Photo Credit: Nebraska Athletics

Jaquez Yant Wants to Be Depended On, So He’s Making Changes

March 24, 2022

There was a moment when Jaquez Yant noticed the change.

After running a play at practice last year, he would normally walk back to the huddle because he was winded. Yant’s first season in the program was 2020, but he didn’t play because he needed to work on his body and conditioning. Even last season, those two things impacted his playing time and role in a running back room that needed what he could provide: A big runner with the feet and moves that other 6-foot-2, 245-pounders don’t have.

But things are different this spring. Those walks back to the huddle have turned into runs. He’s feeling more energized.

“I told coach (Bryan) Applewhite, ‘Coach, I’m not gonna lie, I feel way better,’ and he said, ‘Duh,'” Yant said through a laugh Thursday as he met with members of the media inside Memorial Stadium. “It’s like, of course.”

That’s the result of all the work Yant has put into his conditioning and making the right decisions with his diet. There’s less Raising Cane’s and late-night snacking before bed. There’s a new and better mindset because he wants to be depended and relied upon. Yant’s hope is that, when he’s on the field and gets loose for a long gain, he doesn’t need to tap his helmet and ask for a breather on the sideline.

Yant knew winter conditioning would be an important stretch for him. He didn’t want to be the guy who could only stay on the field for a couple plays before heading off. So this offseason, Yant went to work. He didn’t go home to Florida for spring break, either. He stayed in Lincoln and ran.

“I already knew like, ‘OK, I need to slow down on this, I need to pick up on this, eat at this time, run more, even in the offseason and no one is around,” he said.

Having a demanding running backs coach like Applewhite helps, too. The coach has seen the improvement Yant is making, but he’s not there yet. Applewhite wants to see consistency with him.

“He actually has done a good job of trying to work to get himself in playing shape, but they all have because that’s the standard,” Applewhite said.

Yant said Applewhite is a “funny dude” that harps on the little things. Like the the receivers in Mickey Joseph’s wideout room, Applewhite doesn’t let much slip with his running backs.

“He’s all about details. I love him to death and he’s a strong guy—he stays on top of us about every little thing, and I like that,” Yant said of his position coach. “That’s what we needed here on this team. He’s a pretty cool dude and a good fit for the running back room. He’s bringing us together as a team.”

Aside from his conditioning and stamina, one of the most important things Yant wanted to work on in the offseason was his blocking. He called that part of his game last season “iffy.”

“Being able to run more and not being tired and tapping out, and also blocking,” Yant said of his offseason goals. “That’s something I’m focusing on this spring, blocking.”

For running backs to stay on the field, they need to be effective blockers, which comes in handy when its third down and defenses are guessing pass. Last year, Yant was anxious to start his blocking motions against defenders. This spring, though, he’s taking his time with it.

“I’m more of like a physical guy,” he said, “so I’m so eager to try to block them and I end up messing it up instead of just taking my time, taking a deep breath and actually getting the block.”

Now Yant is trying to focus on watching the movements of the defender, then reacting. Over-thinking is bad, and the young back is wanting to slow it down. He even got a shoutout from Applewhite in a blocking drill Thursday. He wants to use that and keep building off it.

Conditioning, stamina and blocking drills are all part of the growth of Yant, who’s still learning how to be a college football running back. Putting his shoulders down and using his size can’t be an every-down occurrence.

“Not every running back is the same. Yant is a big back and God has given him size, God’s given him good feet and an ability to run and he’s got to use those abilities to his advantage,” Applewhite said. “There’s a time and place when you can try to maybe outrun somebody and there’s a time and place where you need to use what God gave you, which is size and strength, and go get a tough yard.

“But we’re never ever, I don’t care about the size of the back, we’re not going to shy away from contact. We have to initiate it because we do three things on the field that nobody ever does. Who else on the offense takes handoffs, has to block for the quarterback or a receiver on a jet sweep and then go out for a pass? Nobody else does that. So we have to be great at all three of them.”

The competition at running back this spring is fierce. Head coach Scott Frost highlighted Yant, Rahmir Johnson and Anthony Grant, the transfer from New Mexico Military Institute, on Thursday as the guys who have impressed.

Being the back he and the program wants him to become is the top priority for the Florida native. He’s not there yet, but is on the path.

It’s now a path where you’ll find him running rather than walking.

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