Photo by Eric Francis
Nebraska Football

The Huskers' History with Junior College Running Backs

May 31, 2018
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Mike Rozier arrived in Lincoln at 2 a.m. on a Monday in early August of 1981, after a 34-hour bus ride from Camden, New Jersey, to begin his career at Nebraska, not exactly a grand entrance for a Heisman Trophy winner, two-time All-American and the leading rusher in Cornhusker history.

He ran for 4,780 yards and 49 touchdowns, and averaged 7.16 yards per carry, including 7.81 yards per carry as a senior, still an NCAA record for ball carriers with 214-to-281 rushes.

The bus ride was a result of an air traffic controllers’ strike and the fact Rozier had a cold. His mom discouraged him from flying, as his younger brother Guy, also a Husker recruit, would soon after.

If not for academic reasons, aggravated by a teachers’ strike in Camden his senior year at Woodrow Wilson High, Mike Rozier would have been a Cornhusker the year before. But he spent his freshman season at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, as a halfback in a wishbone offense.

He rushed for 1,100 yards, despite missing two games because of a shoulder injury. “If we’d have run out of the I-formation, he probably would have rushed for 2,500 yards,” Coffeyville Coach Dick Foster said when Rozier signed a letter of intent with Nebraska in mid-February of 1981.

He could have gone elsewhere from Coffeyville, but he followed through on his commitment.

Rozier set an incredibly high standard for junior-college-running-back transfers at Nebraska, a standard that’s bound to draw mention as junior Greg Bell, who, by most accounts, had an impressive spring following his transfer from Arizona Western Community College, moves along.

He was No. 3 on Hail Varsity’s Derek Peterson’s “The 10 Most Intriguing 2018 Huskers” list.

Bell seems a good fit for a Scott Frost offense that’s not structured the way the Cornhuskers’ was when Rozier was working his magic; he rushed for 100 or more yards 26 times, including seven with 200 or more. In 1983, he carried 275 times, in 12 games, for 2,148 yards and 29 touchdowns.

Rozier is among a handful of junior-college-transfer running backs who have come to Nebraska. To be exact, Bell is only the sixth, counting Rozier, since 1971. Briefly, here are the others:

Gary Dixon, Ventura (Calif.) Junior College, 5-8, 188 [Lettered 1971, 1972]

Dixon backed up Jeff Kinney on Bob Devaney’s second national championship team, rushing for 515 yards. He stepped in as the starter in 1972, carrying 139 times for a team-leading 575 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged 4.1 yards per carry. In the 1973 Orange Bowl game, he gave way to Johnny Rodgers, who had been a running back at Omaha Tech and tried to persuade Devaney to let him play the position his senior year following the departure of Kinney.

Brian Knuckles, Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, 5-11, 195 [No letters]

Some recruiting lists included Knuckles as a fullback, but he was most certainly recruited as an I-back in the 1994 class. Because he had played at Coffeyville, he had an added burden trying to follow Rozier. Nebraska’s recruiting list credited him with breaking Rozier’s rushing record at Coffeyville, but that was an error. As mentioned above, Rozier rushed for 1,100 yards, sharing carries in a wishbone. Knuckles was an I-back and rushed for a school-record 3,087 yards and 37 touchdowns in two seasons. He had the skills, but the timing wasn’t right, given the Cornhuskers’ I-backs, who included Lawrence Phillips, Damon Benning, Clinton Childs and Marvin Sims in 1994. By 1995, Knuckles had transferred to Western Illinois, where he was the Leathernecks’ running back. 

Thunder Collins, East Los Angeles Community College, 6-2, 190 [Lettered 2000, 2001]

Collins, who arrived with high expectations (enhanced, no doubt, by his first name), took the pitch from quarterback Eric Crouch running to his right then pitched back to quarterback-turned-wingback Mike Stuntz, who teamed with Crouch for a 63-yard touchdown, “Black 41 Flash Reverse Pass,” late in the No. 3 Cornhuskers’ 20-10 victory against No. 2 Oklahoma in 2001, what was probably the last hurrah in Nebraska’s consistent national relevance. Collins started twice, once at wingback, his junior season, rushing for 647 yards (6.9 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. He missed spring practice his senior year, played in only three games that fall, then left the team in mid-October, citing family considerations.

Kenny Wilson, Butler County (Kan.) Community College, 6-0, 220 [Lettered 2006]

Wilson, a 4-star recruit who considered such schools as Florida and Tennessee, played in 12 games his first season at Nebraska. He was fourth in rushing with 647 yards and five touchdowns on 94 carries (6.9 yards per carry). Bill Callahan, who recruited 29 junior college transfers in his four years, spread the ball around among the running backs in 2006 and went to the Big 12 championship game. Brandon Jackson rushed for 989 yards and eight touchdowns, Marlon Lucky 728 yards and six touchdowns, and Cody Glenn 370 yards and eight touchdowns. Wilson missed the Cotton Bowl that season with a leg infection then suffered a broken leg moving a television, which sidelined him for 2007. He hoped to play in 2008, after a medical redshirt, but never got the opportunity under Bo Pelini.

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