NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The cast will stay on Ryker Fyfe’s left wrist for Friday, but beyond that the senior said he is 100 percent for the Music City Bowl matchup with Tennessee. Fyfe is 100-percent ready for the third start of his career, too. It is, without question, the biggest start of his career and it comes at the end.
That’s fine, too.
“It’s been a long journey, not knowing if you’re going to play much but that’s the risk you take walking on,” Fyfe said. “Starting three games at Nebraska means more, I think, than starting four years a UNK, but that’s just my opinion.”
It’s a honor here at Nebraska to run with the ones. It’s been fun the last couple of weeks.
Fyfe notably turned down a scholarship offer to Division II Nebraska-Kearney to take his shot at Nebraska, setting the stage for a career that had its share of twists and turns. When the Huskers’ new staff came on board, Fyfe almost gave up football entirely before opting to stick it out.
“I thought, ‘Might as well. You’ve got two more years. Finish it out. Do your best,'” Fyfe said. “Now here I am starting the bowl game.”
He had some help in that decision.
“It’s hard as backup,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. “You don’t know when that opportunity is going to come. Our conversations were really about not looking back and regretting anything.”
Fyfe may have been a backup for the majority of his career, but with three weeks to prepare with Nebraska’s first team Fyfe displayed a confidence and humility while fielding questions following Wednesday’s practice that felt and sounded a lot like, well, that of a long-time starter.
“I’ve been a lot sharper in practice, I think, being more detailed and knowing that I’m going to play,” he said. “It’s been nice being pretty certain.
“It’s a honor here at Nebraska to run with the ones. It’s been fun the last couple of weeks.”
His teammates have noticed the difference as well.
“He’s stepped up big time,” senior running back Terrell Newby said. “We were real confident in him and we’re still confident in him today. We’re going out there ready for him to lead us.
“He has a lot talent and this will be a great chance for him to showcase it.”
Not just a great chance, the best chance. There’s some symmetry that it’s happening in Nashville, too.
One of the players who helped Fyfe stick it out at Nebraska was his former high school teammate Sam Foltz. Fyfe said Foltz, a noted fan of country music, would have loved it in Music City. Maybe even more so if he knew his friend was going to start the Huskers’ final game of the season.
“I think he’d be proud,” Fyfe said. “That’s kind of who I’m playing for.”
On to some other news and notes from Wednesday’s practice:
>>What jumps out about Tennessee’s defense on film? See if you can spot the theme:
“They’re real athletic,” Newby said.
“They’re very athletic,” Fyfe said.
“They’re really athletic guys,” left tackle Nick Gates said.
Got the picture? Good. Now how does Nebraska try to combat it, particularly a ferocious Volunteer pass rush?
“We’re going to try to run the ball and try to get them from getting that speed off the edge,” Gates said. “That’s definitely going to be a big part of the game.”
>>The unquestioned star of that Tennessee pass rush is junior defensive end Derek Barnett, a Nashville native who needs a sack on Friday to break Reggie White’s career record at Tennessee.
How good is Barnett, who is expected to bypass his senior year and declare for the draft? Good enough that most of the Huskers didn’t even use any superlatives when describing him.
“He’s an All-American,” Gates said. “That catches anyone’s attention.”
Fyfe, who hopes not to see Barnett more than anyone on Friday, stated it even more plainly than that.
“Hopefully they block him,” he said. “He’s a good player.”
>>Technically Tommy Armstrong Jr. hasn’t been ruled out for the game yet, but he was in street clothes again on Wednesday and met with the media for short bit.
“We’ll probably look until tomorrow, maybe even Friday until we figure out what I can possibly do,” he said. “I may be an emergency guy, but we still haven’t decided yet.”
Armstrong estimated that he would be at 75 or 80 percent if he were to play, but “tough to say with hamstrings.” He added that playing on the injury against Iowa set him back more than he anticipated.
“It has been rocky this year with injuries, definitely in the last three or four weeks,” Armstrong said. “It’s been tough. I think it has been a great thing being out here with my brothers, being out here with guys I’ve graduated with, young guys I became friends with. I’m looking forward to watching them in the future.”
>>Wide receivers coach Keith Williams said preparing to play without Jordan Westerkamp is a little easier this time around from a personnel perspective since the Huskers had to replace Westerkamp for two games during the middle of the season. Replacing his leadership, however, is another matter.
“He leads by example, totally, off the field, and then he takes that determination onto the field and he gets results from it,” Williams said. “His leadership by example has been great, and he is also vocal, not in terms of the whole team, but in our room he is really vocal. He helps those young guys out.”
>>With the departure of Lavan Alston, Nebraska’s wide receiver depth in 2017 took another hit, but Williams said it probably hasn’t changed how many receivers the Huskers will take in the 2017 recruiting class.
“At one point it gets down to who is available, who the prospect is and the realistic shot at getting him,” he said.
Nebraska is still in the mix with some high-profile recruits, but expect those to be tightly contested battles.
>>Garret Johns, last night’s hot-chicken-eating champion, wore his championship belt for the Huskers’ stretching period on Wednesday.