Nebraska is a young football team. How young exactly? Thirteen sophomores and freshmen saw snaps in Saturday’s season-opening win against Arkansas State. There are two other players Nebraska is counting on in 2017, quarterback Tanner Lee and tight end Tyler Hoppes, who don’t have a ton of snaps played at a Power 5 level.
Hoppes came to Nebraska by way of Wayne State. He is a senior, but got his first start on Saturday.
“Last year I was a fourth string behind a couple seniors and I was like, ‘I’ll get my time and I've just got to be ready for when that comes,’” Hoppes said. “So last year, I think, is when I [felt] like I was ready to play.”
Hoppes finished the game with three catches for 40 yards, which is a solid debut, but he did drop a difficult touchdown pass that would have made his night tremendous.
There are young players in the program that either had dazzling debuts or a coming out party.
In the coming out party category, we have sophomore running back Tre Bryant. The St. Louis product had 43 rushes for 172 yards and a touchdown in 2016. In one game Bryant has eclipsed his season yardage total from last season with 31 rushes for 192 yards and a score Saturday night. This is the type of production that Mike Riley and running backs coach Reggie Davis hoped for from a featured back.
One player that had a dazzling debut was redshirt freshman wide receiver JD Spielman. The 2016 scout team MVP’s 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on his first collegiate touch will always be memorable, even if it’s because he learned not to point.
Let’s not forget his two catches for 44 yards either. Spielman’s 143 total yards was second on the team only to Tre Bryant.
“My only disappointment in the game is that we really didn’t get [Spielman] going much as a receiver,” Riley said. “That’s the part that we just have to get more of that, get in that rhythm where we do that better.”
Redshirt sophomore Eric Lee feels like he’s been in the program a long time but is just now seeing his first real game action. He was tested heavily on Saturday night with a lot of quick hitters and screens thrown in his direction. He performed admirably, totaling seven tackles in the game.
Mohamed Barry had one of the best quotes of fall camp when he said, “if you like to hit, you are my friend,” and he did plenty of that on Saturday. The redshirt sophomore totaled four tackles and played a variety of roles for the defense. Another redshirt sophomore that saw his first consistent action was Tyrin Ferguson. He netted his first career interception off a Freedom Akinmoladun-tipped passed in the second quarter.
A pair of true freshmen also made their debuts. There was no shortage of talk on freshman wide receiver Tyjon Lindsey this summer and the team got him involved on the first drive of the season. He ended up with three catches for 14 yards.
The other true freshman that got a lot of playing time was defensive tackle Deontre Thomas. The big man from Oklahoma totaled three tackles and also had a couple of quarterback hurries in the game, including a near sack that could have ended the game on the Red Wolves’ final drive.
All in all, the future should be bright for the Huskers with so many young players contributing at a high level. The question becomes whether that bright future comes at the expense of the present. If Saturday was an indication, the answer to that question could be no.
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.