Stanley Jean-Baptiste started the season far down No. 13 Nebraska's depth chart at wide receiver. Halfway through the year, he is now challenging for a starter's job at cornerback.
He already has made one of the biggest plays of the year, an interception against Ohio State two weeks ago that set up the winning touchdown in the greatest comeback in program history.
Kenny Bell on Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Video shot by: Josh Hilkemann)
"A lot of people tell me that I have a bright future playing wide receiver, but now playing corner, everyone's saying I have a bright future at corner," Jean-Baptiste said. "I don't know what to think."
Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini thinks the sophomore from Miami should just keep doing what he's doing.
"I wish we had about six weeks to work with him there," he said. "He's working very hard at it and coming in extra and spending time on his own. He's doing everything we could possibly expect him to do to catch up. Obviously, he's a great athlete, physically capable of handling the position."
Jean-Baptiste spent a year at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas before transferring to Nebraska last year. The plan was for him to help fill the void created by the departures of receivers Niles Paul and Mike McNeill. Problem was, he couldn't beat out Jamal Turner, Quincy Enunwa and Kenny Bell.
Jean-Baptiste's only career reception was an inconsequential 7-yarder in the opener against Chattanooga and he didn't even play against Fresno State or Washington. The move to cornerback made sense, but that didn't mean it was an easy decision for Jean-Baptiste when coach Bo Pelini approached him two days after the Washington game and broached the subject.
"Yeah, it was kind of hard," Jean-Baptiste said. "I've been learning to play wide receiver since I've been in prep school really. Him telling me I'm going to play corner, in that short time, it was kind of different."
Carl Pelini said the position change wasn't a new idea.
"We used to joke back and forth with him for a long time," Carl said. "He just wants to be on the field. It was a matter of the offense wanting to give him up, which they didn't want to. Then we ended up pretty deep at receiver with a lot of young guys stepping up. We felt it was the perfect time to make that move."
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Jean-Baptiste played safety in high school, and he took to his new position immediately.
"He's a nightmare to go against in practice," Bell said.
Nineteen days after he switched positions, Jean-Baptiste found himself playing left cornerback in the second half of a tie game against Ohio State. Bo Pelini said his head told him that Jean-Baptiste was probably a week away from being game ready, but his gut told him otherwise.
"We wanted to break him in and do it at the right time, but we felt like we needed him right there," Bo said. "You can kind of look into a guy's eyes and see: Is he ready or is he not ready? Is he up to the challenge?"
Ohio State's Corey Brown took off on a fly pattern, with Jean-Baptiste running stride for stride off his left shoulder. Jean-Baptiste looked back as Joe Bauserman's pass descended between him and Brown. The new cornerback stretched out and pulled in the ball, looking like the receiver he used to be.
The Huskers scored the game's last touchdown four plays later, finishing a 34-27 victory and a comeback from 21 points down.
Jean-Baptiste said he relied on the coaching he got from receivers coach Rich Fisher to make his big play.
"Yeah, it was natural," he said. "I just saw it. When (Brown) threw up his hand, I just saw it. I just got it at the high point of the ball like coach Fisher taught me."
Jean-Baptiste practiced with the No. 1 defense last week, opposite Alfonzo Dennard, and he's challenging for a spot in the lineup when the Huskers (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten) play at Minnesota (1-5, 0-2) on Saturday.
"It's pretty impressive," safety Austin Cassidy said. "I know it took me like three years to learn the defense, and I'm still learning it. He did it in three weeks.
"Hopefully he can continue to play like he did against Ohio State. That would obviously be huge for us to have another guy across from Alfonzo that really has potential to shut someone down."