LINCOLN — Devine Ozigbo doesn’t know anything about Nebraska’s depth chart, or when one would be coming that might reveal where the I-backs stand.
And Ozigbo finds one positive about it: All of them should have no trouble staying hungry through the rest of spring practice and into fall camp.
“Right now, we’re going to see what’s going to happen,” assistant Reggie Davis said. “We don’t have a No. 1 right now.”
In the meantime, Ozigbo has focused on becoming a more complete back. It was that attention to detail that helped lead to his career-high 21 carries in the Foster Farms Bowl, and one that will determine which of the returnees separate from the pack.
Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf has watched the 5-foot-11, 230-pound sophomore-to-be continue to find his place and put it together.
“I like how Devine’s looked,” Langsdorf said. “He’s been an all-around guy.
“He’s really doing kind of everything well. He’s catching the ball, he’s running the ball — we haven’t had a ton of pass protection with him quite yet, but as we get more pressure with the defense we’ll see more and more of that — but I like how he’s come along.”
Ozigbo was the surprise of the I-backs last fall, working his way into some midseason duty as a true freshman before running for a game-high 87 yards and catching a 15-yard pass against UCLA in the bowl.
It was momentum that Ozigbo took into the winter, where he knew the next steps were getting faster and stronger.
“People respect you a little bit more maybe, because you’re showing them that you can actually hang with them, play with the team,” Ozigbo said. “It made things easier, but you still have to go into the weight room and prove yourself, because nobody really cared what you did. It’s all about what’s going to happen in the future.”
That leads Ozigbo to his daily competition with fellow I-backs Terrell Newby, Mikale Wilbon, Adam Taylor and others, which resumes when Nebraska returns to practice Tuesday. The Huskers then add recruit Tre Bryant in the summer.
Newby saw the most snaps last season, gaining the trust of the NU staff with his versatility and knowledge of the offense. He ran for a team-high 765 yards as a junior, but didn’t have more than 10 carries in any of the Huskers’ last five games as he dealt with a nagging ankle injury.
Ozigbo sensed a chance to share more of the work with Newby and Imani Cross in December practices, and said he locked in on every little thing. Some of it was as simple as footwork or where to hit a hole, but also maybe minor details that had previously overwhelmed him as a newcomer.
“And that definitely was one thing that helped me in that period of time,” Ozigbo said.
It kept him on the field at the Foster Farms Bowl. And his steady work against the Bruins — no run was longer than 12 yards — padded his confidence.
“It’s definitely good, especially being a good team like UCLA,” Ozigbo said. “They play a lot of good games, play a lot of good backs, and being able to have success against them boosted my confidence.
“I was surprised at how much I played, but I was happy with it.”
Ozigbo said his 10-yard dash time coming out of winter testing was 1.69 seconds, and he felt quicker in drills. He was one of 13 Huskers to score over 500 points on all three tests used to compile performance index.
Davis said NU will find out how Ozigbo finishes some runs as the team tackles more in practice. But he sees a willingness from Ozigbo “to run behind his pads.”
“I think he’s just looking more comfortable than as a true freshman,” Langsdorf said. “And all that game experience will help him as we get into the fall.”
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