How about a quick timeline of sorts?
In August of 2019, cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt saw Luke Reimer running around in a preseason scrimmage. “Who’s No. 28? Who is that?” Taylor-Britt asked around. “He’s a walk-on and things like that, but, man, he won’t be a walk-on for long.”
You raised your eyebrows a little bit.
Then in September, Taylor-Britt forced a fumble on a Colorado kickoff return deep into the fourth quarter of a close game, and who was there to recover it? Reimer. The walk-on freshman from Lincoln North Star ended up playing in 10 games last season, mostly on special teams, and totaled 11 tackles.
Fast forward to March of this year, and during a sit-down with media folks before spring ball kicked off, Reimer’s position coach, Barrett Ruud, said he knew the former high school track guy would be a guy worth a look.
“But I didn’t know he was going to be that good,” Ruud said. “He’s another guy that you just hope, being a little bit of a late bloomer, that he just continues to excel and excel in his progression.”
Then in July, Ruud doubled down.
“I think he’s found a home for us here at inside linebacker and I really think he’s got the potential to be a big-time player,” he said on Sports Nightly. “Not just at Nebraska, but around the conference as well.”
High praise for a walk-on.
Sorry, former walk-on. Turns out Taylor-Britt was right.
Ruud let slip Tuesday during a Zoom conference with media that the sophomore is on scholarship now. Maybe he should have waited for head coach Scott Frost to announce it, he admitted, but hey, when it takes only a year for a guy to go from walk-on to scholarship, the position coach is going to be pretty excited.
“He’s a guy that after watching him go through his first couple drills as a true freshman walk-on, I figured it wasn’t going to take very long,” Ruud said of the linebacker. “He’s been nothing but great to be around, and he’s improved every day he’s been here.”
More: Line Depth | Detail-Driven Defense
In Reimer’s game, Ruud says his athleticism and his motor stand out most.
“He’s about as athletic as any guy we’ve got on our team,” Ruud said. “He’s got as good of a motor as anybody on our team. He’s very similar to like a Luke McCaffrey-type. Some guys are able to run 40 yards once really fast and some guys are able to run 40 yards 50 straight times really fast. That’s the kind of motor he’s got. He’s done a great job since he’s been here and I think he’s only getting better and better.”
Extra time this offseason may have actually helped the youngster. During the quarantine months, Nebraska’s defense slowed things down to a walk-through and made certain all 11 guys on the field at a time knew the ins and outs of their assignment and their leverage. Back on the field, guys are playing faster.
For Reimer to continue to progress, Ruud said it’s now about learning the intricacies of the defense.
“He’s one of those kids who wants to perfect his craft,” said senior inside ‘backer and presumed starter Collin Miller. “He’s always trying to get in the film room, always trying to watch extra film with whoever. He’s one of those guys who just loves the game. When you know someone loves the game, you can respect them a little more. He always has his why. He just makes plays. … He’s going to play good ball for us this year.”
Maybe “presumed starter” isn’t as safe a statement as it was months ago.
Miller says one day he’s working with the 1s and the next he might come in and work with the 2s.
Ruud is seeing what he has for those two inside linebacker spots.
“Coach Ruud does a good job of (making sure) everyone knows, ‘Don’t get comfortable because who knows what’s next,’” Miller said.
Last year Nebraska largely used a three-man rotation. Mohamed Barry, Will Honas and Miller played the vast majority of snaps. With Barry having graduated, Ruud is looking for at least another guy or two.
“You want as many able bodies as possible with Big Ten play in general—let alone a Big Ten-only season,” he said when asked about his preference for rotation depth. “With the way our offense plays and the speed they play at, typically on defense we’re getting between 80 and 90 plays. If you look at a normal NFL game, that’s more like 60, 65 plays.
“You want to be able to play three to four, maybe even five guys, to keep guys fresh and keep guys injury-free. I really think that contributes to success over the long haul.”
Reimer stands to factor heavily into that discussion.
So, too, does redshirt freshman Nick Henrich. A highly-rated recruit from nearby Omaha, Henrich didn’t have the first-year ride Reimer did. Instead, he battled injuries early and tried to work his way back into playing shape.
Miller called Henrich a vocal guy others respond to on the field. For an inside linebacker, that seems a key attribute.
Between the two of them—Henrich and Reimer—Nebraska might have something.
“I have confidence in those two guys,” Ruud said. “Nick was a little bit banged up in the offseason and now he’s feeling a lot better. Luke’s been very good since the day he got here as well. So I’ve got a lot of confidence in both of those guys.”
Factor in junior college transfer Eteva Mauga-Clements and Ruud appears to have a number of options behind two seniors in Miller and Honas. The departure of 2020 signee Keyshawn Greene hurts in that he was viewed as a significant recruiting win, but NU also has Jackson Hannah (back to being listed as an inside guy on the Huskers’ online roster), Colorado State transfer Zach Schlager, and Garrett Snodgrass to look at on the interior.
“I feel really good about my room as a whole,” Ruud said.
Added Miller: “We’ve got a lot of competition in this room.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.