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Lincoln, NE - Hanging in Nebraska freshman Ameer Abdullah’s bedroom is a sign reading, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
The quote is credited to Mark Twain, but Abdullah first heard it from Darren Sproles of the New Orleans Saints.
The diminutive return specialists formed a kinship as occasional offseason workout partners in Birmingham, Ala., and Sproles’ credo is now Abdullah’s.
“Sproles is 5-6, 195 — not a big guy — but his work ethic is bigger than his stature,” Abdullah said. “I put that over my bed. I look at it every day to keep me motivated.”
Abdullah has already scored one special teams TD/i>
Abdullah, who stands 5-9 and is generously listed at 180 pounds, was largely overlooked on the recruiting scene until he was a high school senior in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood.
He came to Nebraska as the least heralded of the three running backs in the 2011 recruiting class but surely has a higher Q rating than Braylon Heard and Aaron Green this week after returning a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to break open a 42-29 win over Fresno State.
“He was a huge weapon for us,” coach Bo Pelini said, “and will continue to be.”
Heading into Saturday’s game against Washington, Abdullah is second nationally in kick returns with a 42-yard average. Take away his 100-yarder, and that number would still be an impressive 28 yards. His 16.8-yard punt return average ranks 13th.
You could call Abdullah a recruiting steal, but Nebraska didn’t exactly have to pry him out of SEC country.
Alabama didn’t offer him a scholarship. Auburn, the team he rooted for since he was 6, made offers early and late in the process but didn’t initially project him as a running back.
Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck approached Abdullah because it was 50-50 that Heard would qualify academically and the Huskers needed to hedge their bet. Abdullah visited Lincoln on a mid-January weekend, experienced snow and bitter cold for the first time — and enthusiastically accepted Pelini’s scholarship offer two days after he returned home.
“I came up and saw the place, fell in love with it and have been enjoying it since then,” Abdullah said. “Nebraska, the atmosphere and tradition that comes with it, you can’t top it.”
Abdullah arrived on campus in June and became roommates with Heard and Green. They are more friends than rivals.
“We’re silly guys,” he said. “I love those guys. They’re just like my brothers.”
Abdullah, who runs a 4.38-second 40-yard dash, was all business during summer workouts and went into preseason practice willing to do anything to get on the field. He won the battle for the kick return job four days before the opener against Chattanooga and is listed as a co-No. 2 I-back behind Rex Burkhead.
“He’s a very humble kid,” Burkhead said. “He came in just eager to learn. That’s the biggest thing. He didn’t come in thinking he was the big man on campus at all.”
Why would he?
Abdullah wouldn’t have a sense of entitlement in any circumstance, said his personal trainer and mentor, former NFL defensive end Otis Leverette.
Abdullah with NU running back's coach Ron Brown