Nebraska Recruiting: Huskers Running Back Situation Full of Intrigue
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Ryan Held’s Work has the Huskers’ Ground Game Set Up for Success

August 26, 2019

He didn’t drop the “I’m just here so I don’t get fined” line on his first day talking to the media, but Dedrick Mills likened his running style to that of the Skittles-loving, defender-crushing Marshawn Lynch. 

“I like to run people over,” the former Georgia Tech and JUCO runner said Monday morning. “I don’t like to do too much juking and stuff. If you’re in my way, you've just got to move and if you don’t move you’re going to get hit.”

(Pauses for those reading to conclude their fist-pump-filled lap around the office.)

Mills wasted no time endearing himself to Husker fans. He said Nebraska’s defense is bigger than those which he faced in the ACC during his freshman season. He said he wasn’t really surprised to see his name as the co-starter at running back because “this is what I do.” Mills is the fire in the running back room. 

And the other co-No. 1? Maurice Washington? Washington is the ice. The cool feet. The ability to dance and make defenders look silly. The ability to take a handoff from Adrian Martinez and go off tackle for 7 yards, then line up split out wide and run a go route on a corner. 

Nebraska has this same dynamic in the two kids who just committed to be future Husker running backs. Sevion Morrison‍ is the speed, Marvin Scott III‍ is a hammer. 

The picture is coming together. Ryan Held has what he’s been working for. And yet he’s not stopping. 

“He’s a menace on the recruiting trail,” senior Wyatt Mazour told me. “Coach Held recruiting-wise is one of the best in the nation. He works his tail off.”

The Huskers’ running back coach wasn’t on hand Monday morning, yet my mind fixated on his first two years back in Lincoln. 

Nebraska’s running back situation features four guys on the two-deep entering 2019’s Week 1. Two have the co-No. 1 title and two have the co-backup title; three of them are Held recruits. Then there’s Ronald Thompkins who won’t join the picture until later in the season, but Held assures everyone he’s going to get his shot. 

Mazour is the only non-Held commit still in the rotation. And he’s on the two-deep. Held gave him a shot and, as Mazour put it, essentially recruited him when he landed in Lincoln. Held treats Mazour like his own. 

The running back coach has successfully established a culture where the entire room builds each other up, but no one in the room is afraid to compete for carries. He brought in Washington, and then a year later added Mills, Thompkins and Rahmir Johnson. Now he’s added Morrison and Scott. All of these guys know they’re coming to a room where nothing is given and everything is earned and they’re still ecstatic to play for Held.

“He’s real with us,” Mazour says. “He keeps everything 100 percent. He tells us, ‘I’m going to bring in guys to hopefully beat you out,’ and that makes us step up our games. There’s a lot of competition. … I think it’s what we need. We need competition everywhere and he brings that.”

To his running backs, Held is one of the hardest working coaches they’ve been around. He’s borderline crazy. 

“It’s like he drinks Red Bull all throughout the day,” Mazour said.

“He’s that crazy coach on the staff that everybody loves,” added Mills. “He’s like a father, like my dad. I treat him like my father because the way he comes off and the vibe he gives is like a father figure. Coach Held has been on me since the day he met me.

“We clicked right off the top when I first started talking to him.”

Scott Frost tells the running backs stories from Held’s college days at Nebraska; about how he would know every last detail of the offensive scheme to the point where he could line up on the offensive line if he was asked to, and about how they would sit around the TV after games to watch other teams and Held would call out schemes and weaknesses.

“He’s a huge asset for us,” Mazour said. “I mean, he could be a head coach anywhere in D1 if he really wanted to, but he has so much love for this program that he just wants to be here.”

Which makes the kids he invests all that time and energy into want to be here with him. Nebraska has competition in the running back room and will continue to have competition in the running back room and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to scare anyone away (at least not the guys Held zeroes in on).

Frost is excited about the running back room. Washington’s off-the-field situation will sort itself out one way or another. (Frost said no decision has been made on Washington’s status, and that university officials will be involved in one when it is made.) Nebraska will have him or it will have other talented running backs to fill the void.

You don’t get that without work. And Held’s still working. He may have even just crushed another Red Bull. 

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