Josh Banderas is benefiting from the fresh start, renewed confidence and new opportunity that most transfers would enjoy.
Only, the Nebraska junior linebacker didn’t actually transfer.
He merely considered it.
Then, the transfer actually came in the form of new Nebraska football coach Mike Riley and his staff, and Banderas no longer had to wonder where he’d fit in had Bo Pelini and his assistants still been in charge.
“I don’t know how things would’ve played out in the spring with meetings and stuff. I couldn’t tell you for sure, really,” Banderas said, when asked if he’d still be a Husker today under the previous staff.
“It’s nice being close to home. If I would’ve left, it would’ve been probably the hardest decision ever.”
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The smile on Banderas’ face after Saturday’s Red-White Spring Game indicated he’s glad he stayed put.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Banderas will enter fall camp where he began spring — No. 1 at MIKE linebacker, with no lingering doubts or reservations.
Riley and defensive coordinator Mark Banker made certain to solidify a position for Banderas from the beginning.
“They came in, and I said, ‘What position do you want me to study?’” Banderas said. “They said, ‘It’s yours to keep, it’s yours to lose.’ That was just motivation for me to keep it, keep working with other people to try to get better.
“It was good for me to come in and have that confidence.”
That’s a far cry from where Banderas stood over the previous two seasons.
As a true freshman, he started three games in the nonconference, was suddenly relegated to a reserve role once Big Ten Conference play began, and then started the final game of the regular season against Iowa.
A similar pattern developed last season, when Banderas started five of the season’s first six games, virtually disappeared over the season’s second half, then returned for a start in the Holiday Bowl, where he thrived and produced a career-high 14 tackles.
Yes, Banderas said the in-again, out-again pattern of playing time wore on him mentally, although he said he wouldn’t change the past two seasons, either.
“I learned a lot from the old coaches — what to do, what not to do,” Banderas said. “It’s definitely helped my game now, I think.”
So, too, have a new coaching staff, a new scheme and a firm role, all of which have instilled needed confidence in Banderas.
“It’s nice not looking over your shoulder after every play, thinking, ‘Am I going to come out? Did I do something wrong?’” Banderas said. “You still got to do your job, obviously, and you still got to keep learning the defense and learning the scheme, but it’s definitely a lot less direct. There are more branches you can go off of and still be right. It’s nice.
“I just feel like I can play football and not have to play a scheme instead. I just feel a lot more fluid and I feel like I can go out and just have fun, more than worry about this, that and the other.”
Lack of depth remains a concern at linebacker — Riley calls it a “critical” position — but having experienced players such as Banderas shedding doubt and playing with confidence is a step in the right direction.
“I thought Josh Banderas and Michael Rose really were very, very consistent and really played well for us from Practice One,” Banker said, “and you could see the improvement all the way through to (Saturday).”
Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or email@example.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBR.