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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

Devine Ozigbo knew he would be interviewed by several NFL teams this week in Florida. It's part of the deal leading up to Saturday's East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Florida. In fact, he had to delay our interview Thursday because the Seattle Seahawks were calling him.

Most of the teams' questions are mundane in nature. They ask players about family and other background material. Some teams ask players to explain certain plays or even draw up plays.

One question caught Ozigbo off-guard: "I had a team ask me, 'If you could put anything on a billboard, like a phrase or certain words, what would it be and why?'" the former Nebraska running back said.

It's an interesting question. It's challenging. It could make a player's blood pressure rise as he searches his mind for a good answer.

Ozigbo came through mightily.

"I couldn't really think of anything, but then I suddenly remembered a quote — I can't remember where I heard it — but it goes, 'Greatness is an ever-moving target,'" he said.

Ozigbo couldn't remember which team asked him the question, but whichever one it was had to be impressed with the answer. Chasing greatness is what this week is all about for Ozigbo and the rest of the former college standouts who practiced in Florida in advance of the all-star game, set for 2 p.m. on the NFL Network.

A native of Sachse, Texas, Ozigbo earned an invitation to the game thanks to a breakout 2018 season in which he rushed 155 times for 1,082 yards (7.0 per carry) and 12 touchdowns while adding 23 receptions for 203 yards. He had rushed for a total of 1,114 yards in his three previous seasons in the Husker program.

"One thing I tell the scouts here is that for three years of my college career I was pretty decent, then I kind of blew up this year," he said from Florida. "So I want to prove to everybody that this past season is who I really am as a player and just show that I can be that consistent for the rest of my career."

Ozigbo evidently has carried his strong 2018 season into 2019. Gerry DiNardo, a veteran analyst for the Big Ten Network who covered the all-star game's practices in Florida, tweeted, "Running backs in NFL have to be able to pass protect and catch the ball. (Ozigbo) showed he could be valuable in all aspects of NFL backs. According to scouts here, he’s had outstanding practices showing he’s a complete back."

Tweeted Josh Norris of Rotoworld and NBC: "We will be talking about RB Devine Ozigbo during the 2019 NFL season. I promise."

Such reports aren't automatic. Omaha Creighton Prep graduate Easton Stick, who was 49-3 as North Dakota State's starting quarterback and this week joins Ozigbo on the West squad, apparently has had a rough time of it in practices.

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"North Dakota State QB Easton Stick is probably the marquee player here, so what I’m about to say will likely not be popular," wrote Jeff Risdon at the RealGM website. "But it’s my truthful assessment based on watching him for three days: hard pass. Stick lacks the requisite arm strength to play in the NFL."

Yes, it's serious business in St. Petersburg. But the 6-foot, 220-pound Ozigbo has approached the week with a mindset that is as sound as his decision-making with the ball in his hands.

"Yes, it's serious, but then again, it's football," he said. "Personally, I know I'm not going to be very effective unless I'm enjoying myself. Overall, it's been pretty fun. It's been pretty refreshing to be able to see things with the quarterback under center, and have my eyes get used to that."

Nebraska in 2018 always had its quarterback in the shotgun. In former Husker head coach Mike Riley's pro-style offense, there was a mix of shotgun and under-center snaps. In the NFL, quarterbacks often are under center. Not that it affects Ozigbo's outlook much one way or the other. He loves the game. He just wants to be on the field.

"I could be in a bad mood, but as long as I'm playing football I'll be having fun," he said. "Simply playing puts me in a good mood."

It's pretty clear why Ozigbo is determined to extend his playing career. He hasn't received an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine, but holds out hope it's coming. He should get that chance. He's that caliber of player, and with a wonderful attitude.

"I'll play until my body literally can't do it," he said with a chuckle.

Any coach would appreciate that approach.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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