The reporter approached the old man Wednesday and told him his legs seem "live" at this late juncture of the season.
The "old man," Terrell Newby, nodded and smiled, mindful that it is indeed mid-November, when running backs' aches and pains often become as predictable and prevalent as the falling leaves. But the Nebraska senior feels good physically and mentally. He clearly felt strong in the fourth quarter last week against Minnesota. He's come up big in final quarters often this season.
"It's a matter of going the extra mile to make sure your body's right every week," he said. "If that means coming in the training room at 6 a.m., that's what you do. If my team needs me, I want to be able to be out there."
The Los Angeles native feels fortunate to be on the cusp of a unique achievement at Nebraska. When he takes the field Saturday on Senior Day at Memorial Stadium, he will be able to say he's appeared in every game since arriving on campus in 2013 as a top-100 recruit from Chaminade High School.
That's right, all 50 games. None of the other 29 Nebraska seniors can say they're on the brink of their 50th game. Not Jordan Westerkamp, who's preparing for No. 49. Not Nate Gerry (48). Nobody.
Thing is, Newby's team does need him. It's needed him pretty much all season, but especially this week, with starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong questionable for the game against Maryland (5-5, 2-5 Big Ten) with a hamstring injury suffered midway through the fourth quarter of the 24-17 win against Minnesota.
If Armstrong does play, he probably won't be 100 percent and could need teammates to lighten the load. If Ryker Fyfe gets the nod in Armstrong's absence, Fyfe could greatly benefit from someone to ease the pressure. In both cases, it could be Newby to the rescue, especially considering Maryland ranks 113th nationally (out of 128 FBS teams) in rushing defense, allowing 228.7 yards per game.
Perhaps Nebraska's quarterback situation, coupled with the opponent's weakness defending the run, helps explain Husker running backs coach Reggie Davis' conversation with Newby before Wednesday's practice.
"I asked him to compare how he was feeling this time last year to right now," Davis said. "He said he feels a lot better. We've tried to keep his legs fresh, and he's not dealing with that ankle (injury) that he dealt with so much of last year. The combination of those things have him feeling pretty good."
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That was evident against the Gophers, a rugged run-stopping team that saw the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Newby rattle off 60 yards on nine carries in the fourth quarter. His jump-cut was strong and effective. He ran through arm tackles. He was effective running inside-zone plays (his forte since high school), as well as the outside runs. He ran with a good mix of intelligence and abandon. He's done a lot of that this season, particularly late in games.
He hammered Purdue for 65 yards on 10 carries in the fourth quarter. Against Indiana, he carried nine times for 49 yards on a critical 15-play march to a field goal with 45 seconds left in a 27-22 triumph. He bulled over a safety on one of his late runs, and Davis smiles at the recollection.
Against Illinois, Newby rushed 16 times for 113 yards in the fourth quarter as part of his 140-yard outing. He sprinted 63 yards for a touchdown in the final period, Nebraska's longest run from scrimmage this season.
In 10 games, he's started nine times and rushed for 727 yards on 149 attempts (4.9 per carry). I would never say he runs "angry" because that's not his nature. He's unfailingly pleasant and quick with a smile. He seems like a team guy all the way.
But he did enter this season with a different mindset than last season, determined to be more physical — "more violent," he said. Mission accomplished. Bottom line, he's doing what all athletes seek to do — finish strong.
All the while, he managed to stay healthy, with "manage" being a key word.
"We talk about taking care of your body," Davis said. "I think there's a maturation process that takes place with that, just like it does with learning the game. Guys have to learn that you can't eat McDonald's every night and stay up until 2 o'clock in the morning and still really be at your best."
Look for Newby to be at his best on Senior Day. And, yeah, his team just might need him, even more than usual.