connection with offensive quality control assistant Steve Cooper, a longtime assistant at Portland State. Offensive coordinator Troy Walters visited him last week, then returned with Frost to see him Friday. Nebraska needs depth and ability at receiver — and coaches believe Chase can help with both.

Instincts and superb hand-eye coordination are key parts of his game, Rosenbach said. His speed and elusiveness make him excellent at getting yards after the catch, and he’s shown he can consistently beat press coverage against FBS-caliber defenders.

“I think he’s a guy that’s going to make the highlight reel catches, but he’s also going to catch the little bubble screens where he’s got to make a guy miss and break tackles,” Rosenbach said. “He’s not afraid to go over the middle; he’s not afraid to go up high and get one. He’s just a football player. Coach Frost is big on that, and I know Darien will work his tail off.”

Evan Bland covers Nebraska football, baseball and other sports for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @EvanBlandOWH.

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