Devine Ozigbo has considered what his parents might think the next time he shows up at the front door.
The Nebraska senior running back and his teammates have a couple of weeks left of summer conditioning and then a brief respite before August arrives and fall camp begins. If Ozigbo makes it back to Texas in that time, Yayie and Dave just might find that their son doesn’t quite darken the doorway like he used to.
“I’m guessing I’m going to see my parents and they’re going to say, ‘Did you lose weight?!” said with a laugh earlier this week.
Indeed, he has. And he’s not the only one.
The Huskers’ summer workout schedule has been more oriented toward running, conditioning and trimming up after a winter focused squarely on adding muscle mass.
“The coaches kind of proscribe places where they think we can be,” Ozigbo said. “There’s a lot of guidance on where they want us to be, but they also know that who we are is who we are. So they want you to get to the best shape that you can be in.
“For me it’s been a lot about leaning out and carrying no excess weight. With the fast pace of this offense, that will slow me down and make me not be able to play for as long.”
That's one of running backs coach Ryan Held's main observations from the spring. Too many times, the pace caught up with his guys, who had to tap out after a couple of plays. If the offense substitutes, so can the defense. If the offense substitutes, the whole thing slows down. That doesn't work for the Huskers anymore.
"It’s definitely mind over matter," Ozigbo said.
But there's no underselling the importance of being in shape. The senior understands that and also knows the Huskers can't afford a 2017 repeat.
A year ago, no running back logged a carry longer than a 35-yarder from Tre Bryant. Ozigbo and fellow senior Mikale Wilbon combined for 58.9 percent of Husker rushing attempts overall and 70.4 percent in the 10 games Bryant missed with a knee injury.
Over that stretch, the Huskers averaged 3.2 yards per carry and had just seven carries of 20-plus yards. The longest (40) belonged to receiver JD Spielman.
Held was mostly complimentary over the course of spring practice about the work his players have done to prevent a repeat performance this fall, but he made no bones about what was needed this summer.
“We’re stressing, really, that we need to have an unbelievable summer, so when we come back in August we’re shot out of a cannon and ready to go,” he said in April.
Now August is less than three weeks away. Ozigbo said he thinks he’s met or surpassed all of the specific goals set out for him this summer. The hope, of course, is that it helps facilitate the fast start that Held referred to. As a junior, Ozigbo did not log a carry until Week 3 before eventually leading the club with 129 for 493 yards.
NU looks almost certain to use many different players in the backfield, but nailing down a role as a primary back won’t be easy. Held said he gave Ozigbo and Wilbon the first opportunities in the spring because of their veteran status. That will not be the case when NU reconvenes for preseason camp.
At the same time, uncertainty abounds in the room.
Bryant may or may not return to full form as he deals with a chronic knee injury. Freshman Maurice Washington may or may not be on campus this fall, and even if he is, may not be eligible to play.
That leaves the seniors, sophomore Jaylin Bradley and junior college transfer Greg Bell as the primary options. The extent to which "R" players like Tyjon Lindsey, Miles Jones and others are used out of the backfield and given carries will fluctuate by game plan but also based on the production of the running backs.
"One thing I definitely love about being a Nebraska running back, especially with the guys we have, is that room has never really needed a leader in the sense that every single guy is really self-motivated and we all work together to solve the problems that we have," Ozigbo said. "I definitely think that’s a good thing and that we’re maintaining that."
It will be a team effort to get the Husker run game back on track, but as the senior well knows, there's only one way to bid for a big role.
“When fall camp gets here, you’ve got to just go out and make the most of your opportunities,” he said. “You can’t be mad at anybody else. The guy next to you wants to be the starter, too.”