Photo Credit: Nebraska Athletics

Friendly but Fierce Competition Driving Defensive Backs in Spring Ball

April 04, 2022

Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher is very forthcoming with the players in his room: his job is to recruit over them each and every season. 

That includes this offseason as Fisher added at least seven new scholarship defensive backs (not including Gage Stenger who could end up at a few different spots once he arrives on campus). Four of those newcomers are transfers from other colleges, and with just one returning starter in the secondary competition has been fierce as newcomers and returners alike compete for starting jobs.

“Competition has been high every day, but we haven’t even really been looking at it like that,” said Braxton Clark, who is heading into his fifth season in Lincoln. “We’ve been just looking at each other as brothers and trying to help one another. If he makes a mistake, we correct him and we try not to make that same mistake. We just really piggyback off each other.”

Clark competed for a starting spot opposite Cam Taylor-Britt in preseason last year before Quinton Newsome emerged. He played in every game, off the bench and on special teams, but despite not yet seeing significant playing time or a featured role he’s stuck it out at Nebraska and continued to work. Now he’s getting another shot with Taylor-Britt off to the NFL, and he said all the players in the room have embraced the competition.

“We’re totally fine with it,” Clark said. “We expect competition because that’s the only thing that’s going to get us better every day, because if you don’t have people to compete against, how are you going to get better? You’re going to get complacent and comfortable with yourself. That’s the one thing Coach Fish doesn’t want and we don’t want as players as well. So we expect competition every day and if our brother is not competing at the same level as us, we try to pick him up.”

With the implementation of the transfer portal and one-time free transfer rules, player movement has continued to rise leading to roster turnover every season. However, Clark said incorporating the newcomers has been pretty seamless in the defensive backs room because so many of them share a similar background.

Clark, redshirt freshman Tamon Lynum, Ohio State transfer Tyreke Johnson (in his second season with the Huskers) and newcomer Arizona State transfer Tommi Hill are all from Florida, while Myles Farmer and JUCO transfers DeShon Singleton and Javier Morton are all from Georgia.

“Sometimes it is [difficult], but Tommi, he’s from Orlando, so I knew that back then when I was in high school and stuff like that,” Clark said. “Tyreke’s from Florida as well. So it’s like you’ve got that Florida culture in the room from Florida, so it doesn’t make it as hard. But of course when people come in, you’ve got that that competition, that little tension going on, but we try to nip that in the bud and make sure that we all understand we’re brothers. We compete as brothers, we don’t compete as enemies or anything like that.”

Hill said having other Floridians to rely on has played a big part in how comfortable he’s been in Lincoln after transferring from Arizona State. 

“There are more people I can get to because some people here are from the south and over there they’re from Cali, just over there … Just having people here already I know like Tamon, Braxton and all them, that has a big impact on me,” Hill said.

Clark went into more detail regarding what “Florida culture” means to him.

“It’s being a dog day in and day out, always trying to make plays and not taking anything for less,” Clark said. “At the same time, you’re always just bringing that attitude and energy to the field that just makes your teammates want to do the same thing as well.”

Hill said the group of newcomers brought some swag to the team, the mentality of “hard work and competing.” Hill also reference that Florida culture when talking about the swag he brings to the team.

“With me, it’s just my culture, how I grew up,” Hill said. “Playing people that are older than me like my brother, I used to always play tackle football with him in the backyard. So just having a dog mentality like I said, just being 6 years old and trying to tackle 11-year-olds, so that’s a little difficult.”

As the Huskers near the end of spring ball, Clark said the chemistry in the secondary has really grown as the newcomers have settled in and everyone in the room has continued to push each other on and off the field.

“We’ve been bonding a lot better now because we’ve been around each other so much more,” Clark said. “We understand what’s people’s best and what they can give us. We’ve been surprised by some people. We just we just try to piggyback off each other. We always try to make sure the culture in the room is that we’re giving the best of our abilities. If I do this on a play and I teach you how to do it, hopefully you can do the same thing. It makes us just play to a higher level because if I just corrected you on that I can’t mess up on that anymore.”

For newcomers and veterans alike, competition is the theme in Travis Fisher’s defensive backs room, and the players have embraced it with roles and reps up for grabs while also continuing to build their bonds as teammates.

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