LINCOLN, Neb. — There he is, that Josh Kalu, grinning brighter with TV camera lights in his face, causing trouble again.
“I think the defense kicked their ass today,” Nebraska’s junior cornerback said after practicing against the offense on Thursday.
About five minutes later, when defensive coordinator Mark Banker caught wind of the comment, he wasn’t too happy. Some things should be kept to in the locker room, Banker said. Or said in private, not out in the open.
“Well, I think that defensive player, whoever said that, should shut up,” Banker said.
That’s not how he rolls. Kalu has never been one to keep it all inside.
He chats up Nebraska coach Mike Riley before practice. He talks a little trash during practice and smiles while he’s on the sideline between drills.
The Houston native has one of the biggest personalities on the team, and he’s the first to admit it. But now, the corner is trying — or at least coming around to the idea of trying — to reign in the goofiness a bit. He’s trying to become a teacher for the young guys on the Huskers roster, to become a much-needed leader in the locker room.
“I’m embracing it slowly,” Kalu, who started all 13 of Nebraska’s games in 2015, said with a smile. “Slowly, slowly, slowly.”
As a sophomore, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound cornerback was second on the team with three interceptions, including one pick-six. He finished second in tackles with 75. He snagged an honorable mention All-Big Ten honor, growing his game as big as his personality, and turning himself into a prolific corner.
The goal is to make it to the NFL, he said, and he’s trying to have some fun while doing it. But last year, when Banker challenged him personally to get it together, to take things a little more serious, Kalu listened.
“I took it to heart in everything I did,” Kalu said. “Grades, weight room, football.”
He really can be a serious person sometimes, he insists. Some people might not think it, but it’s true.
“Josh knows there’s a time to be a clown, and a time not to be a clown,” cornerback coach Brian Stewart said last week.
For one, Kalu takes his position seriously.
He tries to work on something new every day, he said. And if he doesn’t do it well one day, he repeats it over and over again until he has it down.
“You don’t want to come out here, have a good day of ball and then the next day fall off,” the junior said.
He and fellow cornerback Chris Jones are working to eliminate any doubt about the secondary’s success. They didn’t want weight to be an issue, so Kalu put on nearly 10 pounds over the summer, now standing at a solid 199 pounds. They don’t want the possibility of not watching enough film to be an issue, so they hit the film room every chance they get.
It’s a new attitude, a mature attitude, from a player who wants to be a leader.
And now that he has experience under his belt, he is trying to take the next step and teach the young guys the ropes.
He admits it’s weird, but he doesn’t mind his evolving role. That’s what he’s there for. To coach them up, to teach.
His main advice for his young peers? You have to have a fire and a passion for what you do.
“It’s one thing to say it when you’re not here,” Kalu said. “But when you’re here and the conditioning starts and the early morning starts? You think ‘Oh man, I don’t think I can do it.’ ”
But you do it, because you have to. You see the players lined up against you in practice every day — Nebraska’s talented receivers like Stanley Morgan, Brandon Reilly and Jordan Westerkamp. When you see those guys? You’ve just got to turn it up a notch, Kalu said.
“When you get beat or when you get put on your butt? Just get back up,” he said.
And maybe, if they do get beat, their new teacher Kalu will be there to offer some advice.
Unless he’s causing trouble.
Chris Heady is a staff writer for Landof10 and covers Nebraska football and recruiting. He takes movie and story suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @heady_chris.