Even before teammates voted him one of five Nebraska captains for the 2014 football season, I-back Ameer Abdullah didn’t have a problem approaching any player on the team. Offense. Defense. Star. Scrub.
“I have a pretty good relationship with guys — walk-on freshmen even — at this point,” Abdullah said Monday. “I never hold back to talk to anyone.”
Abdullah and the other four senior captains — wide receiver Kenny Bell, left guard Jake Cotton, safety Corey Cooper and cornerback Josh Mitchell — will likely get that extra latitude to speak to the team and for it. It’s the second time in coach Bo Pelini’s seven years at Nebraska that he’s named captains before the season. Players voted and the selections were announced at practice Sunday night.
The moment had a certain resonance for Cotton, whose dad, Barney Cotton, is a tight ends and offensive line coach for the Huskers. Father and son shared a handshake as they left the field Sunday.
“I could tell he was very proud,” Jake Cotton said. “I was very lucky to have that moment with my father. The other four guys who were named captains weren’t lucky enough to shake their dad’s hand after getting news like that.”
Mitchell, whose status with the team was unclear late in 2011, is one of Pelini’s biggest success stories. Pelini has recounted more than once Mitchell’s initial struggles in the program. In the past two years, Mitchell has emerged as a leader after being a “jokester who liked to play around a lot” earlier in his career.
“One thing about me that I’ve tried to do since day one was build great relationships,” Mitchell said. “Those guys voted me to be captain of the team, which is very humbling.”
Cooper and Bell did not speak with the press Monday.
Wide receiver duo among walk-ons earning scholarships
At least three in-state former walk-ons have been put on scholarship for the 2014 season — and there may be more to come.
Pelini announced Monday that starting punter Sam Foltz and wide receivers Brandon Reilly and Sam Burtch had been placed on scholarship. None of the three are seniors. Foltz, a sophomore, is from Grand Island. Burtch, a junior, played at Elmwood-Murdock in high school, while Reilly, a sophomore, was a late-bloomer at Lincoln Southwest.
Burtch and Reilly were lightly recruited out of high school, neither receiving FBS offers. Both quickly made impacts on the offense, combining for 15 catches, 191 yards and four touchdowns.
“They made a name for themselves,” quarterback Tommy Armstrong said. “They did the right things and accomplished a lot. It’s their work ethic. They know you have to prove yourself. That’s what they did. They made big-time catches. They’ve done exactly what coaches wanted them to do: make plays when your number is called.”
Another player officially on scholarship, Pelini confirmed Monday, is starting left tackle Alex Lewis. Lewis had to pay his own way to school last year while in the midst of legal issues stemming from a Boulder, Colorado, fight in May 2013. Lewis pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and served 29 days in jail this summer. Lewis has often looked like the Huskers’ most complete offensive lineman during the offseason.
“Alex is a fantastic player to play next to,” Cotton said. “I knew the day I hosted on his official visit back in May 2013 that he was going to be a perfect fit within our room and within our culture and even add to it.
“He kinda had a tough road to get to where he is today, but last fall when he wasn’t with the team and going to school, he was still coming around with us. So we never really lost contact with him. We always stayed in touch when he was going through stuff. He’s fiery, competitive and there really wasn’t any learning period with us.”
Walton not with program, but should join by January
Freshman Jaevon Walton won’t be with the program this fall, but Pelini indicated that the linebacker from Louisiana should be on campus by January.
Walton — who signed with NU in February — joined the program over the summer, but never participated in preseason camp. His absence was related to a family issue, Pelini said.
No other details regarding Walton’s pending status have been released.
Here’s what Pelini said at Monday’s press conference: “We’ve worked through some things with Jaevon, some things that he’s working through. If he follows through with all those things, which I anticipate he will, there’s a good chance you’ll see him in January.”
Former Husker defensive tackle Curry transfers to TCU
Former Nebraska defensive tackle Aaron Curry, who left the Husker program midway through preseason camp, has officially transferred to TCU.
Aaron Curry Sr. told The World-Herald that his son picked TCU after considering a handful of schools. The 6-foot-1, 280-pounder from Keller, Texas, signed scholarship papers Monday and will start practicing with the Horned Frogs on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Aaron Curry Sr. said moving closer to home “was the main reason” behind the decision, but Curry also liked TCU’s defensive style and how it uses its tackles. Curry will have to redshirt this season.
“He didn’t like that part at all, but that’s the rules,” Aaron Curry Sr. said. “He’ll just get stronger, just get quicker and just learn the defense.”
Curry came down to TCU, NU and Iowa in 2012 before signing with the Huskers. He played in 17 games over two seasons, including eight starts, and contributed 26 total tackles (with two sacks) as a sophomore.
Nebraska also lost a Texan to the Horned Frogs in 2012 when I-back Aaron Green transferred to TCU. Green, from San Antonio, rushed for 232 yards last year for the Big 12 school and will be a junior this season.
Huskers feel fresher after shortened practices
Sophomore receiver Jordan Westerkamp said Monday he feels better coming out of a Nebraska preseason camp than either of his prior two years, a nod to the Huskers shortening August practices.
“We’d get in and get our work done,” Westerkamp said. “The tempo was crazy, so the first couple days it kind of takes some adjusting to get used to that, but overall it’s been great. I feel fresh. I feel fresher than I’ve ever felt right now going into game week. So I really like what we did.”
Westerkamp said NU coaches asked for feedback on the change, especially from the seniors. Junior I-back Imani Cross said he believed, for the most part, “it’s all been positive.”
“I think that we do feel fresher,” Cross said. “I think that we are a lot more energized heading into week one. So I think it’s done some good things for us.”
Cross laughed when asked if he missed anything about longer practices.
“We still get our work done,” he said. “It’s just we do it faster than we used to.”
Husker QB recruit opts for JV over another transfer
Nebraska 2015 quarterback commit Kevin Dillman just might be the best starting JV quarterback in Texas this fall.
Denied the chance to play varsity football at Denton Guyer High School by the state’s athletic governing body — the University Interscholastic League — Dillman chose to stick with Guyer instead of transferring to a private school not governed by the UIL.
“Oh yeah, it was definitely a hard decision,” Dillman told the Denton Record-Chronicle. “I’ve yet to hear from Nebraska what they want me to do, so it’s a decision I based on myself. Pretty much, it’s the people I was around here. They had a more competitive edge in football and their attitude (at Guyer). That’s why I felt I fit in more here.”
A Swedish immigrant who is now an American citizen, Dillman transferred from La Mirada (California) High School after his junior year, following guardian Peter Dames to Texas. The UIL denied Dillman eligibility. Guyer’s starting quarterback, 2017 prospect Shawn Robinson, is also a Husker target.
Nebraska remains active in its pursuit for another quarterback in the class, as Husker Online reported last week that Boynton Beach (Florida) signal-caller Lamar Jackson will visit for the Sept. 20 game against Miami (Florida).
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Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, part 1
Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, part 2
Video: Nebraska I-back Ameer Abdullah
Video: Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong
Video: Tom Shatel on "The Bottom Line"