He’s been running his entire life, running away from defenders, running until he made the fight song play, running until his name sat alongside a select few in the Husker record book.
It's fair to say Ameer Abdullah has excelled at the craft of running ever since his Pop Warner days. And yet the best ones know there's always so much more to learn.
Working out at the Michael Johnson Performance facility in Dallas, the former Husker has been dutifully educating himself in any way that could make him run 40 yards a few hundredths of a second faster when he tests at the NFL Combine on Saturday.
“Running is violence,” Abdullah said in a phone interview last week. “Running is not a passive movement at all. When you’re running, you need to be violent. You’re putting a lot of effort into a lot of areas that you don’t necessarily feel like you should put effort into. Frequency of arm movement, making sure that you’re driving your knee as violently as possible.
"A lot of times, people are just trying to get down as many steps as they can. It makes you feel like you’re running fast, but most of the time that’s not when you see your best times.”
Running fast is about something else, he’s learned. Running fast is about patience.
At first it sounds contradictory, but just as Abdullah has seen patience produce breakout runs on a football field, he’s also seen how it can improve a testing time.
“You want to make sure you get through every step as full as possible, and get to every level of extension that you can in your leg. That’s just being patient with each stride you take,” Abdullah said. “Don’t be in such a rush to get to the next stride. Get all you can out of each stride.”
You could say that latter remark, in some ways, was a description of Abdullah’s career at Nebraska. When everyone wondered a year ago if he’d leave early for the NFL Draft, he didn’t rush the next step. He returned to NU, earned his degree, ran for 1,611 yards and finished No. 2 all-time among Husker running backs, behind only Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier.
But as every successful college football player finds out, NFL decision-makers view most every prospect with a skeptic’s eye.
Is Abdullah big enough? They used to ask that early in his career, then everyone stopped when it seemed clear he just as much enjoyed running inside the tackles as outside. That didn’t stop some from asking it again leading up to the Senior Bowl, when he was measured at 5-foot-8 and 198 pounds.
“It works for me,” Abdullah told one reporter a couple days before totaling 113 yards on 11 touches to earn the game’s MVP honor.
Now, as Abdullah heads to the combine in Indianapolis, many analysts are already projecting him as a second-round pick, which would be impressive territory, considering the first running back last year wasn’t taken until the second round (Bishop Sankey, No. 54 overall). Also, this draft class is crowded with running backs. A total of 36 were invited to the combine, including former Husker Braylon Heard, who transferred to Kentucky.
Mike Mayock of NFL Network has Abdullah rated his No. 3 running back — behind only Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley.
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On Monday, during a conference call with reporters, Mayock said some NFL scouts worry about the fumbles Abdullah had in college. But he also called the running back "the quintessential space player,” the type of back who can make you miss.
Mayock specified the Detroit Lions — who may be on the outs with Reggie Bush — as a team who might want to take a long look at either Abdullah or Miami’s Duke Johnson.
Good comments, bad comments, Abdullah isn’t focused on them.
“Stock changes every day … it’s always changing,” Abdullah said. “The more you try to buy into what your stock can be, the more that your stock is going to fall, in my opinion. That’s when you start to worry about the wrong things.
"What everyone should worry about is being that much better than the day before. Everything is already written by God. There’s not really anything we can change on our own. But what you can do is focus on working as hard as you can in every single area. All you need is an opportunity.”
Abdullah’s attitude has already apparently won over some pro scouts. NFL.com listed him as one of nine athletes expected to make a hit during the combine interview process.
"He has the highest overall character grade I've ever given to a prospect, and includes both football character and off-the-field,” an AFC North scout told NFL.com. “Aside from Gordon and Gurley, I think he's the third-best running back in this draft."
The youngest of nine children, Abdullah said it helps to have the support of his family during the uncertainty about what comes next in his life.
Abdullah’s agent? That’d be his older brother, Muhammad. When Ameer was figuring out where to train, he said his brother “did all the dirty work, he flipped every stone to make sure everything was OK.”
It’s a fun journey to share. Plus, Ameer said, his family is always there to make sure he’s not slipping in any areas.
“I’m looking forward to, when I’m done with this process, sitting back and enjoying this with them,” Abdullah said. “It’s really special. … Hopefully this is the beginning of a long and prosperous career.”
But first comes the microscope in Indy: cone drills, broad jumps and 40 times.
Every step has its importance.