Although he doesn’t necessarily think about it in these terms, Marquel Dismuke’s story at Nebraska runs contrary to the transfer culture in college athletics.
Last year, as more than 1,500 Division I college football players entered the transfer portal, nobody would’ve been surprised if Dismuke had jumped into the mix.
A junior safety, Dismuke has started only one game as a Husker. But he’s still in the program in large part because his mother, Nicole Samuel, strongly encouraged him to “stick with the script.”
He’s played for two different head coaches, three different defensive coordinators and four different position coaches.
But he’s stayed with the script.
This summer, as Nebraska players labor through eight weeks of conditioning work, Dismuke is poised to become more prominent in the script that involves an actual depth chart. He exited spring ball as a projected starter at safety alongside fellow junior Deontai Williams.
What’s kept Dismuke around? He said this week it was a matter of trusting his ability and the people around him.
“It’s never getting down on yourself and always knowing what you’re capable of and how hard you worked to get to the spot you’re in,” he said.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Dismuke was part of the Calabasas (California) High School crew that was all the rage at Nebraska for part of the Mike Riley era. But Dismuke, a four-star recruit in the class of 2016, is the only one left in Lincoln. Two Calabasas graduates in NU’s class of 2017 — Tristan Gebbia and Keyshawn Johnson Jr. — have moved on.
“I’m still here,” said Dismuke, who stays in touch with his Calabasas teammates. “Whatever’s going on in their lives, that’s cool. Whatever I got going on, I’m just going to do what I have to do.”
It's no surprise Dismuke's patience has been tested. He thinks back to 2016, his first year on campus.
“I had to redshirt,” he said. “I didn’t really know how to take that. I can still remember that first game sitting on the sideline watching. It was frustrating. At the same time, you’ve got to be a good teammate. But you're also like, ‘Damn, I’m supposed to be out there.’
“As time goes on, you come to realize there’s a process that goes on for you to be able to step on this field.”
He responded the right way.
“I just worked harder at my craft,” he said.
The past two seasons, as he watched veterans get playing time ahead of him, Dismuke prayed while also benefiting from long talks with someone who’s always been by his side.
“I talked with my mom all the time,” he said. “She’s like my best friend.”
Nicole Samuel lives in Long Beach, California, where she drives a bus in the city transit system.
“Stick it out,” she would tell her son. “Stick to the script.”
He came on strong during the second half of the 2017 season, when he recorded 34 tackles in the last seven games, including a start against Northwestern. He seemed to have found a groove. But he had a mostly quiet 2018 season on defense — though he continued to distinguish himself on special teams. The highlight was his blocked punt that resulted in a safety against Illinois.
“I don’t want to represent myself in a bad way the only time I get on the field," he said of his special-teams approach. "I wanted to execute and make a play. That was a chance to get my name out there.”
Now that he’s on the cusp of being a starter, a lot goes through his mind. He feels he has strong chemistry with Williams. Plus, he said, returning players on defense should benefit from being in the second year of coordinator Erik Chinander’s system.
In short, they should better understand the script.
During a break from workouts earlier this week, Dismuke smiled as he pondered all the coaches he’s had at Nebraska. Chinander follows coordinators Bob Diaco (2017) and Mark Banker (2016). As a corner in 2016, Dismuke was coached by Brian Stewart. As a safety in 2017, he played for Scott Booker and the late Bob Elliott.
The good part of having all those coaches?
“You’re learning different things from different coaches,” Dismuke said. “You can never have too much knowledge about the game.”
The down side?
“Bad habits,” he said with a smile.
These days, he gets pushed by NU secondary coach Travis Fisher, for whom Dismuke has ample respect.
“He comes from what I come from, which is nothin’,” said Dismuke, who grew up in Compton, California, before moving to Calabasas for his final year of high school. “We have to make a name for ourselves. That’s what he did, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
He’s grateful he came to Nebraska, and stayed at Nebraska.
“Now it’s time to prove to the world what I can do.”