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Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, 10/7/17

Nebraska linebacker Luke Gifford celebrates a second-quarter sack against Wisconsin last season.

Husker Extra is running a series called Heat Index, a quick look at the Huskers before fall camp begins Aug. 3. This week, Steven M. Sipple counts down five veteran players who should be on the verge of their most productive seasons.

Today, we continue with a Lincoln native coming off a hip injury that sidelined him all spring.

4. Luke Gifford, outside linebacker

6-foot-3, 245 pounds, Lincoln Southeast

Gifford has fought back to 100 percent healthwise, which is significant news for a defense that allowed 36.4 points per game last season to rank 115th nationally.

Nebraska managed to make only 14 sacks (119th nationally) and 44 tackles for loss (129th). Ouch.

A fifth-year senior, Gifford actually played well last season before his injury, his five tackles for loss ranking second on the team even though he missed the final five games.

The former high school safety is rangy and known as a big hitter. He also has a certain savvy that could help him nail down a starting job — savvy that comes in part from playing for four different defensive coordinators.

“I’m old now, and I’ve been in a few defenses,” he said recently. “I’m kind of to the point now where I’ve learned that Cover-3 is Cover-3. It’s just how are you going to get into it and what are you going to call it? There are a lot of things that carry over from defense to defense. It’s just new words and new ways of doing things. I’m fortunate enough that I’ve actually had the experiences I’ve had with different coordinators, that I can kind of put everything together.”

He craves a chance to play a full season without a significant injury. He’s had only one such season at Nebraska, as a sophomore in 2016, though he played sparingly that year. He's in position to make a sizable impact in his final season.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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