Tyler Wullenwaber didn’t get the No. 16 jersey he’d requested.
Oh, he had it for a couple of weeks after spring practices. Then the Nebraska staff yanked it away.
For a good reason, though.
“I wasn’t a fan at first,” Wullenwaber said, “but then they said, ‘Well, think of it as a good thing, because we want you to play and we want you to have your own number so we don’t have to worry about, well, can we plug him in or not?’”
Coaches were thinking about special teams, where Stanley Jean-Baptiste plays and also wears No. 16.
Turns out that No. 82 is being put to good use on offense, too.
Wullenwaber, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound sophomore walk-on, emerged from fall camp as the top backup to Kenny Bell at the “X” wide receiver spot and caught his first career pass against Southern Miss.
It won’t likely be his last, either, given Nebraska’s merry-go-round rotation system to keep fresh receivers on the field.
“Coach Fish, he trusts us,” Wullenwaber said, referring to receivers coach Rich Fisher. “If you know what you’re doing and you make plays and you’re consistent, he’ll play you. Me and Tyler Evans really worked our tails off this whole offseason. We got in, and Steve Osborne, guys that we haven’t really played, and it’s really paid off.
“And Coach Fish says we played so good on Saturday. That means he knows we can play that good, so he holds us to that standard, and we have to hold that level of excellence.”
Wullenwaber, who grew up on a farm near Waco, set five receiving records at Centennial High School, where he earned Class C-1 first-team all-state honors. He was also a Class B state track and field medalist in the 100 meters, 200 meters and long jump.
Schools like Northwest Missouri State, Nebraska-Omaha and Wayne State were recruiting Wullenwaber for football, but he also had Division I track offers, including one from Nebraska coach Gary Pepin.
“By the time it came down to it, it wasn’t a matter of which school I was going to, it was a matter of which sport I would play here,” Wullenwaber said.
“I knew I could do it. It was just a matter of … I know I’m athletic enough. It was just a matter of getting bigger.”
Yes, Wullenwaber could do both football and track.
He’d rather focus on the former.
“I love playing football and I love being around my teammates,” Wullenwaber said, “and I want to put everything I have into this just because … I mean, I’d do anything for my teammates. And I know they’d do the same thing for me. So I don’t think it’s fair for me to go do something else when I should be focusing on my coaches.”
Until Saturday, Wullenwaber’s name only surfaced in the media when somebody broached the subject of Nebraska’s fastest player. Teammates have said for two years that Wullenwaber might be that guy, right up there with Taylor Martinez and Kenny Bell.
“Guy can fly, can’t he?” Bell said.
But speed alone didn’t get him on the field last season as a redshirt freshman. Not until this spring did Fisher begin to see other traits that would allow Wullenwaber and Evans to earn time in the rotation.
“I could tell,” Fisher said. “Once they learn the offense — and that’s the hardest part, ‘What do I do?’ — then you take the ‘What do I do?’ to ‘How?’ and then ‘Why?’ Then all of the sudden, you start playing faster and you start making plays.”
Bell said Wullenwaber is one of the most humble guys he’s met, and that his teammate is eager to learn.
“You talk about a guy in meetings who fills his entire notebook with notes — always listening, always asking questions, always wanting to learn,” Bell said. “He’s just a diligent worker.”
And all of those text messages and Facebook friend requests Wullenwaber received after his Husker debut?
“You can’t let it get to your head,” he said. “Everyone’s going to pat you on the back when you do good. So it’s just keeping a level head and not getting too ahead of yourself.
“It’s not like I’m a superstar. I have a role in this offense, on this team. And I’m happy with what I can do to help.”