Barret Pickering

Barret Pickering, center, celebrates with teammates Tanner Farmer, left, and Kurt Rafdal after hitting a game-winning field goal in the snow against Michigan State last season.

LINCOLN — Barret Pickering has heard the offseason hype about Nebraska football. And he couldn’t agree more.

The sophomore kicker didn’t mince words during a short conversation with reporters inside Memorial Stadium on Wednesday. He asked where the College Football Playoff semifinal sites are, because he thinks the Huskers, despite coming off a 4-8 campaign, can get there.

“I just definitely feel like coming off of last year, we’re 10 strides better,” Pickering said. “We’re definitely playing pretty good. I feel like it’ll be a good year.”

Part of the optimism comes from seeing his own abilities improve in the offseason. He spent most of May and June working on mechanics. Now he’s doing field goals and kickoffs four times a week as he stacks reps ahead of fall camp.

Pickering, an Alabama native, took over kickoff duties from Caleb Lightbourn for the final three games last season. He plans to continue in that role. He’s also aiming to hit 90% of his field goals after finishing 14 of 18 (77.8%) in 2018. The 19-year-old made his final 10 attempts last season along with 40 of 41 extra-point tries.

After connecting from 47 and 46 yards late last year, Pickering said he’s comfortable from about 55 yards now, depending on conditions.

“Definitely I have improved the distance,” Pickering said. “Just showing Coach (Scott) Frost that I can put them in from longer distances, like 55-plus (yards). We’ll just see how everything plays out in fall camp. Hopefully we’re hitting some long ones this year.”

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Other notes from Pickering’s interview:

» Freshman walk-ons Gabe Heins (Kearney) and Dylan Jorgensen (Lincoln Southwest) are the other NU kickers Pickering has worked with this summer. He said they have pushed him, but he’s confident he’ll keep his starting job.

» Pickering said he’ll wait to consult with special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt about how to approach kickoffs. He said it will be a blend of hang time, distance and location depending on the weather.

» The Husker who continues to catch his eye in the offseason has been defensive lineman Damian Jackson, the former Navy SEAL. Pickering said the sophomore is a “beast” no matter the drill.

» Pickering was promoting the seventh annual Nebraska Football Road Race, which will take place Sunday. The event begins at 8 a.m. with a one-mile fun run with NU players and follows with a 5K for more serious runners just outside the west side of Memorial Stadium.

The event, which helps raise awareness and funds for pediatric brain cancer research, is an offshoot of the relationship between former Husker running back Rex Burkhead and Jack Hoffman.

Pickering said he’s not much of a runner but is again looking forward to interacting with young fans.

“It’s just great to see every kid have a big smile ear to ear on their face,” Pickering said. “They kind of idolize us as players, and they get to be the stars of the show for a Sunday instead of us being the star on a Saturday.”

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