If there's one position that's all but locked up as the Nebraska football team nears the end of spring practice, it might be punter.
Junior Caleb Lightbourn, thrust into the starting role two seasons ago as a true freshman, is now established.
NU special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt is sure happy to have him.
"Nobody cares about the kicker until everybody cares about the kicker, right? That’s the world we live in," Dewitt said recently. "So to have a guy who’s got the ability to be able to be both a kickoff guy, and a dynamic weapon in the punt team guy, especially as a defensive coach, one of your single greatest assets is having a really good punter. So I’m really excited about where he is."
Wait, kickoff guy?
Yes, Lightbourn will continue to punt for the Huskers. He averaged 42.1 yards per attempt last season, and put more than a third of his punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. The junior has developed into a bonafide weapon.
But with Drew Brown graduating, and true freshman Barret Pickering and redshirt freshman walk-on Cole Frahm the only kickers on the roster, Lightbourn is as close to a proven commodity for a college kickoff specialist as the Huskers have.
"I feel good about it. Obviously I have room to get better," Lightbourn said. "Yeah, kicking it out of the back (of the end zone) is good, but hitting the wall (behind the end zone) is better than that. If you're going to do it, just do it the best you possibly can."
Lightbourn said he hasn't worked regularly on kickoffs since coming to Lincoln as a freshman. After the death of Sam Foltz, kicking went to the back burner as Lightbourn focused full time on punting and Drew Brown developed into a solid kickoff man.
That hasn't hurt his confidence. Lightbourn said his leg speed is better than it's ever been. And because kicking off doesn't require the same amount of technique as punting, it's an easier skill to work on.
"Once you get comfortable with your steps, you just blast the ball," Lightbourn said of kicking off.
Lightbourn is on his third special teams coach in his three years in Lincoln, but said he's already developed a strong relationship with his new coach.
"He keeps all of us in check and makes sure that we’re all doing our own thing. He’s not super on us all the time, as long as we’re getting our job done and doing what we’re supposed to do we don’t have any problems," Lightbourn said. "So he's not super hands on, but not like 'go do whatever you want.' It’s definitely good for us. Last year it was super intense, doing stuff all the time, but now we just get to focus on what we have to do, and get better at our craft."
Dewitt, also Nebraska's outside linebackers coach, has been pleased with the work of Lightbourn, who at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, looks like he could line up for Dewitt in Nebraska's new defense.
"He attacks punting as much as anybody I’ve ever seen," Dewitt said. "We’re really fortunate to have him here in the program."