LINCOLN, Neb. — It’s clear. It’s crystal clear.
No hard feelings. No offense to anyone, but sophomore Devine Ozigbo wants to be the running back at Nebraska.
Not the third-down back. Not the backup back.
The back. The guy.
“However the coaches need the guy to be, that’s how I want to be,” Ozigbo said after practice Tuesday. “The featured back.”
Ozigbo had 38 touches for 209 yards and one touchdown last year as a freshman. His breakout game was in the 14-13 loss to Illinois when Ozigbo ran for 70 yards and one touchdown on just seven touches.
After an impressive spring, Ozigbo’s name gets tossed around a lot on Nebraska message boards and on sports talk shows.
The sophomore says he’s down to 225 pounds, his lowest weight since high school. His run blocking has improved and he’s gotten better at catching the ball from the backfield.
And he’s ready to be the guy.
Nebraska coaches have said all throughout fall camp that they want to run the ball more and will do so in a variety of ways. Part of that may be because of the diversity of backs the Huskers have, with the return of senior Terrell Newby, the bigger Ozigbo and sophomore Mikale Wilbon all in the mix.
“You want get the ball to the backs in different ways, in their style of running,” Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said Tuesday. “So you’ve got to make sure that if you have Terrell (Newby) in the game, it might be a little different of a run than Ozigbo, and then again with Wilbon.”
Newby is the assumed starter, since the senior started all 13 games and ran for 786 yards in 2015. Most of the talk around the running backs this fall has been how Riley and Langsdorf will use both Newby or Ozigbo situationally.
“I’m trying to be the every situation guy,” Ozigbo said.
When pressed, Ozigbo says he’s probably, if he had to pick one, a short-yardage type back. But in reality, that’s now how he sees himself.
Ozigbo wants to be like Le’Veon Bell, the Pittsburgh Steelers running back and Michigan State alum. He’s a bigger guy, but with some speed.
“He’s a big back and people, when he was coming out of college, they were like, ‘he’s a big back,’ ” Ozigbo said. “But when he got to the NFL, he slimmed down and then he could do everything. He could catch, he could run. That’s kind of who I want to be.”
Making one-cuts and blocking. That’s the key, Ozigbo said, to winning the starting job. That’s what his coaches want.
And that’s why, instead of waiting around on the sideline during drills he’s not in, Ozigbo is working with senior linebacker Josh Banderas on different blocking techniques. They did it once a few practices ago, just half-joking.
But the other day, the two squared off in the back of the end zone during a down time, Banderas making moves on Ozigbo and then the two talking after about what Ozigbo could have done better.
It’s probably also why, in the walk-through before practice on Tuesday, coaches yelled at him to slow down.
“It’s just a walk-through,” a coach yelled.
But they might not understand. Ozigbo just wants to start.
And he’s in a hurry to do it.
Chris Heady is a staff writer for Landof10 and covers Nebraska football and recruiting. He’s on Twitter @heady_chris.