LINCOLN, Neb. — Scott Booker got excited. After over a dozen reporters turned to just a few, the safeties coach came to life.
As Booker began to tell a story, his arms flew up and he jumped backwards into the air. Whatever it was that he was sharing, I wanted to know more.
That’s the thing about Booker. He’s very compelling. When he joined Nebraska’s staff from Notre Dame last March, little was known about him (outside of what you could Google). When former Huskers safeties coach Bob Elliott passed away in June, Booker was promoted and suddenly placed more prominently in the spotlight.
At that point, Booker also took on the role of overseeing the special teams. He immediately made a change for the kickers and punters, requiring them to be at practice from start to finish. The group had previously only been asked to practice for 20 to 30 minutes each day under former special teams coach Bruce Read. The impact was immediate and punter Caleb Lightbourn sang the praises of Booker and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco for his improvement.
There is still plenty to be known about Booker. Alongside cornerbacks coach Donte Williams, the duo are looking to build confidence in and fix the little mistakes by the Huskers’ young defensive backs. After a much more impressive second half showing against Oregon (where Nebraska allowed no points versus 42 in the first half), plenty of fans are curious to see how the unit responds.
Regardless, on a Tuesday following practice, Booker told a story. As I walked closer, I could only imagine what it could be about. I was selfishly hoping it was about the young defensive backs, because I was working on a story that could benefit from an additional quote.
Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t about the safeties. Instead, Booker was talking about one of coach Mike Riley’s favorite plays.
The topic came up because of Lightbourn’s 54-yard punt against Arkansas State that Kieron Williams caught on the 5-yard line. The duo had been practicing (and continues to practice) that scenario with Booker.
When asked about it, Booker lit up.
“[Riley] loves it,” Booker said. “He’s always there. ‘Let’s do this!’ We have a specific call for it and I’m not going to say what it is but he’s always wanting to get that play in. Here’s what I think, and I don’t want to speak for Coach Riley, but I think it’s kind of like a work of art, right? You’ve got a punter who’s doing a different kind of punt, and end-over-end versus a spiral. You’ve got a guy who’s a defensive guy that’s running down the field a lot of time and he has to judge the ball and make sure it doesn’t go in the end zone and catch it out of the air.
“Coach just gets really excited because he also knows the good field position it gives us. … to have our opponent go 95 yards instead of 80 yards, that’s huge.”
Yes, Nebraska’s special teams accomplishing that exact scenario is huge. It’s no wonder Riley likes it.
And it’s no wonder Booker gets so excited talking about it.