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Cross keeps positive outlook, loses 20 pounds

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Nebraska's Imani Cross (32) and Joshua Kalu share a laugh during practice at Hawks Championship Center on Saturday, March 14, 2015.

Imani Cross was 240 pounds just a few months ago. It was the kind of 240 pounds that would make most males jealous, mind you. After all, we're talking about a guy who was doing 41 chin-ups carrying close to that weight as a freshman.

He smiles about that 240 now. Some of it was by design. "And a little bit of midnight snacks," he'll admit.

So the Husker running back cut out the late-hour cravings, did his workout magic, and got down to 220 pounds just before his senior year.

"I feel great. I feel healthy, and that's the main thing is just trying to take care of my body and treat it like a temple," he said after Tuesday's practice.

It caught the new coaching staff's notice, too. While it's still tough to know where Cross, or anyone, quite fits yet in the pecking order for Nebraska's 2015 running back committee, the senior was on the receiving end of kudos this week from both Mike Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf.

The coaches credited Cross for his trimmer look and recent practice work. While there have been impressive fall camps from Terrell Newby, and freshmen Mikale Wilbon and Devine Ozigbo, Nebraska's most experienced back is still here, in the conversation.

His role?

"My role is when they call 32, what am I gonna do? That's what I ask myself. I just got to prepare myself for when my number's called, I do the best I can."

Cross said new running backs coach Reggie Davis has been a helpful teacher at pass protection and helping players understand, as the senior put it, "where we got to go and why we got to go there."

He adjusted quickly to Davis. It was easy since, you know, they were talking football."I could talk football with a stranger and we could connect automatically," Cross explained.

There is an interesting balance, of course, between competing with your peers and also helping them as teammates.

Cross, having spent years fighting for snaps with Ameer Abdullah in the fold, is used to all that at this point.

"Everything's a competition on this level, but also you can learn from each other, learn from each other's weaknesses and strengths," Cross said.

He's had some good moments. Cross has 1,184 career rushing yards to his name. He scored 10 touchdowns as a sophomore. He ran for 105 yards in that 2012 opener against Wyoming.

But Ameer Abdullah was always there on the top line. Cross actually carried the ball 10 fewer times as a junior than as a sophomore, finishing 2014 with 75 carries and 384 yards.

It's taken patience. And, naturally, Cross has had times when he gets down. He leans on his faith then.

"I thank God for being here and pick my head up and get ready to work the next day," he said. "My mom told me to keep a smile on my face, so I try to make her proud."

That's one thing Cross feels he can pass onto the younger backs.

There are going to be ups and downs. Hang with it, because you never know what might be around the block.

"College football is a roller coaster," Cross said. "Some weeks are your week, some weeks it's not. You just got to keep your head high and just keep working because you never know when the team's going to need you."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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