With the start of spring practice only days away, two Huskers—outside linebacker Pheldarius Payne and receiver Will Nixon—have entered their names in the transfer portal, a source confirmed to Hail Varsity on Friday.
Payne is now a two-time portal entrant while being a member of the Nebraska football program as he also entered in December, but ultimately chose to stick with the Huskers. Nixon, a former three-star recruit in the 2020 class, played in three games and caught one pass for five yards last season. His career as a Husker got off to a slow start as he suffered a season-ending injury during his first summer in Lincoln.
Payne recorded 40 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks in 18 career games with Nebraska. He was a rotation player for the Huskers’ outside ‘backer unit, which was led by Scottsbluff native Garrett Nelson and Caleb Tannor. He played in 10 games this season before an injury kept him out of the final two against Wisconsin and Iowa.
Payne, who signed with Nebraska’s 2020 class after two seasons of junior-college football at Lackawanna Community College in Scranton, Pennsylvania, burst onto the scene in 2021 with a five-tackle, two-sack performance in the opener at Illinois in late August. While the start to the 2021 season saw great production for the Blackshirts, it tailed off as the season went on and injuries hit. Payne notched 14 tackles in the next nine games and didn’t record a sack on a defense that struggled to get home as a whole—it ranked tied for 10th in the Big Ten in sacks with only 20.
In 2020, Payne’s first season, the Suffolk, Virginia, native had 21 tackles and one sack. His best game may have been the Huskers’ win over Penn State in Lincoln—that day he racked up six tackles, one quarterback hurry and one pass breakup. Payne ended the 2020 season on a high note with five tackles and one sack on the road at Rutgers.
During his recruitment to Nebraska, Payne shared that the deciding factor in his college choice was his official visit weekend in Lincoln. Payne was the first JUCO defensive lineman in the 2020 class. He was the third overall defensive lineman, joining Nash Hutmacher and Marquis Black. In his last season at Lackawanna in 2019, Payne finished with 30 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and four sacks.
With Payne entering his name in the portal, outside ‘backer/defensive line coach Mike Dawson’s room shrinks to one less player. Nelson led the team with five sacks, 11 tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries. Like Nelson, Tannor had had his best season at Nebraska, though the sack numbers wouldn’t suggest it. Tannor finished with 33 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks, but showed improvement against stopping the run.
The rotation behind Nelson and Tannor will appear to be tighter. Dawson was able to get second-year freshman Blaise Gunnerson a handful of meaningful snaps late in the year when Payne and JoJo Domann were out with injuries. Gunnerson saw non-garbage time reps against Wisconsin and Iowa. The 6-6, 255-pounder from Iowa had his first two career tackles against the Badgers and got in on his first-career tackle for loss against the Hawkeyes.
Along with Gunnerson, Damian Jackson, who will be in his sixth year with the Husker program next season, will look to provide depth, as well as another young and intriguing part to Dawson’s room—Jimari Butler. Butler, a 6-5, 245-pound second-year player from Mobile, Alabama, got into both the Fordham and Buffalo games as he works to develop for Big Ten play.