JoJo Domann may be the Swiss army knife of the Blackshirts, seamlessly sliding between covering receivers in the slot to rushing the passer off the edge, but redshirt freshman Nick Henrich isn’t far behind in terms of versatility.
The 4-star recruit from Omaha Burke arrived at Nebraska as an inside linebacker. During the preseason, he split his reps between inside and outside linebacker, and when the season began Nebraska used him primarily in a rotation on the edge. When Collin Miller went down, he focused his attention more on the side ‘backer position.
While seeing his snaps fluctuate and his role change week-to-week, Henrich has logged six tackles and two quarterback hurries (a stat that isn’t uniformly tracked).
“I think the kid’s a stud,” defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He started off inside, and then we had some guys go down in camp and he bounced outside, and then we had some guys go down inside, and so he’s moved back there. He’s a really smart guy. He’s just a football player. He understands the game in general, and then he works hard at whatever position he’s going to play and learning the assignments and techniques that he needs to do to function that week. He’s handled everything really well and he just wants to help the team.”
Henrich said the yo-yoing has been challenging, but he’s also pretty comfortable at both spots at this point.
“It comes pretty naturally,” Henrich said. “When I first moved to outside there were a couple new techniques that were a little challenging to learn at first, but once you learn those it’s good. Going back to inside, it’s all the same stuff, the same techniques that I’ve been doing. So it hasn’t been too bad.”
One of those outside ‘backer techniques has been playing with a hand in the dirt. Nebraska has played a lot this season with just two true linemen on the field, bringing one of the outside linebackers up to the line of scrimmage to act as the de facto third lineman.
“I’d done that a little bit in high school, but not much,” said Henrich, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds. “It was definitely different setting the edge, playing D-end basically. But it was cool it was comfortable. It’s just playing football. Football is kind of football. Obviously different techniques and different assignments and everything, but if you know the defense, you know what everyone’s doing, football is football.”
As a senior at Burke, Henrich led the Bulldogs to a 13-0 record and the Class A state title, racking up 96 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks while earning the 2019 Nebraska Gatorade Player fo the Year honors. He arrived on campus hoping to earn playing time as a true freshman, but injuries set him back and limited him to one appearance on special teams late in the season.
“The injuries definitely were hard,” Henrich said. “It’s just frustrating always being out, and then once you’re over one thing you’re injured in another. That was really difficult. Now that I’m healthy, I’m really just grateful to be healthy. You’ve always just got to stay ready because you never know when you’re going to get your start.”
Henrich was part of a recruiting class that included two other in-state linebackers in Garrett Nelson (Scottsbluff) and Garrett Snodgrass (York). Each of them has seen their careers take different paths to this point, but the trio has stayed tight throughout the process.
“It’s definitely cool to have a lot of in-state guys, especially at linebacker,” Henrich said. “We have a great bond, we’re always around each other it seems like so we’re always constantly working and learning and doing everything together, really. I’ll be really excited to continue to grow as players and people with those guys.”
In addition to the fellow Nebraska natives in the room with him, Henrich has also benefited from having a pair of seniors in Collin Miller and Will Honas who have provided a great example for all of the young linebackers to follow.
“Oh man, those guys have been everything to us, really,” Henrich said. “I couldn’t see how we could have made progress without them, honestly. They’re two of the most hard-working, high-character guys I’ve ever met in my life, really. Just coming in, they just do everything the right way, honestly, and having leaders and older guys like that in your room really set the tone for the rest of the guys about when to show up, you’ve got to be on time, you’ve got to put in extra work and all that stuff. They’re really two of the best guys I’ve ever met.”
Miller’s role changed against Illinois when the senior suffered what appears to be a season-ending injury. Miller left the field on a cart and was taken to the hospital. Scott Frost later called his injury a spinal concussion. But according to Chinander, the senior captain was back on Monday for the linebacker and special teams team meetings and was out on the field for practice, encouraging guys from the sideline with a practice script in hand.
“Collin’s been the heart and soul of our defense, like I’m sure you’ve heard before, ever since the start of the season,” Henrich said. “Now that he’s out, that hasn’t changed at all. He’s still out there firing guys up. I already thought the world of his character before this injury, but this has just made me respect him even more as a person and he’s truly just an amazing, amazing guy.”
Luke Reimer stepped into the starting lineup in Miller’s place, and Henrich is now the first man off the bench at inside ‘backer. But if Chinander calls his number on the edge again, he’ll be ready for that too.
Henrich’s career in Lincoln has just gotten started, but he’s showing he can help the team right now in whatever way the team needs him to.