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Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

New Coaching Staff Bringing out New Side of Isaac Gifford

August 08, 2023

Just get to lunch. Work as hard as you possibly can, give everything your body can muster, and get to lunch. Then you get a break. Then you can recover.

That’s how Nebraska nickel Isaac Gifford approaches each day in fall camp. Each day is a high-intensity, grueling practice with the new Nebraska coaching staff. Head coach Matt Rhule and secondary coach Evan Cooper both take a daily approach to give each practice its focus. And there’s Gifford, already an established contributor for the Husker defense, going through it each day.

The Lincoln Southeast graduate has played in every game since arriving on campus in 2020. He knew the previous coaching staff and stayed at Nebraska through the transition. He’s fully bought into the change the team is already experiencing.

“I think we’ve always worked hard but they’ve brought out a different side to everybody,” Gifford said after Monday’s practice. “There’s a different level of trust with this staff that we give everything we have and they’ll take care of us.”

Gifford loves Rhule, Cooper and the rest of the staff. They’ve brought out the best in people and “definitely brought out the best” in last year’s starting nickel. He said the staff’s brought out a side in him he didn’t know he had. When asked what that side was, Gifford simply said “a good side.”

The junior holds a bold resume that would impress most coaches. But Cooper is more drawn to what he’s already seen on the field and a budding veteran leadership role. When asked directly what he’s seen so far from Gifford, Cooper paused, smiled, and said “Everything I need to see.”

“He’s tough, he’s competitive, he works his butt off, he’s relentless, he’s disciplined, he’s a violent player, he’s a captain of that group,” Cooper said. “He’s trying to push us to some place we haven’t been so I appreciate that from him.”

Gifford grew into a leadership role at Southeast and finds himself in familiar territory now. He’s taking ownership of his performance and in leading younger players. That involves surpassing the standards as set by the coaching staff. Film study, time with the nutrition staff and a strict regime from the strength and conditioning staff allow him to take his game to the next level. He was already confident in his football playing abilities. The staff is simply unlocking new potential and everyone’s noticing.

“He’s growing more confident in himself and he’s stepping out of his shell a little bit more,” Cooper said. “Getting other guys and trying to push them. He wants it really bad. He wants it as bad as I do and he’s bringing the group along.”

Gifford grew up playing safety so cross training at that position isn’t an issue. He still plays among linebackers on occasion and can stay in the post as a safety so cross training in the secondary isn’t new to him. The logistics of the 3-3-5 provide wrinkles but tireless film study and reps help Gifford feel at ease in the defense. He’s watched Tommi Hill become a leader in the group and DeShon Singleton come out of his cage in practice. That’s where the group is starting to come alive.

Each day is an opportunity to learn and prove something new. He will always return to practice in the secondary and special teams. He’ll always have a role on special teams, he smiled.

“I think there’s a huge emphasis on it, I’ve learned that in previous years,” Gifford said. “This year, I think it’s going to be very important and I’m going to want to be a part of it because if you have a good special teams you’re going to have a good team.”

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