Dicaprio Bootle was going to get a shot this year. Was probably going to play a lot, too.
His raw talent is undeniable. And he has a football mind that has helped him adapt quickly to his role in the 3-4 defense.
Was he going to be Nebraska's top option at cornerback? Probably not.
But football is a funny game. Sometimes your NFL-caliber corner gets injured and suddenly outsiders are wondering just what, exactly, is going to happen with him on the sidelines.
So here's Bootle, getting reps with the No. 1 defense all through fall camp after a year as a redshirt.
He was always going to play. Now he'll play an even more critical role.
It would all seem like a big step for the 5-foot-10, 185-pounder, who was only discovered by Nebraska coaches after he blazed through a 4.34 40-yard dash at a satellite camp a couple of years ago.
But the redshirt freshman spoke like a veteran after Tuesday's practice, saying it's a collective effort among Nebraska's healthy cornerbacks to make up for the absence of Chris Jones, who suffered a meniscus tear early in fall camp and has a recovery time of six to eight months.
"There's no competition. We just go out there and play, and work together. We just try to feed off each other," Bootle said. "We're in this together. It's no type of thing where, it's me or you. We're in this together and we're in it for the long haul."
Entering his second season in the program, Bootle has taken the long haul to playing time. The Huskers extended an offer after Bootle's standout performance at that satellite camp, and Nebraska was the only school the Miami native visited.
"After the 40 I remember turning around and everybody was just staring at me," Bootle said after Tuesday's practice. "So from that point I knew I had the attention. I just had to show that my football skills were there, too, and everything just kind of manifested itself from there on."
You have free articles remaining.
Bootle moves fast, but he was forced to put on the brakes that first year. He redshirted and worked behind the scenes on NU's scout team while adjusting to the college game.
"It helped me grow as a football player," Bootle said. It was kind of tough sitting back and watching everybody else playing. … But it was good for me. It was good to sit back and watch how the games go. Back home, you play in front of a couple hundred people. This is 90,000-plus every week. So it's a different dynamic; a different feel. Just sitting back and getting to watch that was good for me."
The redshirt also allowed Bootle a chance to watch Jones, another Florida guy, hone his craft and become one of the top corners in the Big Ten.
"Big mentor. We always are together, and he taught me a lot (last season). We'd go work out, then go analyze film together," Bootle said. "So he's a big-time mentor for me, helping me transition from high school to college and letting me know certain things I did in high school wouldn't slide here, just from a technique standpoint and a mental standpoint."
The knowledge Jones has passed down has given Nebraska reason to be positive about its young group of cornerbacks. Besides Bootle, sophomores Lamar Jackson and Eric Lee are also in the mix for the top two corner spots.
"I wouldn't just say that those two (Lee and Bootle) are battling to start, (and) Lamar already is crowned the king on the other side," NU cornerbacks coach Donté Williams said earlier in fall camp. "We have basically a three-for-two situation where we have three starters, so it's a fortunate situation that we're in."
Bootle called the situation a "rotation," saying he, Lee and Jackson understand what's happening and are working to help each other — and Nebraska's defense as a whole — improve.
Doing it in practice, though, is different than a hot September Saturday when you're under the gun and on an island for the first time in the middle of a sea of 90,000 red-clad fans who are more than a little curious about just how this new defense is going to look. Nebraska, as of Tuesday, is exactly 18 days from that season opener against Arkansas State, when Bootle and all the rest will be a part of an unveiling of sorts for Nebraska's revamped look on both sides of the ball.
"There's just a difference to a game that can't be simulated at any other time," defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said recently. "We do the best job we can preparing at game speed and also maintaining safe drills and proper drills through the grind of preseason camp. The entree is the season and the games in the season."
If the games are the entree, Bootle said, he'll be ready to eat when the time comes.
"We've just got to be ready. Not just me individually, but my team," Bootle said. "We've just got to go out there every day, work hard, and do things right so we can execute when we get out there."