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.”
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Nebraska's former head football coach Tom Osborne looks on from the sideline before the Colorado game.
Shelley Malone and Jayme Malone, of Lincoln, who have been married for 42 years walk through a shaft of light in the concourse of Memorial Stadium prior to the Troy game.
Nebraska's Devine Ozigbo (22) carries the ball upfield against Northwestern during the fourth quarter.
Northwestern's Flynn Nagel (2) bobbles the ball that was ultimately intercepted by Nebraska's Tre Neal (14) during the fourth quarter.
Nebraska's Stanley Morgan Jr gives a peace symbol after scoring a touchdown against Illinois.
Nebraska's Adrian Martinez jumps in the air after a win over Michigan State.
Nebraska's Maurice Washington is lifted into the air after scoring a touchdown against Iowa.
The golden feathers atop the Minnesota band hats glow before the game against Nebraska.
Nebraska's Dicaprio Bootle, left, and Cam Taylor celebrates beating Michigan State 9-6.
Antonio Reed, right, forces Michigan State's Rocky Lombardi to fumble the ball in the fourth quarter.
Nebraska's Adrian Martinez scores a fourth quarter touchdown against Iowa.
Iowa's Jake Gervase can't stop Nebraska's Jack Stoll from scoring a first quarter touchdown.
Nebraska's Devine Ozigbo celebrates a first quarter touchdown against Minnesota.
Nebraska's Stanley Morgan Jr. reaches for a punt midway through the third quarter against Michigan State.
Nebraska's Matt Jarzynka hugs his mother Susan, as she and his father Mike Jarzynka participate in senior day ceremonies.
Nebraska's Jerald Foster lifts up place kicker Barret Pickering after a field goal against Michigan State.
Nebraska's Stanley Morgan Jr. catches a pass against Michigan State at the 12-minute mark in the fourth quarter.
Nebraska's Barret Pickering, center, celebrates hitting a fourth quarter field goal with teammates Tanner Farmer, left, and Kurt Rafdal, right.
Nebraska's Jack Stoll (86) is hit and flanked by Purdue's Tario Fuller (25) and Dedrick Mackey (1) on a kick return during the second quarter.
Nebraska's Devine Ozigbo runs against Bethune-Cookman.
Nebraska head coach Scott Frost congratulates Mick Stoltenberg on his pass interception late in the fourth quarter against Illinois.
Nebraska's Devine Ozigbo runs for a fourth quarter touchdown as Illinois' Jartavius Martin chases him.
A stiff wind blows the beard of Lyle Bridgmon, of Falls City, Nebraska around, as he waits for the start of the Nebraska and Michigan State game outside of Memorial Stadium.
Nebraska's Devine Ozigbo gets tackled by Michigan State's Andrew Dowell, No.5, and Kenny Willekes, No. 48, on the first drive of the game.
Nebraska's Stanley Morgan Jr. (8) fails to make a catch while guarded by Colorado's Evan Worthington (6) and Delrick Abrams (1) during the third quarter.
Nebraska Head Coach Scott Frost waves to the crowd as he leaves the field after defeating Bethune-Cookman 45-9.
Nebraska's Noah Vedral sits in the end zone after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Bethune-Cookman.
Bethune-Cookman's David Israel throws a pass in the third quarter against Nebraska.
Nebraska's Noah Vedral dives for a touchdown against Bethune-Cookman.
Nebraska's Adrian Martinez throws a pass in the second quarter against Minnesota.
Fans can get a detailed view of Nebraska's Memorial Stadium via a custom tour arranged through the athletic department.
Nebraska's Aaron Williams celebrates making a 4th down stop in the second quarter against Minnesota.
Nebraska's Stanley Morgan Jr. pokes Nebraska head coach Scott Frost while he is being interviewed after the Minnesota game.
Nebraska's JD Spielman walks into the end zone for a second quarter touchdown against Minnesota.
Nebraska's Noah Vedral throws a pass in the third quarter against Bethune-Cookman.
Purdue's D.J. Knox (1) leaps over Nebraska's Lamar Jackson (21) bringing the ball to the 1-yard-line during the second quarter.
Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander runs the stairs at Michigan Stadium before the start of the game.
Husker fans Ian Froemming, center, and Chris Miller, right, both of Omaha, aren't impressed as Michigan scores a first quarter touchdown.
Nebraska's Adrian Martinez is sacked by Michigan defenders Devin Bush (10), Michael Dwumfour (50) and Devin Gil (36) in the second quarter.
Purdue's Kenneth Major breaks up a fourth quarter pass intended for Nebraska's Stanley Morgan Jr.
Fans walk around campus before the start of the Nebraska and Minnesota.
Nebraska head coach Scott Frost leads the Huskers on the field for the first time as coach before the Akron game that was rained out.
Christa Rahl cheers as she and the rest of the student section wait out the weather delay against Akron.
Morgan Peatrowsky of West Point, Nebraska, stands in the rain as the crowd is cleared from the bleachers because of lightning before the Akron game that was rained out.
Nebraska's Stanley Morgan Jr. falls into the fans seating while going for a fourth quarter pass against Colorado.
Nebraska's Dicaprio Bootle breaks up a pass intended for Colorado's K.D. Nixon in the third quarter.
Nebraska's quarterbacks coach, Mario Verduzco, removes a unlit cigar from his mouth as he and the Huskers arrive at Memorial Stadium for the Unity Walk prior to the Akron game that was rained out.
Nebraska's Stanley Morgan Jr. (8) attempts to leap over Ohio State's Damon Arnette (3) during the first quarter.
Nebraska's head football coach Scott Frost exits the field after the 36-31 loss to Ohio State.
Nebraska's senior Jerald Foster (67) is embraced by head coach Scott Frost during a senior ceremony prior to the Michigan State game.
Nebraska's Jaevon McQuitty (4), Tanner Farmer (63) and Jordan Ober (84) participate in the tunnel walk before the game against Michigan State.
Nebraska's head coach Scott Frost hoists a football in the air after defeating Michigan State 9-6.
Nebraska's Adrian Martinez enters Ohio Stadium prior to the Ohio State game.
Nebraska's Adrian Martinez (2) celebrates his touchdown with teammates Kurt Rafdal (82) and Brenden Jaimes (76) against Ohio State during the second quarter.
Nebraska's head football coach Scott Frost walks off the bus as he arrives at Memorial Stadium for the Unity Walk prior to the game against Akron that was rained out.
Nebraska's Austin Allen takes the field with fellow Huskers prior to kickoff against Northwestern.
Nebraska's head coach Scott Frost burries his face in his hands after visiting an injured Luke Gifford during the fourth quarter against Northwestern.
Cheese head, Brett Peterson, of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and corn head Casey Conner, of Athens, Wisconsin, look on during the Wisconsin game.