Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Padding the Stats: Projecting Spring Game Stars

April 28, 2021

After two years and a couple of weeks, the Nebraska Red-White Spring Game is finally (almost) here.

The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out last year’s spring game and robbed many of the players of their chance to get on the field and make plays in front of friends and family. Every year, spring game heroes emerge and make a name for themselves.

In the 2019 spring game, the likes of Brody Belt, Jaylin Bradley and Miles Jones made a significant impact on offense while Mohamed Barry, Reid Karel, Quayshon Alexander and Damian Jackson stood out on defense.

Who might this year’s spring game heroes be?

The biggest names rarely play enough snaps to rise to the top of the stat sheet, especially on offense. I don’t expect we’ll see a ton of Adrian Martinez, Austin Allen, Samori Toure and others. The trick is to find the sweet spot of guys who aren’t high enough on the depth chart to get a quick curtain call yet talented enough to get real playing time and make the most of it.

Let’s start at quarterback, a position that struggled as a whole in the 2019 spring game. Matt Masker and Brayden Miller will both likely get a chance to take some snaps, but I think fans will be closely observing the play of the freshmen in Logan Smothers and Heinrich Haarberg. We’ve heard some good things about Haarberg this spring, but I’m going to say Smothers has a fairly productive day.

At running back, your guues is as good as mine because I have no idea who’s even going to be suited up on Saturday. We know it won’t be Markese Stepp, but beyond that you can probably pick a name out of a hat. All of the scholarship backs have been in and out of practice, so I’m going to highlight a few walk-ons here.

Jaquez Yant has been the talk of the spring recently and Derek Peterson identified him as one of the main storylines heading into Saturday, so I’m going to say the big back from Florida has a big day. Cooper Jewett and Zach Weinmaster are guys that have drawn praise from running backs coach Ryan Held over the last two years, and both are talented athletes. With the uncertainty ahead of them, I think both will get a good number of carries and have the talent to turn them into something.

At wide receiver, let’s get wild here: give me a big day for Omar Manning. He was the star of the open practice and if he’s on the field on Saturday, I expect him to make a couple of impressive catches that will get the hype train back on the tracks. I think walk-ons Ty Hahn and Austin Jablonski could end up emerging as go-to guys if they end up playing a significant number of snaps on the White team.

At tight end, I’ll have my eyes on early enrollee James Carnie out of Norris. The room is a little light at the moment with Kurt Rafdal entering the transfer portal and AJ Rollins and walk-on Evan Meyersick set to arrive this summer, and I think Carnie could be a guy who takes advantage if veterans like Allen and Vokolek don’t log heavy snaps.

Apologies to the big boys up front, but its hard to stand out as an individual offensive lineman, so I won’t highlight any of them, although the way the coaches split up that room will be interesting. Who plays center for the White team?

Flipping over to the defense, early enrollee Ru’Quan Buckley has drawn some praise throughout the spring, and I’m excited to see him on the field. I could see him ending up on the White team and causing a little trouble for the Red team offensive line. Look out for Colton Feist, a walk-on out of Yutan, to make his mark as well. He has an incredible motor and has had a few years in the program to develop his body, and he earned his way onto the field late in the 2020 season.

In the back eight, a couple of young scholarship players will have my eye on Saturday. First, I’m excited to see Javin Wright, the hybrid safety/nickel linebacker who missed all of last season with an injury. He and Isaac Gifford look to be the heir apparent behind JoJo Domann and I think he’ll get a chance to play a lot on Saturday.

Noa Pola-Gates, who was part of the 2019 recruiting class alongside Wright and was a highly-touted prospect, seems to be making a push this spring after taking a while to find his bearings at the college level. I think we’ll see him fly around and make a good number of tackles on Saturday.

Playing time at inside linebacker will be interesting, but I think at least one of Chris Kolarevic, Nick Henrich and Luke Reimer will make big splash on Saturday. Simon Otte, the walk-on outside linebacker out of York who has been a special teams contributor and seen a few snaps on defense here and there, should have a chance to make some plays in the game as well.

I could rattle off a bunch more names that have me intrigued, but we’re already up to 15 players so I’ll cut it off here. Who are you most excited to see on Saturday? Who do you think will emerge as the stars of the game on Saturday? Let us know on social media.

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