With his left hand in a cast after breaking it early during spring practice, Luke Gifford says he needed an assist to be able to make the play on his one-handed interception during the Red-White Spring Game on Saturday.
“That was God catching that for me,” the junior linebacker from Lincoln said. “I told myself before the game if I got an opportunity for a pick that it was going to have to be one-handed, and it happened so fast I honestly didn’t even think about it. Luckily it just stuck to me like glue, so I’ll roll with it.”
Gifford got the ball to wedge into his right arm, intercepting Tristan Gebbia in the second quarter after Gifford dropped into coverage. Then Gifford took off for a 24-yard return.
It was a memorable spring for Gifford, who made a favorable impression on new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco despite his injury. Maybe the best part came about 30 minutes after the game Saturday when his cast got taken off.
“Thank the Lord,” Gifford said.
He broke it during a routine drill March 7, when he put up his hands to battle a blocker, and immediately felt the pain.
The interception was part of an impressive stretch of the game for Gifford, who was part of two turnovers in the second quarter. He stripped the ball and recovered a fumble earlier in the quarter, which has been a big emphasis for the Blackshirts.
“Coach Diaco preaches it,” Gifford said. “That’s something that not just me, but all of our guys have done in practice. There has been plenty of them. I was just lucky enough to get one of them today. Our guys have worked so hard at it and I think it’s going to translate to the field.”
One play before his interception, Gifford rushed in and dropped Wyatt Mazour for a 2-yard loss. Gifford felt good, but was also disappointed he had a missed tackle.
NU linebackers coach Trent Bray rushed to celebrate with Gifford after his interception.
“Coach Bray makes it so fun, and so does Coach Diaco,” Gifford said. “Really this whole staff and all the linebackers and the whole defense, it’s just a fun team to play with. It’s been fun so far.”
Gifford weighs about 240 pounds, up about 15 from last season when he played in four games as a reserve linebacker. He could be in line for a much bigger role this season with the switch to Diaco’s 3-4 defense.
“Hopefully, but we got a lot of options, so I’m just going to keep plugging along and working hard, and I know the other guys will, too,” Gifford said.
Gifford has a good feeling already about this season.
“We’ll compete with everybody, that’s what I know for sure,” Gifford said. “We’ll compete every play. That’s what we preach, so we’ll be ready to roll.”