Feels a little weird to everyone to refer to Devine Ozigbo as a “former Nebraska running back.”
But, Ozigbo is looking to make his name at the next level after a standout senior season in 2018. Ozigbo has spent the last week down in Florida training for the East-West Shrine Game, where he’s worked out for and met with NFL scouts from across the league.
So far, the feedback has been about as strong as he could have hoped for.
“A lot of good things to hear, like I’ve got the size and I’ve shown what I can on film and I have the speed to be an every-down back,” Ozigbo said on Sports Nightly Friday night. “So just a lot of positive feedback like they’re going to keep an out and stay in touch and I’ll talk to them again.”
Teams have been asking if they’ll be able to see Ozigbo at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis from Feb. 26 through March 4. The Sachse, Texas, native doesn’t even have an invite yet. “I’m just trying to see how that goes,” Ozigbo said, but it’s undoubtedly a good sign teams want to see more of him.
A power back who was viewed as more of a utility guy than an every-down back through what seemed like the first three years of his Husker career, Ozigbo has drawn rave reviews from all over. NBC’s Josh Norris tweeted earlier in the week, “We will be talking about RB Devine Ozigbo during the 2019 NFL season. I promise.”
Ozigbo told Sports Nightly he felt like that every-down ability was always in there, but there was something about this last season that finally allowed him to showcase his true game. “It’s the weirdest thing because I feel like I was always able to do it, but this season things just worked out and I’m so happy they did,” he said. A lot of that credit, Ozigbo says, goes to the Husker coaching staff.
Because it all started in the weight room with strength coach Zach Duval.
“I just think it was the attitude that he brought in, he just brought in a whole different mindset, a whole different feel to the weight room,” Ozigbo said. “He pushed you to do things you never thought you would need to do or be able to do that easily and then you realize, ‘Oh yeah, I can do way more.’ He helps you break your own limits. The team definitely responded.
“Whatever Coach Duval had us do, it translated over to me being a little faster.”
He also credits head coach Scott Frost and running backs coach Ryan Held for holding a true competition in the running back room and not writing him off because he was the old guy about to leave.
“Stay with it,” he remembers them telling him before the season. “We’re going to give you a fair shot.”
And they did.
“Once you had that equal playing field and you knew what you’re going to get from everybody those days, it just made it easier to go out there and work,” Ozigbo said. “Knowing that’s what I had to do, it wasn’t very hard to go out there and try to get it done because I knew if I worked hard enough I would get a shot.”
Which is the biggest thing he’ll take away from his own individual Nebraska career: hard work gets rewarded. Ozigbo said he felt like the years leading up to this summer have prepared him mentally. He saw what happens when you keep your nose down and grind. “I never knew when my number was going to be called and when it did my senior year, I wanted to make the biggest impact possible and just try to take the spot and run with it,” he said. Positive vibes, that’s how he described his outlook. Wait for your shot, then shoot it without fear.
Kinda like that “No Fear of Failure” thing.
It seems almost certain Ozigbo will be remembered around Lincoln for a while, regardless of what might materialize with his NFL career. This was a guy who had 264 career carries for 1,114 yards and nine touchdowns total over his first three years in Lincoln. He was a career 4.2-yards-per-carry runner. He never really got a chance to be the guy while the running back position sagged as a whole.
Then in 2018, his final year of eligibility, Ozigbo sat early behind Greg Bell and Maurice Washington before exploding against Purdue on Sept. 29 for 170 yards and two scores on 17 carries.
The utility back became an every-single-down player as he rumbled for 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns at a 7.0 yards-per-carry rate. And it’s entirely possible his “never quit” mentality is more of a reason for his universal adoration amongst Husker fans than simply giving Nebraska its first 1,000-yard rusher since 2014.
“I would just say stay strong,” Ozigbo said of what advice he’d give younger guys. “If you truly love a place, try to stick it out and do whatever it takes to play there.
“I always had the mindset of if I couldn’t do it at Nebraska, I couldn’t do it any place else. Nebraska’s where I want to play, Nebraska’s where I want to do it, so I’m going to get it done here. That was my whole goal and just trying to stick it out.
“Just knowing if I stayed ready, when my opportunity came, good things would happen. That’s definitely the mindset to have because you never know when your moment can come.”
Ozigbo will take the field Saturday at 2 p.m. CT in the East-West Shrine Game on NFL Network. Ozigbo is one of 12 Big Ten players participating in the game. He’ll play for the West team.
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.