Mike Demps may wish that one of his biggest moments as a Nebraska football player came on a Saturday in the fall instead of during the spring game. Life doesn’t always work out the way you’d prefer, though.
Instead, Demps is one of those Nebraska players who had one of their shining moments during the Red-White Spring Game. Players who make a splash during the spring who you rarely hear from again.
Chris Butler had one of those moments, rushing for 118 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game in 2000. Butler created a buzz, but then two months later transferred to Auburn to be closer to family.
Quarterback Kody Spano engineered a game-winning drive in the 2010 game, but his career was cut short by injury. More recently, Kyle Kasun had an interception on the game’s final play to secure a victory for the defense. The walk-on from Papillion, who was the only player chosen from one spring tryout, later left the team.
Demps' big moment was a 100-yard return that electrified the crowd during the 1999 spring game. He was a high school All-America running back out of Fort Worth, Texas. Most of his college career was held back by injuries. He only played in a few games, never lettered and ended his playing career early due to injuries.
That brings up the question of whether it’s better to be remembered in part for a big moment in the spring game, or not remembered much at all? Reached by the Journal Star this week, Demps had an answer for that question.
"I’m definitely glad it happened, because what it did was I felt like it solidified the fact that I had the talent, and I belonged," Demps said.
A long and successful playing career wasn’t meant to be for Demps, but he’s gone on to be successful in other ways.
The 38-year-old lives in Lincoln, where his family includes his wife, three children and three foster children. He’s a sales manager at the Sid Dillon car dealership location in south Lincoln. Now Demps sometimes attends the spring game as part of the Dream Foundation that works with at-risk youth and is led by former Husker Steve Warren.
His experiences in football served him well in other ways, Demps said.
"It taught me a lot, because all of the competitive drive and work ethic that you display in football I had to learn real quick to parallel that to the workforce and going into a career and out running people, so to speak, and out working people," Demps said.
Demps was recruited to Nebraska by Turner Gill. If the best football program in the country wanted me, I’m going, Demps remembers thinking.
"It used to be a no-brainer to come to Nebraska," said Demps, and he thinks it can get back to being that way with Scott Frost as coach.
Demps was injured during his true freshman year. His big spring game came after that, and it was his first time playing in Memorial Stadium. He was trying to find a way to play for the Huskers, and that’s why he was returning kicks.
"When you’re trying to find a spot on the roster, you’ll do whatever they tell you to do," Demps said.
Nearly 20 years later, Demps still remembers his 100-yard return well.
"I remember catching it about 5 or 6 yards deep in the end zone, and I hesitated a little bit trying to decide to take it out or not, but then when I saw this wedge set up and the way all of the holes looked, I decided to take a chance and ran up in the middle of the wedge and busted outside to the right and ran it for a touchdown," Demps said.
His teammates and coaches were excited for him. For Demps it was a good way to measure himself against the other players.
"It made me feel that I belonged. I made it," Demps said. "You second-guess if you’re college material or if I can make it to the next level, and it just confirmed that I had a the ability to be amongst the best talent in the country, because at the time when I came out we were like the Alabama of football. So to be able to do that at a school like Nebraska around that time it made me feel like I belonged."
After that spring game he felt like he had a bright future, but then Demps suffered a second major knee injury during two-a-day practices the next fall. He was a defensive back, but later switched to wide receiver thinking his body may hold up better. He played in a few games during the 2000 season and returned some punts, before taking a medical redshirt and becoming a student coach for his final years at Nebraska.
Demps will be watching the Huskers closely in coming seasons as he has a connection to incoming freshman defensive back Cam'ron Jones from Mansfield, Texas. Demps knows Jones’ parents from high school, and considers Jones like a nephew.
There are still times when Demps gets asked about his spring game touchdown.
"I get asked about it here and there, but I try not to make a big deal about it because it was one play in millions of plays that happened while I was there," he said.