Here was the question posed to Nebraska junior wide receiver Quincy Enunwa after a recent practice: Would you rather catch a touchdown pass or lay out a linebacker with a block on touchdown run?
The question wasn’t even fully out of the reporter’s mouth when the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Enunwa answered passionately: “Layout, oh my God. Because with a touchdown, of course you’re gonna get hyped up, but if I lay somebody out, that guy’s going to feel terrible if it’s a linebacker, you know? He’s gonna get up and be like, ‘That’s a receiver that knocked me on my ass.’”
This is how a legend grows: Enunwa is considered the most physical wide receiver on the team, maybe in the Big Ten. In the program, he’s listed at 215 pounds. NU receivers coach Rich Fisher said Enunwa goes 220, 225. Fellow receiver Tim Marlowe said his teammate is around 230.
Whatever the number, Enunwa has a well-earned reputation as a physical presence and crushing blocker. Last year Fisher introduced a “Perimeter Warrior” award for his receivers, keeping statistics on big hits, knockdowns and blocks leading to touchdown runs.
To no one’s surprise, Enunwa was the clear winner. Marlowe and his teammates watch admiringly when Enunwa de-cleats defensive backs and linebackers to clear a path for a runner.
“We’re always picking on Q, telling him he’s in the wrong room when he walks in with the wide outs,” Marlowe said. “We tell him the tight end room is next door. He a big dude, a real physical specimen, and he can really lay into some people. Safeties better keep their head on a swivel, because the way Quincy hits, he can really set the tone out there during the game.”
Enunwa made a stunning play in last year’s Fresno State game that is a perfect snapshot of his physical nature. Near the end of the first quarter, Fresno’s Derron Smith picked off a Taylor Martinez pass and ran across the field, looking to turn the corner and head to the end zone. Enunwa — on the opposite side of the field from where Smith made the interception — appeared out of nowhere and unloaded on Smith from behind, knocking the defensive back off his feet and shaking the ball loose. Rex Burkhead recovered for the Huskers.
The big hits and nasty disposition come naturally to Enunwa, according to Fisher.
“It’s a personality trait,” Fisher said. “Quincy is a big, strong, physical guy who knows how to use that to his advantage. There aren’t many receivers out there that are 6-2, 225 pounds and can run. When he goes out there and blocks somebody, he wants to crush them. He has that inside of him. That’s his attitude.”
The value of Enunwa’s blocking ability isn’t lost on Fisher.
“What’s happened is that his attitude has permeated throughout the room,” Fisher said. “Those guys are really starting to compete. For all those guys, blocking is just one aspect of it. For this offense to be efficient we have to be great playmakers on the perimeter. Playmaking means blocking when we need to block and catching the ball when your number is called.”
In seven starts last year, Enunwa caught 21 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns, third-best on the team. He said there’s a balance to being a playmaker and a blocker, and one feeds the other.
“First off, you have to love doing it,” he said. “You can’t go out there like, ‘I don’t want to block today.’ I always want to block. It shows that I’m willing to do whatever for the team. Once you do that, you’ll get more balls your way.
“Of course, as a receiver everyone wants to catch the ball. There’s a happy medium because you have to block and make plays, too.”
Marlowe said the keys to good perimeter run blocking are position mastery, body position and effort.
“It’s about knowing what run play it is and knowing where to position your body on the defender,” Marlowe said. “If it’s an outside run play, you need to protect the outside and let Rex and Ameer (Abdullah) stretch it out. You need to stay on the defender’s outside number. You can’t open up the gate and let people run through and make free tackles.”
At 5-10 and 175 pounds, Marlowe has to take a different approach to blocking than someone with Enunwa’s size.
“For me it’s about being relentless, being like a fly on their arm, annoying them, angering the defensive backs,” he said. “That’s what me and Jamal do, we’re just pests in the slot. When we have to block linebackers we go in there and hit them with all we got and just try to latch on, keep our feet moving and try to give Rex, Taylor (Martinez) and them enough time to squirt by.”
As good as Enunwa is at blocking, Fisher said he knows it will take a group effort to keep the offense balanced and moving the chains.
“For Rex to run for 1,300 yards last year … I don’t care what running back you are in America, you have to look out on the perimeter and see the guys are doing a pretty good job of blocking,” Fisher said. “The guys take pride in that and want to take it to the next level. The group of guys in my room, they’re hungry to be great.”