Time flies, doesn’t it?
June is nearly complete, and with it camp season. The schedule for Big Ten Media Days is out—it’s July 26-27 in Indianapolis and Nebraska is going on the first day. The start of fall camp in late July is getting closer.
There’s not a better time than now to start a countdown of the Huskers’ 10 most intriguing players for the 2022 season.
Before we get started, what do we mean by intriguing? Oxford Languages defines intriguing as arousing one’s curiosity or interest. In other words, fascinating. Which 10 Huskers fascinate you the most heading into the season? That’s what we’re trying to figure out.
Here are the picks we’ve gone through so far:
Marques Buford Jr. | 5-foot-11, 190 pounds | Safety
If you haven’t yet, go read up on our No. 10 pick, corner Tommi Hill. Nebraska’s defensive backs room needs to replace three longtime starters in corner Cam Taylor-Britt and safeties Deontai Williams and Marquel Dismuke. Hill appears to be a candidate to win the starting corner role opposite Quinton Newsome.
At safety, Myles Farmer returns as a four-game starter from last season. No one’s job is safe or given to them in Travis Fisher’s room, however, and Farmer is going to have to fight to keep the job he had last year because there are plenty of young, talented defensive backs wanting playing time.
One of them is Buford, who saw snaps on special teams last year as a true freshman. The Texas native made a name for himself on the punt team as one of the gunners.
Buford’s work ethic and ability to play multiple positions in the defensive backfield make him one of Fisher’s favorites.
“He’s been like my hidden gem,” Fisher said of Buford on the first day of spring practices. “He’s going to surprise a lot of people, because I got him at the safety position. And a lot of you look at him, you say, ‘What is he, like 5-9? He’s a corner.’ No, he can play any position in the secondary. So I have him at safety right now just because, at his size you don’t think a guy like that would be so physical, but he ain’t scared of nobody. He’s fearless.”
Whether it’s an accurate look at the depth chart or not (spring games should never be used as a tool to judge a player’s standing at his position), Buford was the one who started next to Farmer at safety on the first-team defense during the scrimmage. He showed that fearlessness Fisher mentioned with a second-half tackle of running back Jaquez Yant, a 230-plus-pounder.
Once Buford diagnosed it was a run, he showed off his down-hill aggressiveness and brought Yant down. To be fair, this run wasn’t the most physical Yant has ever been, but you see the point with Buford:
Maturity helped Buford get on the field early in his career. After spending the first two years of his high school career at Bolingbrook High School in Chicago and his final two at Trinity Christian High School in Texas, Buford chose to attend the fall 2020 semester at St. Thomas More Prep School in Connecticut.
Moving across the country multiple times and then living alone for prep school forced Buford to grow up quickly.
“Just having that experience, being away from home before actually going to college, it gave me time, I feel like, to grow up the most part, or mature and learn how to live away from my parents and how to take care of myself,” Buford said last October.
Most in the program have noticed Buford’s maturity. That includes his head coach, Scott Frost.
“I always say the mark of a freshman who’s going to play early is not necessarily talent, it’s how quickly they grow up and become an adult and good teammates and do little things right. And he came in that way,” Frost said of Buford. “So I’m excited about him right now and in the future.”
The future might be right now. In Nebraska’s defense, Buford could be an option to line up next to Farmer in a traditional two-deep safety look. If Nebraska wants to rotate into a single-high look, Buford could be the one who slides down to act as a box safety. If the Huskers want to use five defensive backs on the field, Buford could be deployed as a slot corner, similar to JoJo Domann and Isaac Gifford last year. Being closer to the line of scrimmage would suit a strong tackler like Buford well.
The flexibility Buford provides could help get others on the field, too. DeShon Singleton could be an example of this. The Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College transfer has a Big Ten-ready frame at 6-3, 205 pounds and has the physical traits that make him an intriguing athlete.
“He’s big, and I can’t coach that. He can run, and I can’t coach that either,” Fisher said of Singleton this spring. “But the best thing about him is he’s smart, and he’s very coachable. He’s humble. He’s humble like a freshman who wants to play real bad.”
One way to get Singleton on the field is to be flexible with Buford, who Fisher noted is able to play multiple spots in a defensive backfield.
One thing is certain: Buford is going to see snaps with the first-team defense this fall. Which position they’re going to come at remains up for debate. That alone makes Buford a top-10 intriguing Husker for the 2022 season.