LINCOLN, Neb. - Nebraska senior defensive tackle Thad Randle has seen a lot during his five years with the program.
He's never seen a defensive tackle the size of redshirt freshman Vincent Valentine.
Randle, who's sitting out this spring with a knee injury, has been like another coach on the field during Nebraska's first nine practice sessions throughout March.
The fifth-year player has been up-close and personal with the 325-pound Illinois product and says he feels he could be close to breaking through.
“He's not that far, he's just got to get in better shape,” said Randle. “If he gets into better shape, he could be a monster. He's got a lot of potential.
“He's just got to believe himself and do the right things along the way.”
Valentine, who's been hyped up by Nebraska fans as a possible difference maker up front, has been mostly working behind first-teamers Aaron Curry (sophomore) and Kevin Williams (sophomore). All are expected to play next fall, with the addition of Randle back on the field.
“He's a big man. He's hard to move in there,” said Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis on Monday when asked about Valentine. “He's a big athletic guy. When things are clicking for him fundamentally and technically, he's hard to move and he's really able to get a good push on the line of scrimmage.”
Papuchis was also asked what's the biggest thing the former three-star product needs to work on.
“When you are a big physical dominating guy in high school, you can take a play off and still be physically imposing on your opponent,” said the second-year defensive coordinator. “At this level, if you are not locked in and focused every time you put your hand in the dirt, you are going to be exposed.
“For him, it's the majority of being able to focus on play three, four, and five – putting together a series, instead of having one good play and then one not so good play. That's a development process that most young kids go through and he's going through it right now.”
Valentine's position coach agrees.
“I think the big thing is the tempo and playing against guys his size – the physical and mental toughness it takes,” said Nebraska defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski. “I think he does a good job knowing what he's supposed to do, it's just rep on rep three and four, when you have another 300-pound guy pushing on you, he's never had to exert that effort.
“You have to have the mental toughness to do that rep after rep and it takes a while for guys to do that and figure it out. He's got to figure it out quick. It's the biggest thing that stands in his way right now. He's got to be able to concentrate and focus when he's tired. You are going to be tired especially in the trenches.”
Valentine is a former second-team All-Stater in Illinois, racking up 11 sacks his senior year at Edwardsville. He picked Nebraska over offers from Florida, Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan to name a few.