Nebraska returns its leading rusher from 2017, but one wouldn’t know that based on the conversation about the position over the last few months.
Junior college transfer Greg Bell captured most of the headlines in the winter and spring since he committed to coach Scott Frost and running backs coach Ryan Held. He was one of the top junior college recruits in the country and wowed fans with his explosiveness in the spring game.
Then 4-star recruit Maurice Washington beat the odds and was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA after working through some academic issues. He arrived in Lincoln for fall camp and immediately began making noise. Like Bell, Washington is the kind of game-breaking back that puts up big numbers in Frost’s offense.
Tre Bryant got some buzz before ultimately retiring from football, and many have wondered how local kid Jaylin Bradley fit into the picture.
There wasn’t a whole lot of talk about senior Devine Ozigbo, though, despite the fact that he led the Huskers with 493 rushing yards last season. He’s sitting at 1,121 yards on the ground for his career at Nebraska.
However, when Nebraska released its depth chart for Week 1 against Akron, there was Ozigbo’s name. The senior was listed as co-starter alongside Bell and ahead of Washington.
A tweet from Ozigbo back in December proved to be prophetic.
Always counted out, until counted on..😴
— Huncho ZIG⚡️ (@TrulyDevine_22) December 28, 2017
Ozigbo was more or less counted out last season too as he did not play in either of Nebraska’s first two games while Bryant tore it up until injuring his knee. Ozigbo only got two carries in Week 3, then proceeded to log double-digit carries in six of the next seven games. He only ran the ball three times in the last game of the season, however. Overall, despite leading the team in carries and yards, he only mustered 3.8 yards per carry.
That wasn’t going to cut it in 2018, so Ozigbo got to work over the offseason and his new coaches took notice.
“I like what he does,” Held said during fall camp. “He can really catch the ball. And he can now move his body to where if there’s not a hole, it doesn’t take him two extra steps to get to that cut; he can make the cut and then plant and get vertical which is what you have to have. Why? Because he’s worked hard in the weight room, he’s trimmed his body, he’s eating right and his short-area quickness is a lot better which then allows him to be more efficient in this offense.”
In fact, Ozigbo’s made so much progress that Held mentioned him alongside the likes of Bell and Washington when asked about home-run hitters in the running back room.
“Devine, I’ll tell you: Devine has had a really good camp,” Held said. “I remember I told you guys at the deal he needed to trim up; he’s really getting a lot better.”
One of the men that will be blocking for Ozigbo come Saturday echoed Held’s words at Monday’s press conference.
“He’s just a hard worker,” senior guard Tanner Farmer said. “Devine comes in day in and day out and works his butt off. He’s a very unselfish guy and he’s a great teammate and individual. He worked hard and like I said, whenever you put in the work, you’ll get what you deserve.”
A reporter asked Nebraska’s other starting guard, senior Jerald Foster, about the newcomers in the backfield on Monday, but Ozigbo’s name was the first out of his mouth.
"Well, lets not forget about Devine [Ozigbo] and Mikale [Wilbon],” Foster said. “We have good backs, so it really doesn't matter in the sense of effort. All of them give 100 percent effort in our backfield.”
Held has said he hopes to play three or four backs, and it seems clear that Ozigbo will be one of them.
Don’t count him out.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.