Steven M. Sipple: Burkhead's impact at NU will endure indefinitely

2013-04-17T23:50:00Z 2013-04-27T22:08:16Z Steven M. Sipple: Burkhead's impact at NU will endure indefinitely JournalStar.com

Things I know and think I know:

Rex Burkhead will officially join a new team next weekend, when the NFL Draft takes place. He is projected by ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. as a late-round pick.

Somebody will draft Burkhead or sign the running back as a free agent.

However, his impact at Nebraska will endure for years. To be sure, his influence will manifest itself in subtle ways or ways that might surprise us — perhaps in the manner of Jack Hoffman's touchdown run in the Red-White Spring Game. OK, maybe not that dramatic, but you get the idea.

Burkhead's close relationship with Jack and the Hoffman family, and the resulting attention given to pediatric brain cancer, is woven into the program's fabric, if not the state's.

In a pure football sense, Nebraska's top running backs, junior Ameer Abdullah and sophomore Imani Cross, clearly benefited from Burkhead. They watched his consistent work ethic, unyielding positive attitude, and high-grade skill level.

It appears Abdullah is especially serious about being a team leader, perhaps in the mold of Rex. Leadership will be critical during the all-important spring and summer months, when self-motivation is critical.

Abdullah has the goods to be a pre-eminent leader. He's tough, talented and intelligent. He has a serious nature. He is also a proven entity (1,137 rushing yards last season). I like that he's willing to speak up — he's perhaps more vocal than Burkhead. Abdullah, even after injuring his knee March 9, poured his energy into being a de facto assistant coach during drills. He wasn't shy at all in sharing his knowledge, he said.

He appears ready for another run through the rugged Big Ten. The 5-foot-9 Abdullah has increased his weight to about 195 pounds after playing in the 184-188 range last season.

What's more, he's serious about his status as a role model.

During NU's Heroes Leadership breakfast Monday, Steve Reddick of Omaha explained how Abdullah and wide receiver Quincy Enunwa have embraced 2-year-old brain cancer patient D.J. Reddick, Steve's grandson.

"Ameer, much like Rex, is a humble, unassuming individual who has quietly accepted the role-model challenge and is making a difference off the field,"  said NU associate athletic director Keith Zimmer. "He's genuine, sincere and caring. He is a relationship builder who leads by example."

Burkhead mostly leads by example. Consequently, Nebraska probably didn't receive the full effects of his leadership last season because of a knee injury that sidelined him for essentially half the season. Plus, as is the case with most people who lead by example, his influence might be felt more over the long haul than it was in the short term.

Burkhead's influence? Well, perhaps you saw Taylor Martinez's utter joy as he guided Jack Hoffman to the end zone April 6. It was a memorable moment for Martinez. And it was important for legions of Husker fans to see the warm side of the senior quarterback (and team leader). The Burkhead legacy lives on. …

* Senior nickel back Ciante Evans and senior fullback C.J. Zimmerer were among 33 Husker athletes honored Monday with a Hero Award. Judging from Zimmer's comments regarding the award, Evans and Zimmerer sound like two more strong leadership candidates for Bo Pelini's 2013 squad.

"These are athletes who went above and beyond, done great things in the community and also their coaches have recognized them as a real positive force on their team, in terms of leadership, team morale and kind of bringing the younger athletes along," Zimmer said.

Enough said.

* We've heard from folks who would like to see a Jack Hoffman-type story be part of every Red-White Spring Game. I'm not so sure. Hoffman's dash was captivating in part because of its novelty and spontaneity. Nobody saw the big moment coming. But now we can't stop watching it.

* Inconsistent pitching has been the main culprit holding back the Nebraska baseball team this season, Tuesday's gem notwithstanding. Meanwhile, the Husker offense has picked up steam in Big Ten play and actually isn't too far from using the style Will Bolt envisions for the future.

"We want to be diverse," the Husker assistant coach said. "Have the ability to hit a home run, bunt for a hit or steal a base, and execute a hit-and-run. Produce runs no matter the weather or wind. Take the extra base to get favorable hitting situations.

"We do a good job of taking the extra base, and our hit-and-run game has been very good this year."

Nebraska has only seven home runs, but "eventually you're going to see more left-handed sock, with the way our stadium is," head coach Darin Erstad said.

* High-fives to coach Bill Straub and his Husker women's bowling team, which last weekend won the program's fourth NCAA championship. The success is fitting, in that Lincoln has a long and proud history of high-level bowling. Straub for many years was one of the city's top bowlers, with at least 20 city and state tournament championships to his credit. Those championships, they never get old.

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

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