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Stanley Jean-Baptitste (16), Daimion Stafford (3) and Will Compton (51) all figure to be key figures in the Husker defense this fall, but it is Stafford who arguably has the highest ceiling.

TED KIRK/Lincoln Journal Star

Comfortable?

The truth of it is Daimion Stafford doesn’t want to feel that way.

Not between those lines anyway.

“With football, I never try to get into my comfort zone because that’s when you think you’re good and stuff like that,” Stafford was saying the other day. “And I try not to think like that.”

So, yes, the senior safety knows more than he did a year ago when his head was spinning as a rookie Husker. Yes, his coaches and teammates have praised his offseason progress. And yes, you can find voices who will say Stafford has the highest ceiling of anyone on this Nebraska defense.

But the big-hitting safety still gets butterflies when he takes the field, and he rather likes it that way.

Those butterflies don’t go away until that first big hit, like that one in his Nebraska debut against Chattanooga last year in the season opener.

You know the one. And if you by chance forgot, just type “Daimion Stafford lights up UTC running back” into a Youtube search box.

That was his greeting.

Hello, Nebraska. Goodbye, butterflies.

Stafford was starting the next week.

But …

Yeah, there’s a but.

“Even after that game, after I made that hit, that game was still fast for me,” Stafford said.

It’s what you’d probably expect. Even the best talents need some time to adjust from the junior college game, which Stafford was coming from, to this level of competition.

The playbook? “Ten times bigger than junior college,” Stafford said. “It took me a while to get the hang of things.”

Teammate P.J. Smith roomed with Stafford on road games. On Friday nights, they’d sit in the hotel, with Smith trying to help him understand parts of the defensive scheme.

“But he was a playmaker, so he would go out and make plays,” Smith said.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Stafford ended the season with 80 tackles and 10 pass breakups, including an 11-tackle game in his first start against Fresno State.

Pretty good numbers, honestly. But Stafford has watched the film all offseason and put the microscope on his every misstep.

“Every game there was always something that I did wrong,” he said. “And that’s something that I want to change this year. I wanted to be the guy that everyone could count on if my team needed a big play.”

He credits Smith for helping him along.

The two will very likely be the starters at the safety positions on Sept. 1 when Southern Miss comes to town.

But last year, Stafford was taking a starting spot that Smith wanted.

“That’s why P.J. is such a good dude, because you would think the typical guy would be like, ‘Oh, we’re going for the same spot. I’m not going to help this guy take my spot,’” Stafford said. “But this team, we’re such a family that it doesn’t matter like that. … It’s for the team. Everything we do is for each other.”

The tutoring apparently worked.

Now, Smith says Stafford is in the film room doing the teaching to young guys.

While Stafford has done his homework and adjusted to the speed of play, the California native is still trying to adjust to the speed of life around here.

It’s slower — especially the traffic, he says.

“Back home, you get cut off every corner you go to.”

While home is 1,500 miles away, Stafford knows his family is keeping track of him. It's a tight-knit group.

He learned to be a jokester growing up around his older uncles. “In order to survive, I had to joke back.” And whenever he can, he goes homes to visit his two young daughters — Genesis and Sophia.

“It was hard to say bye to them."

But Stafford knows some big things could be accomplished on that football field. His favorite players growing up were safeties Brian Dawkins and Ed Reed.

Both big hitters, of course.

Has Stafford always craved those collisions?

Well, no, not exactly. He remembers his first year of tackle football as a little kid. “I was scared. I used to run the ball with my eyes closed. After that, it got better and better and better.”

It might get better yet.

After all, there are more running backs to try to light up. And defensive rankings to improve. A year ago Nebraska ranked 37th in total defense.

Smith recently said he wants the Husker D to jump back to the top. “At least Top 3.”

Hey, fine, Stafford will nod his head to that.

“We’re just going to show people,” he said. “I’m not going to brag and boast. We’re just going to show you. Just check those rankings.”

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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