Ty Chaffin feels like a celebrity.
Or, at least, as much of a celebrity as you can feel like in a town of 1,213.
There’s not a lot Chaffin hasn’t done to entertain the people of Burwell, Nebraska, in his time as a high school athlete. He set the football team’s career records in receiving yards and touchdowns last season, earning all-class recognition in Eight Man-1 during one of the program’s best stretches to date. In basketball, he’s the top scorer on this year’s 19-5 team. His name is plastered all over the school’s track record board.
“I walk around town and everybody says congrats or whatever, so that’s kind of nice,” Chaffin said.
Now he’s set to take his show to an even wider audience, one whose game day attendance is nearly 72 times the population of his hometown. Chaffin accepted an offer in late January to be a preferred walk-on with Nebraska football, a rise to stardom that started like most do: by taking a chance.
Early last football season, Chaffin had a scholarship offer from Dakota Wesleyan, interest from several small local colleges but nothing from the school he’d grown up rooting for. Coach Luke Gideon encouraged Chaffin to email the Huskers some film.
“And I thought, ‘If you wanted to play college football, why not give Nebraska a chance?’ ” Gideon said. “Give it a shot and give it your best effort and see what happens, and then you’d never question yourself, you know, ‘Was I ever good enough to play?’ ”
Nebraska coaches liked what they saw and kept in touch. They eventually got to see Chaffin play in their own backyard — a 44-30 Burwell loss in the Eight Man-1 state title game at Memorial Stadium. Chaffin finished with 10 catches for 158 yards and a score.
“I think (the Nebraska coaches) saw that he could be a difference maker and just that he had the ability to make plays and that he’s a big, strong kid,” Gideon said. “He could fit in the program, and why not give it a chance?”
That game was a seminal moment for Chaffin, too.
“Playing on the field was just amazing,” Chaffin said, “and all I could think about was, ‘What if I get to run out onto this field with 90,000 people or whatever?’ I just couldn’t imagine that feeling, how awesome that would be.”
Now officially a Husker, Chaffin follows a legacy of other in-state walk-on receivers. Lincoln Southwest alum Brandon Reilly earned a scholarship as a sophomore before finishing second on the team in receiving yards as a junior last season.
“There have been a lot of good walk-ons, not just receivers — Jack Gangwish and those guys,” Chaffin said. “I’m hoping to live up to (Reilly’s) standards, and I’m just going to work as hard as I can to get the job done, and whatever it takes to get that done is what I’ll do.”
With Reilly, the team’s three other top receivers and injured De’Mornay Pierson-El returning — not to mention the transition from eight-man to Big Ten football — Chaffin may spend some time waiting in the wings. For his part, though, Chaffin looks to be physical enough for his new conference. At 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, Chaffin regularly played tight end in high school, and film shows he wasn’t afraid of contact. He said he takes pride in his blocking and wants to help the team in any way he can.
“I know that receivers can’t be catching the ball on every play,” Chaffin said, laughing again. “That’d be kind of nice, but you have to be good at blocking outside because that could be key.”
Even with all of the uncertainty surrounding the bigger stage and brighter lights, Chaffin is sure of two things: his own work ethic and his decision to choose Nebraska. His response when the coaches asked him to walk on:
“Right away it was, ‘I’m going there.’ I didn’t even hesitate.”
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