One of the best wide receivers in the Nebraska football program's rich history is away from the team.
Senior standout JD Spielman likely won't be on hand for spring drills — which begin March 9 and end April 18 — because of a personal health matter, as stated in a university news release. He is back home in Minnesota and not participating in any team activities.
Spielman could return to the team in time for summer conditioning starting in May. He remains enrolled in classes and is still on the Huskers' official roster, and NU does not expect his eligibility to be affected by what it describes as his "temporary absence."
Nebraska is down to Wan'Dale Robinson (40 catches in 2019) in terms of a wide receiver who's actually caught a pass in a college game.
“JD Spielman is dealing with a personal health matter currently, and at this time is not expected to participate in spring practices,” Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said in the university news release. “Everyone’s focus right now is on JD’s well-being and providing him with the appropriate support. We anticipate JD returning to the team in time for summer conditioning.”
In addition, junior wide receiver Jaevon McQuitty and sophomore place-kicker Barret Pickering plan to retire from the game and pursue medical exemptions, the university announced. The news about Pickering's retirement actually first came to light last week. As for McQuitty, he rose to as high as No. 2 on the depth chart last season even though he finishes with only two career receptions for 14 yards.
The Spielman news aligns with what's become an ongoing discussion about Spielman's future with the program. He was the subject of intense speculation on and off through the 2019 season as the Huskers struggled to find their footing in Year 2 under head coach Scott Frost, but no solid reporting ever surfaced in-season. However, Frost went out of his way to make it clear what he thought about Spielman's prowess as a player during the coach's National Signing Day news conference in mid-December, weeks after NU’s season ended with a loss to Iowa.
“JD has been a phenomenal player around here for a long time,” Frost said then. “We’re lucky to have him back another season. I’m excited to coach a guy who could be the all-time leading receiver in Nebraska history and have a piece of that as a coach. I’m really impressed with his toughness and what he’s done for his entire career at Nebraska.”
Spielman, an Eden Prairie, Minnesota, native and an adopted son of Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, has racked up quite an impressive array of statistics to this point.
As a junior in 2019, Spielman logged 898 receiving yards (18.3 per catch), becoming the first player in school history to amass three 800-yard receiving seasons in a career. He added five receiving touchdowns on the season, giving him 15 for his career to go along with three return scores.
Spielman returned a punt for a touchdown in both 2019 (against South Alabama) and 2018 (Bethune-Cookman) and memorably took a kick return back for a touchdown on his first collegiate touch in 2017 as a redshirt freshman against Arkansas State.
Scott Frost's job is getting tougher all the time, it seems.
If he returns to Nebraska for next season, Spielman would likely break just about every career receiving record in the book. He currently sits third in catches (170) and yards (2,546) and his eight 100-yard receiving games are second-most in school history.
He set Nebraska’s single-game record with 209 receiving yards in a loss to Wisconsin in 2018 and last fall joined Ameer Abdullah as the only NU players to put up 1,000-plus all-purpose yards in each of their first three seasons.
Spielman, though, doesn't outwardly embrace the limelight that comes with being a multi-year force at Nebraska. A chat with the Journal Star in May and a postgame news conference after the 209-yard game at Wisconsin — which then-teammate Stanley Morgan virtually dragged Spielman into — are the only two known interviews he’s conducted in the past two seasons.
In the May interview, Spielman told the Journal Star he just liked operating behind the scenes.
“I don’t really talk to the media or I’m not really like a vocal guy or anything. I just try to do things behind the scenes as more of a private or one-on-one thing,” he said then. “I know when someone messes up, they already feel bad enough and the last thing they need is someone harping on them on top of that. I kind of let them get a chance to cool themselves down, get that play out of their head and I’ll come up to them later when no one’s paying attention, just on the side, and we’ll talk about it.”
Nebraska now heads into spring football with just four scholarship wide receivers on campus — most notably Wan'Dale Robinson — and four more not set to arrive until the beginning of the summer at the earliest. Kade Warner, a junior walk-on, also has ample experience.