LINCOLN — Late in Saturday’s scrimmage, after most of the top backs had taken their share of carries, sophomore walk-on Wyatt Mazour got a handoff and skittered to a big hole on his right. He turned on the speed, made a defender miss and got a good gain — perhaps 12 yards.
“He’s quick,” said one of the high school coaches in town for Nebraska’s coaching clinic. Mazour, whose excellent career as a Boone Central quarterback helped the Cardinals win the 2014 Class C-1 state title, will often make a play during practice that grabs your attention for a second. It’s grabbed coach Mike Riley’s attention, too. He calls him “our Danny Woodhead,” a nod to the former Chadron State star and NFL back whose size and skill set mirror, to some degree, Mazour’s.
Riley liked Mazour enough last season that he was ready to put him on the kickoff return team. Mazour would have been in the thick of it at Indiana. Reporters would have written the stories about Mazour then if not for the Tuesday practice before the game.
Mazour, playing scout team, met linebacker Josh Banderas right in the hole.
“A lineman grabbed my shoulder pads, so I was head up with Josh,” Mazour said. “I lowered my head into him and had helmet-to-helmet contact.
“I’d never had a concussion. That’s probably what made it so bad — I kept practicing with it.”
Mazour wasn’t dizzy. But his head was pounding. That night, Mazour went home to his house, which has an entry keypad. For three minutes, Mazour stood at that keypad, pressing random numbers, before he remembered the code.
The next day, Mazour was in a class, a lab, and the world just tipped over on him. Total dizziness. He immediately went to Nebraska’s team doctors, including Dr. Lonnie Albers, and explained the symptoms.
Mazour had sustained a serious concussion. Doctors told him there’s no quick way to recover from it. It took time and patience and sleep. Twelve hours a night, preferably.
Sleep without an alarm clock, doctors told him. So Mazour, exhausted by day’s end, would go to bed at 10 p.m. He was used to waking up at 6 a.m., but Mazour forced himself to go back to sleep for another four hours.
Mazour missed 3 1/2 weeks of class; concentrating on homework, doctors told him, would only make it worse. He couldn’t drive for weeks. He had to avoid light as much as possible. For weeks, he met with doctors daily.
“Our doctors and trainers were very, very conservative with Wyatt,” said Riley, who has no oversight over injury or concussion protocol. “I left them alone, wondering if he’d ever be given the OK to come back.”
For a guy who moved so effortlessly on a high school field, the simple tasks, for weeks, were a major challenge.
“When I was walking around campus, my vision was spinning,” Mazour said. “And four weeks after, I was driving home on the Interstate, and it was bad. I wasn’t spinning, that’d be too dangerous, but I could notice it for sure.”
Professors were compassionate, extending deadlines and making arrangements for Mazour, who said ironically it was his best semester of grades. And after a period of his balance and vision fading and coming back, “eventually it all settled down.”
All told, it took two months, Mazour said, to fully recover. He was cleared sometime in December. He’d missed the season, but gained a slight advantage over his teammates — he started training for spring one month earlier than they did.
“I’m glad that he’s back, and I think he’s in a place where he’s building confidence,” said Riley, who’s put Mazour on the punt and kickoff team. “I love him. He’s been cleared. He’s finding confidence playing again. I think he can find some niches on our team.”
Mazour could have waited until fall camp — the doctors wouldn’t have been against it. Riley would have allowed it. But Mazour wanted to be in spring. He wants to play a lot of football at Nebraska, despite a harrowing concussion.
“Because I love football, I love these guys, and it’s a dream of mine,” Mazour said. “And I’m not going to stop until I achieve it.”
On with the Rewind:
I see you (scrimmage edition)
» Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco: Armed with a player’s energy, Diaco coaches players as rigorously as any coach I’ve seen without it seeming harsh or sarcastic. The rigor is pretty common. Rigor without harshness is uncommon.
» Quarterback Tanner Lee: He had the edge in the quarterback race. Lee has the arm strength and that occasional “Wow!” throw that few Big Ten quarterbacks make. He also takes care of the ball; an overthrow of JD Spielman during a drill was perhaps wise, because Spielman was well covered.
» Defensive linemen Mick Stoltenberg, Carlos Davis, Freedom Akinmoladun, Khalil Davis, Peyton Newell and DaiShon Neal: From ground-level, that’s a big group of men, Big Ten-sized, and they won a lot of physical drill repetitions Saturday.
» Cornerback Chris Jones: He’s had a look all spring camp. He could be NU’s best cornerback since Alfonzo Dennard and Prince Amukamara balled out in 2010.
» Safety JoJo Domann: He knows the game so well for a true sophomore, in part because he’s played nearly every position. His play Saturday shows that he could be a factor at safety. He already is on special teams. Remember he’s a Trent Bray recruit.
» Linebacker Mohamed Barry: Another Bray recruit. Last season, after many practices, Barry stayed late, perhaps a half-hour, to do something extra — catch passes, work on a drill. He wants it. And he can play — he’s physical, aggressive and instinctive. He’ll push Dedrick Young a lot.
» Linebacker Tyrin Ferguson: Hey, it’s another Bray recruit. Ferguson, sidelined for a chunk of camp, seemed to fit in just fine at outside linebacker Saturday. He was slated to be a middle linebacker in the old system; seemed like an odd fit.
» Offensive tackle Matt Farniok: “Feisty Farniok” will put a good challenge into David Knevel by next season. There are downs when he’s great, and downs when the youth shows. But Farniok plays with some edge to him.
» Cornerback Eric Lee: The change in position coaches — from Brian Stewart to Donte Williams — has served Lee well. He’s playing more like the guy you expected to see coming out of high school. Lee’s close friend, Avery Anderson, has also moved to corner. I think it’ll do the same for him in time.
» Cornerback Lamar Jackson: Nebraska is willing to explore a long-term starting corner playing safety to make room for Jackson’s skill and size. It’s a good move, and perhaps a necessary move, once Jackson fulfills his potential.
» 19: Catches from Nebraska’s top tight end, Cethan Carter, last season. However good Tyler Hoppes is, he will have more catches than Carter, and Hoppes may even have double the catches. Remember: Carter was open for four years.
» 4.20: Yards per carry for Nebraska last season, 87th nationally. Nothing I saw in Saturday’s scrimmage — again, just a scrimmage — made it seem like that number will be better in 2017.
» 4.44: Yards per carry allowed by Nebraska last season, 66th nationally. Everything I saw in Saturday’s scrimmage — again, just a scrimmage — made it seem like that number will be better in 2017.
» Minus-.24: The difference between Nebraska’s yards per carry and what it allowed. That’s NU’s first negative differential since 2007, and it ranked 12th in the Big Ten. For comparison’s sake, Ohio State was plus-2.12, Michigan plus-1.6, Wisconsin plus-1.03, Penn State plus-.62 and Iowa plus-.49.
» Plus-1.02: Nebraska’s best differential since joining the Big Ten came in ... 2013. Its second best differential was in 2015, at plus-.95, underlining, once again, that the 2015 team was, by season’s end, better than its record, while the 2016 team was, by season’s end, worse than its record.
Because I know such things interest you, shall I give you the differential from the 1997 national title team? Yes? OK: plus-4.08.
The offense strikes back this week after the defense took the scrimmage handily.