LINCOLN, Neb. — “Keep pushing, keep grinding, and never let up.”
Those are the words junior I-back Mikale Wilbon lives by. When he talks to his mom daily, she reminds him of that.
Nebraska coach Mike Riley wants his team to have a consistent running game. However, with question marks on the offensive line and a new quarterback at the helm, it’s hard to predict what the Huskers running backs will do this season.
With that in mind, Wilbon goes back to his mantra. Those words motivate him as he battles for a starting role in Nebraska’s offense.
“I know everybody’s not perfect, but every rep I’m trying to be perfect, so that’s what I’m trying to do,” Wilbon said.
When a player such as sophomore I-back Tre Bryant is held out from practice, it gives Wilbon and junior I-back Devine Ozigbo an opportunity to get more reps.
Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf does not want a running back by committee, and the job is wide open for anyone to take. For that reason, Wilbon and Ozigbo understand the significance of the extra reps. They could very well determine where they will fall on the depth chart in 2017.
“I guess they’re just judging on practices, and the next day if they see some guy do something good they’ll give him a second play again and try to fluster a guy with some things and push him up to the front,” Ozigbo said. “That’s how it’s been going. If you have a good day one day, they next day you’ll get a little more carries and stuff like that.”
Ozigbo played in 11 games in 2016 but battled an ankle injury the latter half of the season. Despite the injury, Ozigbo was Nebraska’s third-leading rusher, carrying 97 times for 412 for yards and 5 touchdowns.
Wilbon played in 10 games in 2016 and rushed 15 times for 89 yards. He added 4 receptions for 34 yards.
Knowing the starting spot is open has created competition among the group. However, it’s not a hostile situation.
“It’s friendly fire,” Wilbon said. “We’re all competing, but at the end of the day there’s no beef or no hate against each other, so I feel like we have a good room.”
Part of the backs’ success has everything to do with the players in front of them. When talking about the competition in the running backs room, Wilbon pauses. He knows he and his teammates can’t take full credit for their success.
“Through fall camp, we’re making a lot of big runs,” Wilbon said. “That’s all a shoutout to the offensive linemen, the Pipeline. I feel like everybody in our running back room is doing pretty much good, too, so it’s really a compliment to the linemen, I’d say.”
With Riley wanting to find a balance between running and passing, and Langsdorf eliminating the idea of a running back by committee, the players know what they need to do. On Thursday, both Ozigbo and Wilbon felt they got a little bit better.
“I feel like I’m in a pretty good spot, but I have to keep pushing and keep getting better,” Ozigbo said.