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2009 Nebraska Football Spring Preview: Running Backs

Husker fans have to be feeling pretty comfortable with the running back position due to the return of the Roy Helu/Quentin Castille combination. Despite that cozy feeling, the key for spring will be finding a dependable third back. A12-game regular season schedule exacts quite a pounding on running backs and the more dependable options a team has, the better off they're going to be.

A constant theme throughout spring is the replacement of Joe Ganz, Nate Swift and Todd Peterson. A new starting quarterback is not going to simply take over where Ganz left off. They'll need time to develop, and there is no better way to take the pressure of them than have a dependable (there's that word again) running game.

 He's making Huskers fans feel good about 2009, but when will Roy Helu be good enough to deserve a nick name?
Photo by Dennis Hubbard

Despite starting only two games last season, Roy Helu Jr finished as 2008's top rusher, totaling 839 yards on 125 carries for a 6.4 average. He performed well enough to garner All Big 12 Honorable Mention honors from the conference coaches and was fifth in conference in yards per game at 80.0 (before the Gator Bowl when saw limited action due to injury).

Helu was big part of Nebraska's resurgent run game in the latter part of 2008, as he gained at least 100 yards in three of the final four games of the season. If you need even more reason to smile, his 6.4 yard per carry average was the best average of a running back with over 100 carries since 2000 when Dan Alexander (6.3 ypc, 182 att.) and Correll Buckhalter (7.1 ypc, 106 att).

Quentin Castille's performance in the Gator Bowl was the perfect example of why college teams cannot rely on a single featured back. When Roy Helu went down, Castille stepped up and gained 140 yards on 18 carries, for a 6.9 yard per carry average. Castille's previous high on the 2008 season was against New Mexico State, where he had 10 carries for 75 yards. Castille finished third in the rushing total, starting one game and totaling 505 yards on 106 carries for a 4.4 average.

Marcus Mendoza is the only returning back beyond Helu and Castille that saw a carry last season. He played in four games, finishing with 110 yards on 15 carries. Mendoza's season high came against Kansas State when he carried the ball 10 times  for 63 yards for a 6.3 yard per carry average.

Mendoza is known for his speed and should be Nebraska's third back come fall. He is one of those guys that the Huskers can utilize on the edge to provide break away flashes to the end zone. Mendoza may also assist in punt returning. He had problems fielding the ball in last year's spring game, and didn't return a punt last season but this is another area of the game in which Nate Swift must be replaced.

Austin Jones is a walk-on who looked good in last year’s spring game, but didn’t get on the field in the backfield in 2008. Along with Jones, the Huskers have a bevy of redshirt running backs.


Others to Watch:

Collins Okafor - RFr
Lester Ward - RFr
Jordan Makovicka - RFr
Jeremy Wallace - RFr

Fall will see the arrival of heralded recruit Rex Burkhead and Dontrayevous Robinson. Burkhead may be good enough to see the field next season unless one of the other backs step up their game.


Once a cornerstone in Nebraska's running game, the fullback position has been diminished to the point that the most well-known fullback returning in 2008 is defensive line standout Ndamukong Suh.

Fullbacks have been used primarily as lead blockers in short yardage and in play-action passing situations. Fullbacks have not scored a rushing touchdown in at least two years, while Thomas Lawson scored three receiving touchdowns in 2007 and Suh scored one last season.

Yet another Makovicka (YAM) should be the starting fullback as we head into 2009.


Justin Makovicka - Jr
Tyler Legate - So
Mike Hays - So
Brent Moravec - RFr

2008 Rushing Statistics:

RUSHING GP-GS Attempts Gain Loss Net Avg TD Long Avg/Game
Helu Jr., Roy 13-2 125 839 36 803 6.4 7 57 61.8
Lucky, Marlon 12-11 125 550 33 517 4.1 7 58 43.1
Castille, Q. 13-1 106 505 38 467 4.4 6 58 35.9
Ganz, Joe 13-13 92 417 159 258 2.8 5 33 19.8
Mendoza, Marcus 4-0 15 110 7 103 6.9 1 35 25.8
Swift, Nate 13-13 2 23 0 23 11.5 0 16 1.8
Witt, Patrick 5-0 4 21 1 20 5 1 16 4
Peterson, Todd 13-13 2 18 0 18 9 0 16 1.4
Lee, Zac 2-0 2 17 0 17 8.5 0 11 8.5
Henery, Alex 13-0 1 9 0 9 9 0 9 0.7
McNeill, Mike 13-12 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Paul, Niles 13-3 1 0 6 -6 -6 0 0 -0.5
Wesch, Jake 13-0 1 0 9 -9 -9 0 0 -0.7