LINCOLN — Cameron Meredith played linebacker through high school, defensive end for his first 4½ years at Nebraska and had pretty much topped out size-wise at 255 pounds.
But the fifth-year senior understood the circumstances and necessity behind finishing his Husker football career as a defensive tackle.
“That's what you've got to do,” Meredith said. “When Coach tells you to play tackle ... at least I'm playing football. It's better than being benched. At least I'm out there with my team and still representing the university.
“I see it as an opportunity. I'm glad I did it. It was fun.”
Meredith was asked to make one of the bigger sacrifices this season to help NU get by defensively after the rash of injuries and other setbacks at tackle. What he thought was maybe a one-game appearance at Northwestern on Oct. 20 — with Chase Rome out and Thad Randle hobbled — turned into semi-regular duty from there.
And when Nebraska lost Baker Steinkuhler at Iowa on Nov. 23, it made it pretty clear what Meredith would be doing against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game and where he would spend the month of December in Capital One Bowl practices.
“This month of preparation is definitely going to help,” he said.
Meredith understandably could have been reluctant to change at midseason. The 6-foot-4 native of Huntington Beach, Calif., is a third-year starter at end who will be playing his 56th career game against Georgia, the most in school history.
But NU defensive coordinator John Papuchis called Meredith a “real team player” for going with the move and allowing the Huskers to not pull one of their underclassmen out of a redshirt.
“It was really unselfish on his part,” Papuchis said. “Never once has he ever said, 'I wish I could have stayed at end,' or thought that his statistics might have been better if he would have stayed at end. He's a team guy, and I have a lot of respect for who he is.”
Meredith has made at least five tackles in four of the Huskers' past seven games and still takes some practice and game snaps at end.
Asking him to go inside at 255 was a tall order, Papuchis acknowledges, especially in the Big Ten.
“Cameron is a tough kid,” Papuchis said. “Probably a little bit overmatched physically inside at times, but his toughness and his technique have allowed him to survive and do some good things in there.”
Against Wisconsin, Meredith stood across from an offensive line that featured a 338-pound center and 313- and 318-pound guards. He has tried to rely on his own experience and things he's picked up from assistant coach Rick Kaczenski to counter that kind of challenge.
At times he knows that he's lost the battle.
“Playing defensive tackle at 255 pounds and taking on 600 pounds on a double-team and in a three-tech (technique) is not the easiest thing,” Meredith said. “Obviously I'll get pushed back once in a while, but I think Coach Kaz teaches some pretty good technique and things to do in there to help me out for the size disadvantage.”
Meredith will be making his 41st consecutive start in the Capital One Bowl and has 191 career tackles, which ranks as the seventh-best total in school history for a defensive lineman. He just never pictured finishing that career playing more tackle than end.
But knowing the whole defensive line so well, he said the move came easy.
“They just told me to go play tackle,” Meredith said. “It wasn't really a conversation, so I just did it.”
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