Nick Henrich had a prolific high school career at Omaha Burke. He arrived in Lincoln as one of Nebraska’s most highly-rated recruits and looked like a candidate for early playing time.Then a shoulder injury shut him down for the spring and led to a redshirt season.
Henrich spent most of the season rehabbing and playing catch-up as he didn’t see the field until the Wisconsin game late in the season, and in that game he only played special teams.
Last season, Henrich continued to deal with minor things at different points in the season, but he managed to play in seven of Nebraska’s eight games, recording 27 tackles in a variety of roles. When pressed into extended duty, Henrich stepped up, notching nine tackles against Minnesota and then leading the Huskers with 12 tackles in his first start against Rutgers at the end of the season.
The caches don’t have many questions about what Henrich is capable of on the field at this point. As the cliché goes, however, availability is the best ability.
“No. 1, Nick’s got to stay healthy,” Inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud said. “I think that’s the biggest thing for him. He’s a really natural football player, really intelligent, loves the game, is a great teammate. His No. 1 deal is developing a routine that keeps him healthy, first and foremost. If he stays on the field, he’s going to be a productive player.”
Ruud, who missed just one game in his six seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during his playing career, said that personal routine will be a big key for Henrich to avoid the injuries that have held him back thus far.
“He’s had a shoulder before, he’s had a knee before,” Ruud said. “There are little pre-hab things that I think you have to just develop. I’ll take me for example — I’ve had little tweaks here and there and I’ve kind of developed a routine to kind of check those off the list as I’m getting ready for a practice and I think that helps you.
“Now there are some things you can’t control; if you step on somebody’s foot and roll an ankle, that is what it is. I think when you’ve had little things here and there you have to learn how to take care of those and you have to develop a routine. Warm up properly, after practice — whether it’s in the weight room or training room — do a shoulder routine to protect your shoulders. I think those little things add up.”
Ruud said Henrich has done well to stay on the field so far this fall. He’s a guy who doesn’t want to miss a rep and his presence on the field has made a significant impact.
“Nick’s probably our best leader, honestly,” fellow inside linebacker Luke Reimer said. “Nick brings a lot of energy, really smart player, really, really good, too, so . . . I view him as the leader of our group because he came here a little bit early, as a scholarship guy, early enrollee. But he’s just a really good leader. Always brings that energy, and we just feed off of him. As he goes, we go.”
Like Henrich, Reimer was an in-state commit for the 2019 class. Though he started as a walk-on, he’s actually played quite a bit more than Henrich to this point, burning his redshirt as a special teams contributor in 2019 and starting five games last season. Reimer’s deference to his classmate says a lot about Henrich’s value to the team.
Henrich bounced back and forth between inside and outside ‘backer last season seamlessly, which is another way he’s impressed his teammates.
“There is a lot of differences between inside and outside,” Reimer said. “It’s a completely different position. But he’s so smart, he picked it up just like that, where he could just plug and play. Like, they basically told him, like the Friday before the game or whatever, ‘You might need to switch to outside.’ And he was like, ‘All right.’ So he’s so smart, he just picked it up like that.”
However, with Collin Miller retiring and Will Honas suffering a likely season-ending injury, Henrich has settled back where he belongs in Ruud’s room. He spent all of spring with the inside linebackers and it appears he’s there to say.
“I think the No. 1 thing is he’s really instinctive,” Ruud said. “I think to play inside you have to have great eyes, you have to have a great awareness and just understanding of angles, and that’s his most natural spot. I think he’s a talented enough athlete to go out and play outside when he needs to. I think he’s most natural on the inside.”
Reimer has established himself as a starter thanks to his athleticism and motor and Northern Iowa transfer Chris Kolarevic didn’t come to Lincoln to ride the bench. But Ruud said the Huskers want to play more than two guys at inside linebacker, and so long as he can stay healthy, Henrich figures to feature heavily into that rotation.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.