LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska receiver Quincy Enunwa is taking an “I’ll-show-them” attitude into Saturday’s game at UCLA.
The junior from Moreno Valley, Calif., Drew Little recruiting interest from West Coast schools when he was at Rancho Verde High and says he was fortunate when the 16th-ranked Cornhuskers discovered him.
After establishing career highs for catches and yards against Southern Mississippi last week, he goes into the UCLA game with no shortage of motivation.
“I kind of want to show the teams that didn’t look at (me) that they’re missing out on something, kind of like Tom Brady did,” Enunwa said, referring to the NFL star who took a similar attitude when he was largely overlooked coming out of his California high school two decades ago.
Enunwa heads a group of receivers whose confidence is extremely high after Taylor Martinez threw for a career-high 354 yards in the opener. While Martinez silenced critics who doubted his passing ability, the receivers showed they can be a force for the Huskers after they struggled with drops in 2011.
“It comes with hard work,” Enunwa said. “This whole offseason, summer, spring, fall, we really just worked on catching the ball and Taylor worked on getting us the ball. We kind of clicked this game and hopefully we will for the rest of the year.”
Enunwa’s role could increase after senior Tim Marlowe was lost to a broken collarbone. Marlowe probably is out until late October, coach Bo Pelini said.
“We have a lot of options there,” Pelini said. “We have a lot of guys we can put back there and guys we have confidence in.”
Enunwa proved to be one of those guys, and not just because he was atop the list of 10 pass-catchers against Southern Miss. He caught six balls for 70 yards. The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder also is a devastating downfield blocker and is tough to bring down when he has the ball.
One of the memorable plays in the opener came in the first half when Martinez delivered the ball to Enunwa 17 yards downfield. Enunwa turned and went another 10 with as many as five defenders trying to tackle him.
“I was going to slip out and score,” he said, “but I didn’t get to.”
On Nebraska’s next series, Enunwa caught a short pass inside the Southern Miss 10-yard line and broke out of the cornerback’s grasp to get into the end zone, but an offensive pass interference penalty on Kenny Bell nullified the play.
Upon his arrival in Lincoln in 2009, it wasn’t a sure thing Enunwa would develop into a threat. He caught one pass for 10 yards as a freshman, and that came in the first game. He was invisible in his other nine, and fans second-guessed the decision to have Enunwa play instead of redshirt.
“I was never mad,” he said. “They had trust in me. That’s why they chose not to redshirt me. There were a couple times I messed up and could have gotten on the field more than I did, so I put that on myself.”
Enunwa was the team’s third-leading receiver last season and over the spring and summer emerged as one of the vocal leaders of the offense.
He said he doesn’t feel as if he has to make up for lost time because of his unproductive freshman season.
“I think three years is enough,” he said. “Shoot, in high school I only had one year and I was able to get to a Division I college.”
Enunwa attended a private school through ninth grade before he transferred to Rancho Verde. He played on the junior varsity his sophomore year. He got limited playing time as a junior because Terrence Miller, who caught the winning touchdown pass in Arizona’s overtime win over Toledo last week, was ahead of him on the depth chart.
Enunwa wasn’t even rated by some recruiting services his senior year, and he started making college visits with the idea that he would not play a sport.
Eventually, he received a general recruiting letter from Idaho State, and a few from smaller schools followed.
The excitement wore off quickly. “I saw my teammates getting big letters. When do I get mine?”
He visited San Diego State and Washington State. Finally, he heard from Nebraska, and that was partly because Huskers defensive end Eric Martin, a high school teammate who is a year older, put in a good word for him with the coaches in Lincoln.
It’s all worked out for the best, he said. But he acknowledges that he and his parents, Henry and Ngozi Enunwa, have had his California homecoming circled on the calendar for months.
At least 50 of his friends and family will be on hand at the Rose Bowl, and Enunwa is motivated to put on a good show for them and for all those recruiters who didn’t give him a second look.
“Everybody has that little fire,” he said. “That could be my fire for this weekend.”