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Let's face it, it's easy to take for granted the center on a football team. Easy to overlook his importance in the grand scheme.

Not too many folks overlooked Dave Rimington.

In 1981, the Big Eight Conference office conducted an informal poll of its football coaches. The question: If they were to start a team, which player from the other seven programs would they choose first.

Three coaches named Rimington, the former Nebraska great.

That's right, three coaches named a center. Think about that for a second.

"I was one of the odd centers who got a lot of attention," said Rimington, the only two-time Outland Trophy winner (1981-82).

It probably was because he exploded off the line with such quickness and agility, it created the impression he was offside. He was indeed unique, and someone worthy an award being named after him.

The Rimington Trophy turns 13 this year. Presented by the Boomer Esiason Foundation, the award retains a rather low profile on the national scene. That should change eventually.

"I think it's moving in the right direction, and I'm patient," said Rimington, the Esiason Foundation president since 1995.

Even so, he would like to see higher-profile treatment on the ESPN Home Depot College Football Awards Show. While 10 other awards are presented on the big stage, the Rimington is awarded on a nearby red carpet. You know, off to the side.

Give it a few years. Or maybe a couple decades. Tradition and prestige require time.

"By then, I'll probably be too old to walk the red carpet," Rimington said with a laugh. "I'll be stumbling down the red carpet."

Nebraska fans of a certain age would have difficulty envisioning Rimington in stumbling mode, such was his prowess as a player. In addition to his Outlands, he won the 1982 Lombardi Award. At 6-foot-2 and 290 pounds, the Omaha South graduate helped the Huskers capture back-to-back Big Eight titles in 1981-82, and NU led the nation in rushing in 1982.

Some consider him the greatest college offensive lineman of all time. A few Big Eight coaches from 1981 might agree.

"I was just playing football," he said.

He said he mostly was trying to live up to the long line of talented Nebraska centers before him, guys like Rik Bonness, Tom Davis, Kelly Saalfeld and Doug Dumler.

Pardon me if I overlooked anyone. You know how it is with the guys in the trenches. At most places anyway.

"Nebraska really became known for the center position," Rimington said. "So I just tried to carry my weight and do what I had to do to try to be like those guys."

I got the impression Rimington would've talked football all day long. He praised Nebraska senior center Justin Jackson, describing him as "a tough, tough kid."

"And I think that little Pelini kid is going to be OK," he said in reference to 6-foot, 285-pound Mark Pelini, a sophomore who played significant minutes after Jackson injured his ankle Nov. 23 against Iowa.

Rimington praised the versatility of junior Cole Pensick, a regular in the guard rotation who also helped fill in for Jackson.

Rimington follows the team closely and has strong opinions.

He emphasizes the need for Nebraska to bolster talent along the defensive line.

He emphasizes the importance of maturity in offensive linemen.

"You have to be stable and can't make mistakes," he said. "You can't jump offsides. You can't line up a yard too deep. You have to have guys who are going to be consistent, like a machine."

If he were an NFL general manager, he said, he would build his team from the inside out, on both sides of the ball. Start with a good center, quarterback and running back. On the other side, start with a good nose tackle, middle linebacker and safety.

"It's really the core of the team," he said.

Alabama's core was strengthened this season by Barrett Jones, this year's Rimington Trophy winner. He will be formally recognized Jan. 12 at the Rococo Theatre.

Jones played right guard in 2009 and 2010 before moving to left tackle in 2011. As a left tackle, he won the Outland.

"I think he's going to find himself a pretty hot commodity in the NFL Draft, being able to play three positions on the line," Rimington said.

In 656 plays this season, Jones missed only six assignments.

"That's unbelievable," Rimington said. "I've had a chance to talk to him. He's a really, really impressive guy."

Jones is a marvelous player, one befitting a significant honor.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.

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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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