LINCOLN, Neb. - Former Nebraska players Irving Fryar and Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers are known as two of the greatest wide receivers in college football history.
Fryar was the No. 1 pick in the 1984 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots.
Rodgers was the recipient of the 1972 Heisman Trophy, beating out Oklahoma running back and eventual NFL Pro Bowler Greg Pruitt.
Many college football programs would consider themselves lucky to have players of this caliber as their programs' best at a position.
But while Nebraska's history at the wide receiver position features two of the greats, it's not as deep as one might think.
Fryar and Rodgers are the program's only first-team All-Americans at the position - 94 others have had the honor while wearing the “N” since 1914.
To be blunt, the history at the wide receiver position is top heavy.
In 122 years, Nebraska has never had a 1,000 yard receiver officially in a single season – Fryar and Rodgers had too much other talent around them, especially at the running back position (Rodgers did have 1,013 yards in 1972 if his bowl game would have been counted). The Huskers are the only Big Ten team to not see one of their players reach the milestone.
Junior receiver Kenny Bell hopes to change that.
"It's something that really is important to me," he told reporters last year midway through the season.
In 2012 he had 863 receiving yards – good for second-team All-Big Ten honors by the coaches and conference media. At various points in the season, he looked to be on pace for the Huskers' first 1,000 yard season – just two catches for only 14 yards against Iowa and Wisconsin late in the year squashed those chances.
Where Fryar, Rodgers, and countless others came up short, Bell might still have the best shot at cementing his name in the Nebraska record book by hitting the milestone.
Fourth-year starter Taylor Martinez returns at quarterback in 2013 and the two have chemistry. Every year Martinez has been at the helm, he's thrown for at least 28 percent more passing yards the following season.
With a strong set of other receivers around him keeping secondaries honest, Bell should see his chances, but will there be enough ball to go around?
"He's talented enough to do it, but it would take a lot of explosive plays of 25+ yard. Martinez will spread the ball around a lot,” said Matt Davison, former Husker receiver and current Nebraska play-by-play analyst. Davison is No. 6 all-time on the Nebraska career receiving yards list (93 catches, 1,456 yards). “Getting to 1,000 yards would be really tough – this team has a lot of weapons on offense.”
A 1,000 yard single season would be a major accomplishment, but it is not the only record or milestone the junior Colorado native could be pushing for in the coming years.
In his first two years on the field, Bell has 82 catches for 1,324 yards – already putting him No. 9 on the all-time list at Nebraska.
If Bell was able to copy his first two seasons in Lincoln, a feat which seems very possible, he would pass Rodgers for No. 1 on the all-time career receiving yards list at Nebraska. At 164 catches, he would come up just four short of the all-time record held by Nate Swift (2005-08). Currently he has 11 touchdown catches, doubling it would put him second all-time on the list behind Rodgers at 25.
The game has definitely changed. More and more teams are airing out the football. For years Nebraska's offense success and identify was based on pounding the rock – an area they still flourish at to this day (No. 7 in the country last year). But there has been a shift in Nebraska's offensive philosophy over the past few seasons – allowing receivers to make a bigger impact.
Barring an injury, Bell is on track to become the greatest statistical wide receiver in Nebraska football history.
“There's no doubt Bell has put himself in position to be remembered as one of the best wide receivers in Husker history,” said Davison. “He's motivated, I like his work ethic. He's not afraid to be great. He wants to make the big play in big moments. He's confident, yet he knows he can improve – that's a good a combo.
“He's also a guy that respects former players and the history of the program. It means a lot to him even though he didn't grow up in Nebraska. I'm excited to see his improvements from his sophomore to junior year.”
Last year Big Red Report and FOX Sports NEXT ranked the top ten receivers in the Huskers' program all-time, it's likely we will be changing the list again in a few years.
Did we mention Bell can block?
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