As Ameer Abdullah trotted off the practice field last week, he told an athletic department official "no interviews."

His time is valuable. He's locked-in on finishing his degree (I still don't think he would have fit very well in the SEC, if you know what I mean). Plus, you may have noticed Abdullah plays a rather prominent role for the 16th-ranked Nebraska football team.

His role Saturday was even more extensive than usual.

"We asked him to do a million things in practice this week," Husker running backs coach Ron Brown said after NU's 42-24 victory against Rutgers before 91,088 fans at Memorial Stadium.

Abdullah, a 5-foot-9, 200-pound running back, remained on the field as a receiver when Nebraska shifted to an empty backfield.

He operated out of the wildcat.

He returned a couple kickoffs, including one for 76 yards.

He ran inside, he ran outside, he ran all over an ordinary defense. 

He rushed 19 times for 225 yards and three touchdowns — one covering 53 yards, another 48.

He probably kissed a baby or two.

"We even had him ready for some other special-teams situations," Brown said. "You're putting a lot on a guy like that, a guy who takes a lot of hits. But you can tell his physical conditioning is phenomenal."

His mental toughness is equally impressive.

I'd trust the guy to run the Pentagon.

Think about the pressure Abdullah's under. It's there. It's real. He handles it with a sense of strength and dignity. If he skips an interview session here and there, he should get a pass, for he is the heart and soul of this team.

For the fifth straight season, Nebraska (7-1 overall) is 3-1 in conference play. Without Abdullah, the Huskers would have little-to-no chance to push their way over the hump and end their 15-year league-title drought.

So, in other words, all Ameer represents is the key to an upgrade in our state's collective self-esteem.

He seems equal to the task. He's raised his game to a level nobody could've envisioned because he was excellent last season, when he ran for 1,690 yards and nine touchdowns.

He already has 1,249 rushing yards and 17 TDs this season, with at least five games to go.

He's so good he makes his 200-yard rushing games seem almost like a routine part of fall.

And he keeps getting better.

But please don't take him for granted.

Enjoy him, savor him.

In the hard-charging Abdullah, we're seeing genuine greatness. Greatness along the lines of Johnny Rodgers or Mike Rozier or Eric Crouch or Ahman Green or think of any of Nebraska's all-time best offensive weapons.

Maybe you already have spent time on that mental exercise. I've been holding out. I'm done holding out. Although I think it's dangerous to compare great players — particularly when comparisons span generations — I think it's safe to say Abdullah is in the Rozier-Lawrence Phillips-Green tailback realm. Or at least close to it.

"There's no question he would be in the upper echelon of guys you would ever want to coach, in any era," said Brown, a receivers coach during NU's national championship years in the 1990s. "He's a little bit different type of back than an Ahman Green or a Lawrence Phillips or a Calvin Jones. They were bigger. They were a different kind of runners.

"But Ameer could've fit in because he's a tough guy. He's packed muscle on. He won't let himself be called a scat back."

He's a prideful player. That's what I like about him perhaps more than anything.

"Ameer fights the stereotypes and boxes that people want to put him in," Brown said.

After Abdullah was shut down at Michigan State (45 yards on 24 carries), he slid down some Heisman Trophy watch lists. He came back strong last week at Northwestern (23 carries for 146 yards), then made Rutgers look like a high school defense at times.

This is a bona-fide football player, ladies and gentlemen.

A clutch player, by the way.

"He's a deliverer," said former Nebraska running back great Tony Davis. "I haven't seen one like him since Johnny."

That's right, as in Johnny "The Jet."

Don't know if I'd go that far. But Abdullah is racking up some ridiculous numbers. His four 200-yard rushing games match Rozier's school record for a season.

Ameer's career all-purpose yardage total (6,604) ranks second in Big Ten history behind only Ron Dayne (7,429). Abdullah on Saturday passed Archie Griffin (6,559), the only two-time Heisman winner.

Think about that for a second.

Of course, Abdullah's only two objectives are a bachelor's degree and a championship. Plenty of obstacles remain.

A big man on campus faces his share of distractions and obstacles. So does a team. Brown compares it to fighting through the brush in a jungle.

Who better than No. 8 to lead Nebraska through it?

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.​