Ryan Held is a man of many hats.

He’s busy coaching Nebraska’s running backs this spring, he’s recruiting and he’s got 5-month-old Jacob — “a piece of work,” Held lovingly referred to his son while holding him during an interview Monday after NU’s 13th spring practice — to take care of, too.

But don’t forget about the trio of running backs that are signed with the Huskers and set to arrive this summer. Held certainly hasn’t.

“All three of those guys need to be ready to go and they all know that ol’ Coach Held will have a text or a call for me every single day,” Held said Monday.

They are junior college transfer and former ACC freshman of the year Dedrick Mills, as well as incoming freshmen Rahmir Johnson and Ronald Thompkins. All three are plenty busy themselves. Johnson is a track standout at Bergen Catholic in New Jersey. Thompkins is on the comeback trail from the second reconstructive knee surgery of his high school career.

Mills was originally thought to be a mid-year transfer from Garden City (Kan.) Community College, but he didn’t sign until January and now is slated to enroll sometime later in the summer as long as he finishes the coursework necessary to graduate from juco.

“He knows he’s getting a text or a call from Ryan Held every day to get his doggone grades right and make sure he’s staying in shape,” Held said.

Held in all likelihood would operate with the same sense of urgency with a signed summer enrollee regardless of the situation, but he has an up-close-and-personal look at Nebraska’s need for backfield reinforcements every day at practice.

Sophomore Maurice Washington has been in and out of practice all spring as his legal case unfolds in California — Washington’s next slated appearance in Santa Clara County is Wednesday — leaving walk-on Brody Belt and sophomore Jaylin Bradley as two of the primary ball carriers this spring.

“My approach has always been that I’m going to coach the guys that are in my room and give it my all every day,” Held said. “It doesn’t matter if there’s more guys coming. Obviously it gives me some excitement at the end of the day knowing that we’ve got some really talented guys coming in, we feel like. I think it would do the position an injustice if I was just going half whatever and not giving them my all, both feet in the boat.

“I want everyone in my room to get better, alright? Down to the last guy. I take a lot of pride in that.”

Held is quick to point out that Belt, Bradley and the others have made strides this spring. Still, the pecking order in the room will almost certainly be different come August.

Mills, Johnson and Thompkins have been given some early materials about formations and playbook basics to get familiar before they arrive, and they’re expected to show up on campus ready to hit the ground running.

“When those new guys get here, it will be absolutely critical that they No. 1, get in shape and No. 2, start learning the offense and getting the video and learning the plays and … the signals on their own,” Held said.

NU will also get a better idea of where Thompkins is health-wise once he’s on campus. The talented back from Grayson High in Georgia tore his ACL in his team’s first game last August and has now had surgery on both of his knees.

“I think we’ll get him with our trainers just to see where he’s at, and they’ll give me an idea of where he’s at and then obviously the weight room stuff and Zach (Duval) can adjust accordingly so we’re not going out and doing anything that we’re not supposed to,” Held said. “He’s a guy that you see where he’s at, we build him up and then if he’s cleared and going, let’s roll.

“I think if he wouldn’t have got injured, he would have been recruited by everybody in the country. And so maybe being injured reduced his recruiting or whatever, but obviously we’re excited to get him because I think he’s very talented.”

The cavalry is coming in the running backs room, then it will be time to see if the guys who have been here for spring ball can hold off the newcomers.

“May the best man win,” Held said. “We start over and I’m going to play the guy and guys that are consistent, know what they’re doing, take care of the football and make plays. That’s what we’ve got to be able to do and it will start right over whenever our first practice is (in August).”

Contact the writer at pgabriel@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.


Sports writer

Parker joined the Journal Star as the University of Nebraska football beat writer in August 2017. He previously covered Montana State athletics for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2012.

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