LINCOLN — A true freshman walk-on was the talk of practice Tuesday. And he didn’t even participate in the workout.
If Luke Reimer was unsure about his impact midway through Nebraska’s fall camp, all he had to do was eavesdrop on conversations on the second floor of the Hawks Center. His position coach doled out unsolicited praise. So did the senior star he plays behind. Other Huskers and coaches lit up when asked about the 6-foot-1, 220-pound inside linebacker who spent last fall as a two-way wrecker at Lincoln North Star.
They find different reasons for praise. Scott Frost’s staff loves Reimer’s knack for finding the football, even when his read is wrong. Teammates gush about his performance in Sunday’s live scrimmage, when he consistently pushed through obvious fatigue and blockers to gum up offensive plays.
Sophomore defensive back Cam Taylor said he was one of the veteran defenders asking who No. 28 was. Many nodded in agreement that the guy who turned down a scholarship at South Dakota State looked like he already had one in Lincoln.
“He’s a walk-on,” Taylor said. “But, man, he won’t be a walk-on for long.”
Inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud dubbed Reimer the surprise of camp at his position thus far. Ruud knew the former eight-man athlete from Kansas was fast, but he’s been impressed by the on-field quickness and football movements. Not just anyone can be out of place within the defensive scheme and still find a way to make a stop on the same play.
Across the room, meanwhile, NU’s leading tackler from last year and a returning All-Big Ten linebacker also singled out the newcomer. If game recognizes game, consider Reimer on notice.
“He might not know everything; everything might not be clear,” senior Mohamed Barry said. “But you want to show you have elite athleticism, that you have something to give to this team. I think he’s going to play this year, whether it’s special teams or playing (on defense).”
Reimer sat out Tuesday’s session — he had “a little ding,” Ruud said — but is already earning the right to compete with NU’s backup unit behind Barry and a combination of Will Honas and Collin Miller. The opportunity is there, too, considering inside ’backer is still among the thinnest positions on the team and one top scholarship freshman, Nick Henrich, continues to rehab from shoulder surgery.
Reimer told The World-Herald in January that he chose Nebraska because he wanted to push himself and see how far he could go with football. That came after a senior prep season in which he led his team in tackles (74) and rushing yards (328). Toughness was never a problem.
He also had scholarship offers from schools such as Buffalo, Northern Iowa and North Dakota. But competing at the highest level held an appeal he couldn’t ignore.
“I really believe in two or three years people are going to go, ‘Wow, I can’t believe he was a walk-on,’ ” North Star coach Tony Kobza said last winter.
The teenager is working on making his former coach look prescient. Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said no one on the team is a better example of fully investing himself into the culture than the former prospect who flew under so many recruiting radars.
With the season opener just weeks away, No. 28 is in the mix to be one of the early surprises.
“He’s wrong a lot, but dang it, he finds the football,” Chinander said. “He embodies the desire to excel and no fear of failure. Whether he’s right or wrong on a call, he’s going to go make a tackle and he’s done some really nice things.”