Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Michael Booker III Adjusts to New Linebacker Role Within Nebraska’s New Defense

April 26, 2023

This offseason brought the biggest change of Michael Booker III’s life. For years he played cornerback, the same position as his father, a former first-round pick and corner on Nebraska’s 1994 and 1995 National Championship teams. However, the legacy Husker didn’t see the field in two seasons. Then came the Matt Rhule coaching staff and a position change.

Rhule and staff approached Booker about moving to linebacker before the spring season. Booker embraced the opportunity, albeit with a tough transition.

“That’s the biggest change of my life, I feel like,” Booker said after Nebraska’s Spring Game. “So it’s just a lot of adjusting I had to do. I feel like I had great people around me to support me through that.”

The sophomore reiterated how unconventional the adjustment was. There aren’t many successful examples of moving someone from cornerback to linebacker. So there wasn’t a road map for him to follow. He wasn’t used to that type of football, he said. He credited the coaching staff and his teammates for their collective work and making him comfortable. Despite the difficulties, it brought one significant benefit.

“I love hitting,” Booker said. “I like getting around the ball and as a linebacker I can do that. It’s very physical and I’m a physical person.”

The Texas native admitted he’s still adjusting to run stopping. As a corner, the last thing he concerned himself with was stopping the run. As a linebacker it’s his first focus.

Booker didn’t register a tackle for the Red team in Nebraska’s Spring Game. He didn’t tip a pass, snag one out of the air or get to the quarterback. But he did fall back on what the coaches preached all spring—if there’s a ball on the ground, scoop it.

White quarterback Heinrich Haarberg stepped up to throw. Red defensive lineman Elijah Jeudy got to him as the Kearney Catholic native’s arm moved forward to throw. The ball came out, bouncing yards ahead of the line of scrimmage. Officials never blew their whistles. Head coach Matt Rhule said after the game that officials offered to review it because the replay showed it should have been ruled incomplete. Rhule wanted to keep the game competitive. Pretend it’s 1979 and stick with the call on the field, Rhule told them. The ball bounced helplessly on Tom Osborne Field when Booker’s new training took over.

“When I scooped and throughout the whole spring if the ball was on the ground it was a sin for it not to be touched by a defensive player,” Booker explained. “We practiced that and worked through it.”

He saw it and only thought about getting to the end zone to celebrate with his teammates. Booker plucked the ball off the hop, bounced around a mass of bodies at the line of scrimmage and headed for the south end zone. Running back Gabe Ervin Jr. ran Booker down and tackled him over the goal line. Booker’s 54-yard return marked the Red’s only points and the final points of the scrimmage. When asked if he was surprised officials ruled it a fumble, he said no. He was more grateful for the opportunity. A chance to showcase weeks of training.

Overall, Booker thought the defense performed well in the Spring Game. He felt they played together, executed as well as they could and had fun. Over 66,000 fans in Memorial Stadium helped the Huskers enjoy their scrimmage. They’re also one of Booker’s favorite parts of Nebraska.

“I just love the environment, I love Nebraska, I love the fanbase,” Booker said. “You just feel comfortable with them. It’s like a fan base that you can be comfortable with.”

Booker’s only focused on the summer—the next stage of training. He was asked what would help him get ready for Minnesota, he redirected back to the summer. And what’s next for that goal is getting 1% better. It’s a mantra instilled by Rhule and his staff. Each day they want to get a single percentage better. “Because if we go 1% better then it’s obviously going to effect the whole team and everybody,” Booker explained. And with each percent comes confidence.

Nebraska’s players and coaches still require adjustments. They all want to move beyond their four-win fortunes of 2022. And they’re all learning each other’s routines simultaneously. More requirements are necessary, for Booker and the team, before they think about anything but the next practice.

“The spring for me has been as well as I could possibly imagine. I love this team,” Booker said. “We’ve all done really good adjusting. Especially with the scheme because the scheme has changed. We’ve definitely done really good.”

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