LINCOLN, Neb. - Read the quote below.
“He's a front runner, he's going to step up,” said Nebraska assistant coach Ron Brown. “We have some very talented younger running backs coming in and I feel very confident about the informal coaching that will happen between __________ and some of the guys.
“Those guys are going to get a dose of __________ and those are the type of guys I want in my room. In my running back room, I want a high standard of excellence. __________ certainly fits that. It's now about putting other people on his back and taking them where they normally wouldn't go. That is what great leaders do.”
It would be easy to read the quote and think Ron Brown is talking about Nebraska junior running back Ameer Abdullah.
I will fill you in on a little secret.
The quote is older than that.
It's actually from two summers ago, and Brown wasn't talking about Abdullah, he was talking about another junior running back at the time – Rex Burkhead.
Abdullah and Burkhead's names will likely always be linked in Nebraska football history. When mentioning one, the others name will likely not be too far behind in the conversation - it's what happens when you split as many carries as the pair did in 2012.
Rex Burkhead (Getty Images)
But when you break it down, it appears the two's journey to Lincoln and their first few years on the field, are more similar than realized.
Both were three-star out-of-state prospects when they hit campus.
Both played as true freshman.
Both backed up an eventual NFL running back their freshman and sophomore years.
In year one and two, Burkhead ran 253 times for 1,300 yards. In Abdullah's first two seasons, he's recorded 268 carries for 1,287 yards.
And now, this summer Abdullah will have to follow in the footsteps of Burkhead again – this time as a leader to talented true-freshman running backs.
When Roy Helu Jr. took his talents to the NFL, questions immediately were raised whether Burkhead would be able to handle the load as a feature back. The speculation was talented freshman running backs: Abdullah, Aaron Green (five-star), and Braylon Heard (three-star) would have a major role on the offense and Burkhead would need to be a leader to help them get ready for the rigors of college football.
While the durability questions don't seem to creep up as much when it comes to Abdullah, the speculation on how a pair of talented freshman running backs will impact the offense in 2013 does.
Much like Burkhead, Abdullah now finds himself being looked up to.
“I absolutely see the similarities,” Burkhead told Big Red Report earlier this week when asked about Abdullah's journey to his own. “I think that we both came in with humble, hard working attitudes and the eagerness to learn and get better. He is fun to watch on the football field, I had a lot of fun competing with him every day in practice, we made each other better players.”
Nebraska fans hope that the duo of Adam Taylor (four-star running back) and Terrell Newby (four-star running back) make Abdullah better, through competition for reps in practice.
“I think you have have fun with it and at the same time demand respect,” said Burkhead when asked if he would have advice for Abdullah. “Definitely lead by example first and foremost and I don’t think that he’s going to have any problems with that. He’s a great person, great player and people are going to follow him because he has that aura about him.”
Burkhead's senior season wasn't what he was hoping for, constantly battling a knee injury. Sidelined, it gave the former All-Big Ten running back a great look at what Abdullah could do on the field against other Big Ten talent.
“His biggest strength is his toughness,” said Burkhead. “I think that he’s one of the toughest kids I know. He may not be the biggest guy, but he runs guys over. He loves to make contact, he takes it on, and he loves to practice even in two-a-days and into fall camp. Doesn’t matter if he’s in a weight lifting session he’s still pushing. He plays hurt and pushes through injuries and I think that is going to help him especially this year.”