Steven M. Sipple: With sheriff Abdullah, no trace of me-first

2014-03-10T23:45:00Z 2014-03-14T16:55:12Z Steven M. Sipple: With sheriff Abdullah, no trace of me-firstBy STEVEN M. SIPPLE / Lincoln Journal Star

He dropped it in conversation — his leadership role — as if it were no big deal.

We all know otherwise.

Nebraska All-Big Ten running back Ameer Abdullah added noticeable muscle during the offseason. No surprise there. But that wasn't necessarily his objective, he told reporters.

"Really, I just focused on being a leader, making sure everyone's being accountable off the field," said the league's leading returning rusher (130.0 yards per game last season). "We don't need any distractions. That was really my role this offseason."

So, call him the sheriff. It fits his no-nonsense football personality. No wonder Nebraska coach Bo Pelini always speaks highly of Abdullah. He is not only the team's best player on offense — I'll take defensive end Randy Gregory as best overall — Abdullah sets the tone in the locker room for the entire team. Never underestimate the importance of that. He makes Pelini's job that much easier because he helps keep teammates in line.

Make no mistake, the 5-foot-9, 200-pound Abdullah, a senior, embodies the type of player that Pelini feels is essential for Nebraska to win championships. In that regard, this becomes a recruiting discussion. Considering NU's inherent recruiting challenges, it seeks to focus on elite players that many other top programs bypass. Abdullah's size didn't fit what many teams (think SEC) wanted in a running back. Auburn, for instance, recruited him as a cornerback. He was rated as a three-star running back.

His star has risen considerably since he arrived on campus in 2011 from Homewood, Ala. After rushing for 1,137 yards in 2012, most of it after Rex Burkhead went down with an injury, Abdullah churned out 1,690 last season, on 6.0 yards per carry.

He seems determined to improve, reeling off parts of his game on which he'll focus during the weeks leading to the April 12 Red-White Spring Game. Things like pad level ("I'm short, but I run high sometimes"), and "making sure my punches count on blocks."

Oh, yes, and ball security. He's lost 15 fumbles the past three seasons. He's matter-of-fact about that. No way he can achieve his objective of being a complete back if he fumbles too often.

I thought he looked excellent Saturday, the first day of Nebraska's spring drills. His legs looked "live." Lots of bounce. Abundant energy.

It's difficult to imagine a player being in much better physical condition than Abdullah. His squat lift is close to 580 pounds (compared with 490 when he arrived at NU). He now bench-presses 365 pounds (290 as a freshman).

Yeah, 365 pounds as a 200-pounder. Think about it.

Abdullah feels the best athletes on the team are at running back, which helps explain all those two-back sets Saturday. No point in having all that talent watching from the sideline, said Abdullah, who seems willing to share the load.

In fact, with Ameer, you see nary a trace of a me-first mentality. Talk about refreshing. If "me-first" is there, he hides it well. In fact, he said, he feels senior wide receiver Kenny Bell is the team's top offensive weapon.

"Kenny's a very vocal person," Abdullah said. "When I think of the Nebraska offense, I think of Kenny. I don't know why ..."

With due respect, I think first of Abdullah. He runs with authority. With abandon. Hell, he walks off the practice field with authority. He also speaks with authority. He's as close to a player-coach as there is on the team. He might make a fabulous CEO someday. At least that's my read.

Asked about quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Abdullah sang the sophomore's praises while adding, "I expect a lot out of Tommy. I don't let him get by. If I see him slacking off, I'll get on his butt.

"He's a self-motivated kid. He brings a great attitude out here every day."

Asked about sophomore running back Terrell Newby, Abdullah said, "I'm telling you, he's a great player. This spring, I sat down and talked to him and told him this spring is an opportunity to really move up on the depth chart."

And this: "Spring ball is an evaluation period," Abdullah said. "It sets you up going into fall camp. This is where you really get noticed. You have to take initiative. If you're struggling in one area (of learning the offense), you have to go home and study your playbook. Nobody is going to do it for you.

"A lot of guys are working hard right now, and I really appreciate it."

I'm guessing the feeling is mutual. Hard not to respect the sheriff.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or

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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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