AMEER ABDULLAH (FR. RB)
An excellent recruiting class had left the Cornhuskers flush with young running back talent to develop behind Rex Burkhead going into fall practice this last August. Aaron Green was huge get and a top 10 high school running back nationally. Braylon Heard was considered to be at the same level coming out of high school in 2010, had straightened out his issues and was ready to join the team as well.
Also joing the class with a little buzz and some talk about his speed was a much lesser heralded back named Ameer Abdullah. His coach was very high on him and he looked quick in the film. He seemed like the ideal candidate to redshirt and "bulk up a little" before becoming a situational type player. I was fully on board with that opinion.
I was dead wrong.
Abdullah, it seems, had other ideas about his role for his true freshman season - and redshirting wasn't part of it. With the two other freshmen competing for snaps behind Burkhead as well, the way to make a big splash was not going to be at I-Back necessarily. He had been returning kicks and punts since his freshman year of high school, however, and it was there he quickly stood out. There was a definite learning curve to deal with as the size and speed of players coming at him was on a completely different level.
By kickoff of the Fresno St. game, the learning curve had been dealt with. After three returns with a long of 38, he exploded for 100 yard TD that sparked Nebraska's big 4th quarter. He uncorked a 66 yarder the next week against Washington and is currently #3 in the country in kickoff returns. Husker fans aren't the only ones who have noticed either as both Sporting News and ESPN.com have tabbed Abdullah as the kick returner on their mid-season All American teams.
As if that isn't enough, throwing him in the backfield mid-game in relief of Burkhead for one or two toss sweeps right is becoming a mortal lock for a nine yard gain each time. It may not be Video Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl, but most folks, Bo Pelini included, will never turn down a toss sweep for a nine yard gain. And stop to think what that nine yard gain will become on that play where he gets one more block and a chance to cut back a few steps toward some open space in the middle of the field...?
The three prodigies will back up Rex for one more year and then Abdullah gets his chance to compete with his more highly touted friends for a shot at a number one job. Would you care to bet against him seeing what you've seen thus far?
So what does he mean to the Huskers for the present time being?
Many think that a breakaway return threat is a nice luxury but not quite as important as that offense that can deliver time and again - sort of like adding that satellite dish to the roof of the RV. I mean, it's fun having the Dish Network while you roll, but, dude, you're still in an RV, right?
True enough, but I still say it's the little things that win college football games. The little things and a theory that I call the "They're a Bunch of Freaking 20 Year Olds!!" Theory. It says that even the most mature of 20 year olds are usually an emotional mess deep down and the adrenalin flow involved with playing in front of 90,000 people combines with that relative inexperience and immaturity to create a roller coaster level of play in close games. Some handle it better than others, yes, but it exists at some level in the best of them.
So what does that have to do with Abdullah and his returns? Simple. If he's returning a non game-opening or post-halftime kickoff, he's doing it right after the other team has scored. Now, normally, the demeanor of the team and fans is a bit down in these situations, and the adrenaline drops accordingly.
This year, when the other team scores, once everyone is done going "Crap!" and "Sumbitch", they look up and see those dreads prowling around the goal line. The fans in the stands start buzzing. The players on the sideline start hopping around a little and a couple of the guys on the return team start waving and raising their arms to the crowd to get them on their feet. The feeling that there's a chance "We can get this right back, right NOW," becomes the vibe and roar begins in the stands and on the field.
Even if he "only" brings it back 25 yards, the attitude has been changed and hope has been temporarily restored. The other squad's score has been temporarily forgotten, because that Abdullah kid might take one to the house. Hope is springing eternal once again, because when the freshman from Alabama settles under that kick, anything can happen.
THAT is what a 5'9" 180 freshman named Ameer Abdullah brings to the table right now.