LINCOLN — Nebraska's Imani Cross didn't need much time to reflect on his true freshman season before identifying a personal goal for Year 2.
The ever-ambitious I-back had learned that to become a potential every-down contributor in the Huskers' fast-paced, no-huddle offense, he couldn't weigh 235 pounds, chiseled or not.
“It was a no-brainer,” Cross said. “I just told the coaches I was going to drop (weight). They were nice enough and understanding enough to say, 'OK, we trust you.'”
Over the next two months, Cross reinvented his eating habits. He added more vegetables and carbohydrates (rice and pasta), while dropping extra servings of meat. He made a point to stay hydrated. He also figured out how to recognize when his stomach was full and stayed disciplined enough not to gorge past that point.
“It's a hard process to go through,” Cross said after practice Monday, admittedly craving his dinner as he glanced toward a digital clock ticking past 6:30 p.m. “I try to be strict.”
His commitment to the new diet is obvious.
He's down to 221 pounds. His daily calorie count has gone from 4,500 to 3,500.
He used to write down every dish in every meal, but monitoring his nutritional intake has become routine now.
“I'm still not great at it, but I'm doing a little better,” he said.
He originally targeted 225, but that didn't feel right. So he dropped four more pounds. He's comfortable now, but Cross mentioned in an interview Monday that as a high school sophomore he weighed 217 and comfortably competed in an offense similar to what Nebraska is running now.
The NU coaches won't complain, assuming Cross keeps improving his numbers in the weight room.
At this point, he hasn't lost any strength — the kid who knocked out 41 pull-ups and 200 push-ups in a conditioning test last year still reps 500 pounds on the squat, according to running backs coach Ron Brown.
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It was Cross' powerful, downhill running style that earned him playing time last year. He had four touchdowns in late-season wins over Northwestern and Minnesota and some key first downs in the comeback win over Penn State.
But Cross wants to be more than a situational guy. And he's willing to do whatever it takes to reach his full potential.
“Imani's one of the most proactive guys you'll ever be around,” Brown said. “He is constantly looking for development. He's just never satisfied.”
He's sharing snaps this spring with rising junior Ameer Abdullah, whose confidence has skyrocketed since a 1,000-yard campaign in 2012. The competition heats up in the summer when touted recruits Adam Taylor and Terrell Newby enroll.
Cross knows this.
He's still taking a day-by-day approach, though. Playing with proper pad level and reacting correctly to blocking schemes are just a couple of several points of emphasis for Cross this spring.
As he puts it: It's not like losing 15 pounds transforms you into an entirely new player.
“Certain things just feel more natural when you're a little lighter — cutting, running,” he said. “And in this offense, you can't afford to be out of shape.”
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