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One of the first responsibilities of a new football coach is recruiting.
Yes, as soon as Scott Frost accepted the job at Nebraska, his staff scattered across the country in order to salvage a 2018 recruiting class that had fallen apart after Mike Riley’s firing.
However, Frost also had some interior recruiting to do to retain the athletes already in Lincoln. With sophomore receiver Tyjon Lindsey, it was easy.
He’d already done it once before.
“When I was a sophomore, I was actually being recruited by Scott Frost to go to Oregon,” Lindsey said. “I was really close to one of his former players, De’Anthony Thomas. I talked to him a couple of times on my visits and all that and he was like a mentor or a brotherly figure in my recruiting process. I always loved the offense, to play with Scott Frost. I was all set and done to go to Oregon and then he left. It was like a dream come true now that he’s here.”
Lindsey called Oregon his “dream school.” It was a “done deal.” Then Frost left for Central Florida and former wide receivers coach Keith Williams recruited Lindsey to Nebraska.
Fast forward to 2018 and now Frost has followed Lindsey to Lincoln.
However, the previous staff’s departure — and Williams’ in particular — hit Lindsey and the other receivers hard.
“Me, Stan [Morgan Jr.], JD [Spielman] and Keyan [Williams] all talked about Dub’s gone; this is basically our father figure,” Lindsey said. “What are we going to do? We spoke with Dub a couple times and our final decision was just like, we’re brothers, why would we all separate from each other? Why don’t we just try to bring the tradition back to Nebraska football? We’re already here; we signed up for it. Why not just follow through with it? Just because we lost somebody doesn’t mean we can’t build off of each other.”
For Lindsey, that family atmosphere is ultimately what convinced him to stay in Lincoln rather than looking to transfer elsewhere.
“That’s what I learned when I first got here; it was all about my brothers. I didn’t have family — my mom’s not here, my dad’s not here; so with that, all I’ve got is my brothers. My brothers are my family. With that, we just realized this is what we need to do, stay with each other, stick with each other. Stan’s going to help me learn even though I’m at the slot now; he’s going to help me learn. He’s going to carry me off the field; we’re going to carry each other in the classroom. This is going to go a long way.
“Our mindset is changing dramatically because we’re not trying to have a season like last year; we can’t dwell on that. We’re looking to the future and hopefully it shows.”
Even with Lindsey’s previous connection with Frost, the relationship with the new staff got off to a rocky start after the winter conditioning workouts landed Lindsey in the hospital with rhabdomyolysis, and he wasn’t the only one. Dylan Owen, a walk-on defensive lineman, also had to go to the hospital.
Owen later left the program, but Lindsey returned, even more determined to find success.
By his own words, Lindsey tended to keep to himself in times of adversity.
“That’s the type of person I am,” Lindsey said. “I feel like my coping mechanism is just me; I know myself better than anybody else. What really influenced me into being a better person and my mental being stronger is my coaches actually reached out to me.”
Frost called him right away. Offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Troy Walters reached out to him as well.
“I have a lot of trust issues so with that, [Walters] being a new coach and all that, it took me a while to get comfortable with him, but when I realized he’s trying to really be in my life, trying to be that guy that will help me mentally, I can tell him whatever I need to,” Lindsey said. “When I’m feeling down, he’ll help me feel up. These guys are really here to help us — not on the field but off the field — feel good.”
“When he was in the hospital, we reached out to him,” Walters said. “It’s all about the players. As coaches, we’re here for the players, and that’s the first thing we told the guys when we met with them. It wasn’t about Xs and Os, it ain’t about football; it was about life, it was about our roles as coaches. Our number one role is to make sure that we’re there for the players on the field, off the field. We wanted Tyjon to know that whatever he needed, we were there, we’ve got his back.”
The coaches weren’t the only ones who reached out to Lindsey. De’Anthony Thomas did as well.
“He noticed our coaches changing and the first thing he said, he said ‘Trust me, Scott Frost is the guy. I remember when they were trying to recruit you here, and you told me this was the best place for you to be,’” Lindsey said. “He was like, ‘Just trust the process, stay focused, wait until spring to see how it’s going.’ I didn’t even have to wait until the spring because they became very impactful in my life right then and there. When I was going through things, they would just be there for me like no other. With De’Anthony Thomas, that’s my brother basically talking to me; he has the best interest in me and I have the best interest in his mindset and what he thinks.”
His stint in the hospital had Lindsey questioning that process, but he decided to trust it just as Thomas advised.
“It took a lot of buying in,” Lindsey said. “Me being in the hospital, I felt like they didn’t know what they were doing. They were always saying trust the process, trust the process. I sat in the hospital like this might be a major setback for a comeback. With that, I just bought into it. Lost 10 pounds of fat and gained 10 pounds of muscle. When I’m on the field, it’s showing. They got me way faster. The workouts they’ve got me doing are way explosive, heavy squats, getting me out of my breaks when I’m breaking down at receiver, making me get up out of there when I’m trying to get past the DB or something.
“It’s just little things that are going to set me up for my future. I bought into it and I love the strength and conditioning coaches, especially Zach Duval. He’s getting me right, and he’s always there for me not only for my physical health but for also my mental health.”
In the end, the experience brought Lindsey and Walters closer together.
“Our relationship has just grown,” Walters said. “He’s quiet, kind of keeps things to himself, so he’s kind of coming out of that shell. I think he understands that he can trust me and I want the best for him. He’s opened up and he’s let me into his life, which is awesome. As a coach, that’s what you want; you want your guys to be able to trust you and share things on and off the field with you. I feel like his growth, he’s heading in the right direction.”
Lindsey’s stay in the hospital wasn’t his first bit of adversity at Nebraska. In fact, his entire freshman year was a struggle.
Lindsey was the highest-rated member of Nebraska’s 2017 recruiting class with a Hail Varsity composite rating of 95.9, making him a high 4-star prospect.
His freshman season numbers show 12 catches for 76 yards (6.3 yards per reception) and seven carries for 4 yards. He returned one punt for no yardage and one kickoff for 17 yards.
“What I learned is it’s not given to you,” Lindsey said about his freshman experience. “I came here, I was one of the most highly-recruited players here, just up in the rankings. My freshman year I kind of let myself settle and let it get to me, coming off of an injury my senior year . . . All last year, I’m going to be honest, my mind wasn’t as right as it was back in high school and reality smacked me in my face.”
Lindsey missed his senior season with a torn meniscus. His more recent trip to the hospital proved to be a turning point of sorts for the young receiver.
“When I was in the hospital I actually lost like 20 pounds; it was crazy,” Lindsey said. “I was just going through it like this was another set-back. I didn’t play my senior year. I didn’t do well my freshman year of college, and now it really was another set-back. The whole time I was in the hospital, about a week, I was just going through it . . . I called my family members questioning if this was for me, if this is what I wanted to do. I never do that. I’ve been in the hospital for the past two years . . . My mind just wasn’t right because I was going through it my whole freshman year. I just had to realize I’m stronger than this; this is what I’ve been working for my whole life since I was a little kid. All those people that are looking up to me, this isn’t for me; this is for my family and I just have to realize I signed up for this.”
Lindsey’s struggles are in the past now, and he’s ready to make the impact he expected to when he first set foot on campus. He has a new outlook on football and what he needs to do to be successful.
“This year, my mindset is changed,” Lindsey said. “I’m doing a lot more things, not just on the field, but I’m getting better off the field so my mental is strong and I’m just trying to be ready. Last year I wasn’t.”
Walters has big plans for this new Lindsey. Stanley Morgan Jr. and JD Spielman are established stars for the Huskers, but the offense Frost and Walters brought to Lincoln provides an opportunity for several skill-position players to shine.
“I’m very excited about Tyjon,” Walters said. “He really fits what we’re trying to do. He’s versatile so he can play in the slot, he can play outside, he can play running back, he’s dynamic. He’s got great football IQ so he understands how to run routes, how to get open, how to utilize his size to his advantage so he’s going to be a weapon in this offense. He’s got to just keep growing, keep learning, staying disciplined and the sky’s the limit.”
In Nebraska’s new offense, that hybrid slot receiver and running back position is called the R-Duck. Once upon a time, De’Anthony Thomas played that role up in Eugene. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 176 pounds, Thomas averaged 51.1 yards per game on the ground (7.8 yards per rush) and 35 yards per game through the air (11.5 yards per reception) over three seasons. He totaled 41 touchdowns on offense in 37 games.
“Before they came here, they were telling me we’ll use you like how they did De’Anthony Thomas back at Oregon,” Lindsey said. “Being put in the shoes of one of my mentors, it drives me to become one of the people I want to be. This is the dream I’ve been living my whole life since I was a little kid. Now that it’s in my hands I’ve got to take it. With them using me in the backfield, I’m a smaller dude. In the Big Ten, you have to have that mindset that you’ve got to be an animal and you just can’t be scared. You have to be ready for competition and just go out there the best that you can.”
However, while Lindsey is thrilled about the prospect of taking up the mantle of a player he considers a mentor, he also wants to be his own man and create his own legacy.
“It excites me,” Lindsey said. “My physique and the way I’m playing, my athleticism, my athletic ability is just like his. I mimic and model my game after him. But I want to be a different type of player. They used him more in the backfield. I want to be used not as a running back, I want to be set in stone — I came here to be a wideout. I want to be, not the next De’Anthony Thomas, I want to be Tyjon Lindsey at wideout, being impactful as he was and just making a name for myself. I want to be a wideout, not a running back. But any way they use me, if it’s going to help my team, that’s what I’m going to do. The way that they’ve been using me, I’m very thankful because it’s giving me the opportunity to showcase what I can do.”
Lindsey wants to forge his own path and create his own identity, and that ambition isn’t restricted to the gridiron. He is a man of many creative interests.
Lindsey, under the name Chefboyartee, has published three songs on his own SoundCloud page and has released videos for two of them on YouTube. He is also designing his own clothing line.
As Lindsey tells it, there was a lot of temptation on the streets of Corona, California, his hometown. Gang violence was rampant, and Lindsey’s interests kept him off the streets growing up.
“The reason why I’m here is to get away from all that,” Lindsey said. “A lot of people get homesick; I’m not homesick because I’ve got my brothers here. The reason why I came here is just to get away, get away from all the gang violence and try something new and just start over. I’m trying to be something different. I realized my vision is way brighter and I’m trying to expand it. Music, it just helps me stay focused, helps me keep calm and collected. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Music and fashion helped get Lindsey through his stay in the hospital, and he wants to use them to help inspire others as well.
“With my clothing line, I just wanted to show players that although you’re not making profit from it, you can still showcase your design, you can still showcase the way you think, the way you want to be when you grow up. It just excites me to know I have a lot of people in my corner supporting me not only on the field, but also my industry and what I’m trying to do with my music. I’m just trying to let people know how I’m feeling. My clothing line was trying to express my way of art, how I think . . . That’s the life I’m trying to show. I’m trying to show younger kids that look up to me it’s not all about football because in a heartbeat it could be gone.”
Lindsey has only been on campus for about a year, but his story at Nebraska already contains many chapters. He’s experienced the disappointment of failure to live up to expectations, the agony of crippling sickness and the uncertainty of losing the men that brought him to Lincoln in the first place.
Now, Lindsey is ready to put all of that behind him and write a new chapter. He’s ready to spread his wings and soar within Scott Frost’s offense just like his mentor De’Anthony Thomas once did. He’s ready to let the world hear his music and see his fashion.
It’s a new day for Husker football, and it’s a new day for Tyjon Lindsey as well.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.