Steven M. Sipple: Abdullah matures into leadership role

2013-10-13T23:30:00Z 2013-10-22T21:49:17Z Steven M. Sipple: Abdullah matures into leadership roleBy STEVEN M. SIPPLE / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Ameer Abdullah carries himself with honor.

Ron Brown shared that observation recently, and it resonated with me.

Although Abdullah isn't one of the Nebraska football team's four captains, "He's a big-time leader," Husker coach Bo Pelini said. "He's a guy who's out in front of our team a lot. There are certain guys that it doesn't matter whether you name them a captain or not.

"We went with seniors. But Ameer's a leader, make no mistake. He's a guy the players' respect. He's earned that respect, on and off the field. It's just the way he carries himself."

With honor. With confidence. With class. With an unmistakable hard edge.

A junior running back, Abdullah rushed 20 times for 126 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's victory at Purdue. It was his fifth 100-yard rushing game this season (out of six games) and 11th of his career.

He was coming off a 20-carry, 225-yard performance against Illinois. The day after that game, Brown, the NU running backs coach, asked Abdullah to address the other backs about what his freshman season was like.

Abdullah saw action in every game in 2011, including kickoff returns, but carried only 42 times for 150 yards.

"I wanted the backs to understand that Ameer's 200-yard game didn't just come out of nowhere," Brown said. "It wasn't just handed to him out of the sky. There was perseverance. There was all the work, all the stuff he does on his own after practice, all the film study.

"They all know his work ethic. And I wanted them to be reminded that success doesn't come quick and easy."

Abdullah didn't sulk in 2011 as Rex Burkhead carried the lion's share of the load at running back. If Abdullah showed disappointment, it was only on those occasions he felt he didn't play up to his potential, Brown said. Abdullah learned from Burkhead. He encouraged Burkhead. 

Abdullah did something else that captured the Husker coaches' attention. It was something that the two other high-profile freshman running backs on the roster at the time (Braylon Heard and Aaron Green) didn't do.

"Ameer volunteered to be on every special team there was," Brown said. "It wasn't just about being a return man. He wanted to go down the field and nail people. He wanted to cover onside kicks, things like that."

Heard and Green since have transferred. Meanwhile, Abdullah in 2012 became the workhorse for Nebraska's offense after Burkhead was sidelined by a knee injury. Brown described Abdullah as being "competitive and rough and tough. He bounces around. He hustles. He takes pride in his blocking, in his receiving, in every facet of the game.

"That's the credibility that comes with leadership. So when you open your mouth, teammates are reminded that this guy has collateral, man."

Abdullah said Burkhead mostly led by example. Burkhead was effective in that regard. But Abdullah is more willing to speak his mind.

"It comes with age," Abdullah said. "Some things are necessary for me to say. Some things come naturally for me. I like to lead by example. But I definitely don't mind voicing my opinion."

What a boon for Nebraska's young running backs, getting to learn from Abdullah, the way Abdullah learned from Burkhead. Sophomore Imani Cross, true freshman Terrell Newby and redshirt freshman King Frazier battle for playing time behind Abdullah. Another touted true freshman, Adam Taylor, is sitting out as a redshirt.

Abdullah benefited from positive influences in his life long before he got to Nebraska. The youngest of Kareem and Aisha Abdullah's nine children, he has siblings who have become successful professionally — two attorneys, a journalist for CNN and an accountant/music producer, among them.

"You talk to his mom and dad, and you realize that, whoa, there was discipline — quiet-but-firm discipline — in that home," Brown said. "Ameer learned the art of responsibility and accountability. That's been in his bloodstream for a lot of years. You can tell. He wants to do things right. He wants things to be right. He doesn't just quit when he isn't first on the depth chart."

Abdullah's attitude rubs off on the entire team, Pelini said.

"Just watch how he plays," the coach said. "But it's also in every area of his life. It's just how he carries himself day-to-day."

With a certain honor and dignity that's easy to respect.

"Those kind of guys can impact anybody," Pelini said.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.

Copyright 2015 JournalStar.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

About the writer

Steven M. Sipple | Lincoln Journal Star

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.


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