The Maurice Washington hype train is rolling downhill and it’s unclear when the brakes will be tested.
The latest in a long line of Nebraska football folks to praise the freshman running back: the head coach himself.
“We’re glad to have Mo. He had a long road to get here,” Scott Frost said Friday morning after NU’s seventh preseason camp practice. “But he’s had probably a dozen big plays, spectacular plays already in this camp.
“He’s definitely opening some eyes and I think he’s got a bright future here.”
Washington only arrived on campus from San Jose, California, on Aug. 2, and joined the Huskers on the field for the first time a day later, so by Frost’s count, he’s averaging at least a couple of big plays per day.
The 6-foot-1 running back looked lean in an open period of practice Wednesday and Frost confirmed that Washington weighed "quite a bit" less than when the Trinity Christian (Texas) Academy star used his recruiting visit in January.
“It’s amazing, he hadn’t worked out much,” Frost said of Washington’s summer, which was spent working toward earning academic qualification, which he didn’t receive official word on until Aug. 1. “He was focused on academics. He was working. I don’t think he was eating and getting all the nutrition he needed. … So we didn’t know what we would get, but he’s going to be a pretty special player.”
Given the demands of the regular season, it may not be possible for Washington to put on significant weight until the winter. Offensive coordinator Troy Walters on Wednesday was not particularly concerned.
“Ideally we want him to weigh a little more, but he’s out there making plays and looking impressive," Walters said. "If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
Washington is competing for playing time in a backfield that also includes Greg Bell, Tre Bryant, Devine Ozigbo, Mikale Wilbon and Jaylin Bradley as scholarship options.
As a senior at Trinity Christian, Washington rushed for 1,253 yards (10.2 per carry) and 15 touchdowns, and added 582 receiving yards (22.9 per catch) and nine more scores.
Roster news: Only two scholarship players weren't part of the 110-man roster for preseason camp.
Frost said sophomore outside linebacker Quayshon Alexander (Prospect Park, New Jersey) has an unspecified injury that will sideline him all season. Meanwhile, senior outside linebacker Sedrick King (Plant City, Florida) is dealing with "personal things, and we’re trying to be there for him," Frost said.
“He had to go back to Florida to handle a situation,” the coach said. “I expect him to be back in Lincoln at some point and make a decision if he’s going to need to spend his time on that or his time with the football team.”
Gifford on rise: Luke Gifford missed all of spring practice as he rehabilitated a hip injury that sidelined him for the final five games of 2017.
Consequently, Frost didn’t know exactly what to expect this month from the senior outside linebacker.
“I’d say he’s exceeded my expectations,” Frost said. “He was still getting his sea legs under him at the beginning of camp. But he’s athletic, he’s big, he has pass-rush skill, he plays hard. He’s what you’re looking for.”
A Lincoln Southeast graduate, Gifford craves a chance to play a full season without a significant injury. He’s had only one such season at Nebraska, as a redshirt sophomore in 2016, though he played sparingly. He said in June he thinks he’ll fit well in defensive coordinator Erik Chinander’s 3-4 system.
“I think it’s more a pro-style defense — more attacking, maybe more blitzing, just different ways of doing it,” Gifford says. “I’m super-excited.”
Frost harps on turnovers: After the first days of camp, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander liked the rate at which his defense forced turnovers. Quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco thought by Wednesday the offense had caught up.
One thing is for certain: Frost knows that the Blackshirts have to find a way to take the ball away. A lot.
“Turnovers is the biggest stat in football and Nebraska wasn’t very good at it last year,” said Frost, alluding to NU’s minus-7 in the turnover department last fall, No. 106 in the country. “Hopefully we can do something with it. We’ve put a real emphasis on making sure we’re active, making sure we know where the ball is. That we’re ball-aware and ball-disruptive.
“We had more plays on the ball and interceptions on the first practice this fall than five practices put together in the spring, so I think adding some new talent in the secondary, getting some new competition back there, along with just understanding the scheme and playing harder has led to more turnovers,” Frost said.