Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Ervin, Prochazka Looking to Bounce Back from Injury-Shortened Freshman Season

August 15, 2022

Gabe Ervin Jr. and Teddy Prochazka both earned starting jobs as true freshmen in 2021, but knee injuries cut their seasons short before they even got a chance to settle in.

Both missed spring ball as they continued their rehab, but they’ve both been full go during fall camp and are looking to build off what they accomplished in their brief time as starters last season.

Ervin didn’t have to wait long to see the field. He beat out transfer Markese Stepp and returners Rahmir Johnson, Sevion Morrison and Marvin Scott III for the RB1 job out of fall camp. 

He got off to a slow start — Ervin said it took him until game three to find his groove, and the numbers reflected that. He carried the ball 12 times for just 33 yards in the season-opener against Illinois and followed that up with a six-carry, 17-yard game in week two against Fordham.

In week three, Ervin ran the ball 10 times for 56 yards and two scores against Buffalo. Then, on his second carry of the game against Oklahoma, his knee gave out on him. 

“It was a jump cut,” Ervin said. “It was a play that I’ve ran 1,000 times. Tendinitis in my knee got really bad, I made a jump cut, planted it, saw the hole and it just gave out. So a freak accident, but now I’m just moving forward and trying to not think about that, and just trying to be the best I can be on and off the field, the best version of myself.”

The good news is the injury happened in game four, allowing Ervin to count the year as a redshirt season. However, it was his first significant injury and meant a lengthy rehabilitation as he watched his teammates finish out the season ad then attack the summer.

Running back Gabe Ervin Jr. tries to run away from Illinois defensive back Sydney Brown during Nebraska’s game against the Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium Saturday, Aug. 28th, 2021, in Champaign, Illinois. Photo by Eric Francis.

“During rehab, a long seven months of rehab with [head football trainer] Mark [Mayer], I put the pedal to the metal,” Ervin said. “Every day I woke up and attacked that rehab room, and it’s a blessing to be back on on the field doing what I do again.”

It took him a couple of practices to get into a rhythm and regain the vision in traffic, but now, Ervin said he is “100% and ready to go.”

“Gabe jumped right in, and he wasn’t able to practice in the spring, obviously, but he was able to watch and he understood what I expected out of each and every one of them in practice,” running backs coach Bryan Applewhite said. “He jumped right in and it’s been like he’s practiced all spring. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with his work ethic and his toughness. I was a little concerned coming off of a knee injury as a running back, but he has not wavered one bit.”

Once he cleared rehab, Ervin said his focus was on improving his lateral quickness and shiftiness to better beat defenders one-on-one in space. He also said he’s up to the 215-220-pound range after playing at 205-210 as a freshman.

“It makes a tremendous difference,” Ervin said. “Bigger faster, stronger, that’s the biggest impact on the game. Getting in between those holes, breaking tackles. In the Big Ten, you’ve got a lot of linebackers that are thick and wide, so me carrying an extra five, 10 pounds is really going to make a difference for me.”

Ervin said his focus now is on stacking good days and working to separate himself from the rest of the running back room. However, it likely won’t matter how the backfield depth chart shakes out if the offensive line fails to take a step forward, which is why Prochazka’s return is so important.

The highly-regarded tackle recruit out of Elkhorn South made his Nebraska debut in week two against Fordham, then played limited snaps off the bench in weeks three (Buffalo) and four (Oklahoma). With both starting tackles struggling, the coaching staff decided to shake things up heading into week five against Northwestern, bumping Turner Corcoran from the left side to the right and inserting Prochazka as the starting left tackle next to Nouredin Nouili as the new starter at left guard. The Huskers put up 56 points and 427 yards rushing in a blowout win over the Wildcats.

Prochazka started again the following week against Michigan but blew out his knee midway through the game, ending his season after five games and two starts. Just like Ervin, Prochazka suddenly had to watch from the sidelines as his teammates struggled through the last five games.

“It was tough,” Prochazka said. “I wasn’t really planning for that, but everyone that ever gets that injury can never plan for that. ACLs really don’t do much unless you tear them. So it was kind of just leaning on my teammates a lot; they kind of got me through that, through that whole process. Because you kind of feel isolated; they’re all moving forward with the season and you’re kind of stuck, you’ve got to do your own thing. Just kind of being with them really helps.”

Prochazka worked his way back onto the field in time for the start of fall camp, and he said the hardest part was getting used to the game itself all over again.

“I tore it in October, so about 10 months since I played football football,” Prochazka said. “So that first practice was pretty tough, and then after that, that kind of initial shock, it just kind of felt like my first spring ball when I first got here. That initial shock, ‘All right, that’s what it is. We’re playing football.’”

Nebraska Football Offensive Lineman Teddy Prochazka Battles Against Northwestern

Nebraska offensive tackle Teddy Prochazka battles against a Northwestern lineman on October 2, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Photo by Eric Francis.

Prochazka said that “initial shock” was tough to deal with, but with the help of new offensive line coach Donovan Raiola, he’s focused on taking a step forward every day.

“It’s tough on the body,” Prochazka said. “You just kind of have to roll with the punches and progress and try to get better at one little thing, whether it’s your hand placement or something like that, your conditioning, any of that. You just kind of have to make sure that you’re continuously getting better each day.”

Prochazka said the roughly 130 snaps he played last season isn’t really much to go on, but those two starts did help him significantly, perhaps more mentally than physically. 

“I wish I would have had some more film to put out there, but I felt confident,” Prochazka said. “I got those first game jitters out. Turner and I were kind of talking about how we were kind of lucky to play so early and just get those first game jitters out of the way, those first starts out of the way, so that now I can just kind of roll back in like nothing really ever happened. I don’t have to worry about ‘Oh, boy, my first start.’ It’s just kind of good to get all that stuff out of the way.”

Every job is up for grabs each time the Huskers hit the practice field, but that left tackle spot is essentially Prochazka’s so long as he’s healthy, and Ervin said his classmate “looks good.”

“We’re both coming back from major injuries and that’s in the back of our minds to just keep on going forward,” Ervin said. “We want to we want to be dogs and we want to win. We want to win that rep. Teddy’s doing good at tackle. He’s reaching that guy and his knee looks stronger and he’s pushing it.”

Ervin and Prochazka made history when they earned starting jobs as freshmen, but misfortune cut their seasons short. Now back at full health, the pair of second-year Huskers is looking to reestablish themselves as key parts of the offense heading into the 2022 season.

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