“Make plays, that’s it.”
During his first appearance in front of the media on Monday inside Memorial Stadium, DeShon Singleton, the Huskers’ transfer defensive back from Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College, didn’t mess around when asked how he plans to separate himself from a jam-packed DB room at Nebraska this spring. He knows what he has to do to earn playing time for his position coach, Travis Fisher.
Singleton has been making plays for some time now. He was first a basketball player at tiny St. Helena College and Career Academy in Greensburg, Louisiana. His focus shifted to playing football at the next level late in his prep career, but injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic hurt his recruitment, leading to little exposure and no offers.
That led Singleton to go the junior-college route as a full academic qualifier, and he landed at Hutchinson. It only took him a few games to crack the Blue Dragons’ starting lineup as a safety in his true freshman year.
Living the JUCO life isn’t for everyone. It takes dedication and perseverance. Singleton wouldn’t change a thing about how he got to where he is, though.
“I’m happy I went JUCO. It was a blessing for me,” Singleton said.
Singleton was at Hutchinson for just one season—he racked up 21 tackles and 2.5 stops for loss while picking off two passes. He wasn’t on Fisher’s radar until late in the process when he was watching film of another potential recruit. When the opportunity presented itself to drive to Hutchinson and see Singleton play in person, Fisher took it.
Except, Fisher had to take the road trip while he was in the middle of a recruiting visit. The DB recruits who were in Lincoln went to take a nap, according to Fisher. The coach then drove to the Hutchinson game, saw what he was hoping to see, and was back in Lincoln in no time.
“I watched him play and then came back and had dinner like I never left,” Fisher said with a smile on Feb. 28. “But I had to do it. I had get the chance to watch him live in a football game before I actually made that decision on him.”
Fisher knows and understands the business that is college football. He was a second-round pick in the 2002 NFL draft and played eight seasons as a DB with the St. Louis Rams, Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks. Even if he was a starter, Fisher knew the organizations would be looking for an upgrade at every position each season, including his.
Whether it was a first-round pick in the draft or signing a big name in free agency, Fisher knew how the game was played. He also found out that going through something like that raises the level of play, and that’s exactly what he hopes to accomplish in his DB room at Nebraska. So, he brings in more competition.
“When we showed up to camp, I had to beat those guys out,” Fisher said. “I know those guys were brought in and had the money tags and all that, but I still had to beat those guys out. So the mentality, it’s the same way here. I brought in guys to not be anyone’s backup.”
Fisher sees potential in Singleton, who comes to Lincoln with a Big Ten-ready frame at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds. In high school, Singleton played quarterback and corner, so he’s always moved well, too.
“He’s big, and I can’t coach that. He can run, and I can’t coach that either,” Fisher said. “But the best thing about him is he’s smart, and he’s very coachable. He’s humble. He’s humble like a freshman who wants to play real bad.”
There will be opportunity to play in Nebraska’s defensive backfield. Veteran multi-year starters like corner Cam Taylor-Britt and safeties Deontai Williams and Marquel Dismuke have departed. Corner Quinton Newsome and safety Myles Farmer each started games last season and return, but Fisher has been adamant that no one’s job is safe.
“That’s the kind of world we live in. Nobody wants to work for it, everybody wants that thing handed to them,” Fisher said. “That’s the total opposite of what I’m going to give them this spring, is something handed to them.”
Singleton reminds Fisher of Williams, a JUCO product himself who turned into a leader of the Blackshirts. Like Williams, Singleton doesn’t miss film or lifting sessions. Fisher notices that.
It’d be wise to not count out Singleton, who tries to model his game after elite DBs in the NFL, like Los Angeles Chargers’ Derwin James, Los Angeles’ Rams’ Jalen Ramsey. Those players are big, fast and physical, just like Singleton shows on film.
“Derwin James, he’s very versatile,” Singleton said. “He can play robber, safety, he can play corner if he wants to. I just really like his style of play.”
The biggest adjustment through the process has been the playbook. He’s learning it as quickly as he can, but he’ll naturally be behind others who have been in the program longer and know it, like Farmer, Noa Pola-Gates and Koby Bretz.
“As far as learning the playbook, I came a long way,” Singleton said. “Everything is starting to become second nature now, and I’m starting to play fast. So really, right now I’m trying to work on perfecting that so I can play as fast as I can.”
While not many judgements should be taken from this Saturday’s spring game in terms of which side wins or loses whichever format the coaches decide on using, it’s still going to be an important day for the newcomers and young players hoping for more snaps this season.
Singleton wants a starting role in Erik Chinander’s defense, but so does everyone else in the DB room.
“We wanna put an egg on ‘em,” Singleton said of what he hopes to accomplish Saturday, which will be the first time he’ll play in Memorial Stadium in front of a crowd.
To keep the offense off the scoreboard and impress Fisher, Singleton knows what he has to do—make plays, that’s it.