LINCOLN — Don't count redshirt freshman Jared Afalava out of the equation at linebacker in a crowded field of underclassmen.
NU coach Bo Pelini said Wednesday that Afalava is “probably a little bit further ahead of where I thought he would be going into the thing.”
Pelini said Afalava picked things up well this spring after spending last season with the scout-team defense.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder from South Jordan, Utah, also has been mentioned as a potential pass rusher off the edge.
“I think he's going to be a very productive guy for us,” Pelini said during a Big Ten teleconference. “Has a lot of potential.”
Afalava came in last season with Thomas Brown and Michael Rose, and all three redshirted. They were joined at linebacker in January by true freshman Courtney Love.
While Pelini reiterated that the defense has a long way to go, he said he is pleased with what the Huskers will have to work with heading into next season.
“Overall we have talent, and a lot of guys I believe are going to come,” he said. “We should hopefully have more depth than we've had there in awhile.”
Santos ready in August
Pelini said linebacker David Santos “won't be working out here for a few weeks” after missing the spring game, but said the sophomore-to-be from Spring, Texas, will be ready when preseason practice starts in August.
Santos, a candidate to be the Huskers' No. 1 middle linebacker for next season, watched the Red-White scrimmage Saturday with his right arm in a sling.
Also sitting out Saturday were defensive end Greg McMullen and defensive tackle Vincent Valentine, both redshirt freshmen, but Pelini said injuries to both were nothing significant.
“We actually came out of the spring fairly healthy,” he said.
Excited about Ameer
Nebraska finished spring practice without I-back Ameer Abdullah, but quarterback Taylor Martinez saw enough of the junior in some early drills to believe Abdullah is ready to take a big step.
“It's the best I've seen him (before Abdullah hurt a knee) … moving and juking, and his speed,” Martinez said. “He looked really good. He should be a really good back for us this year, and I'm really excited for him to start the season.”
Abdullah ran for a team-high 1,137 yards last season and is likely poised for an even bigger role with Rex Burkhead heading to the NFL and Braylon Heard transferring.
Roars for Jack
Martinez relived the Jack Hoffman touchdown run for news media members Wednesday on the Big Ten call, saying it was a thrill to hand the 7-year-old the football and guide him to the hole.
The video of Hoffman, a pediatric brain cancer patient who has been adopted by the team, continues to be both a YouTube sensation and a national story.
“You could just tell how excited we were for him,” Martinez said. “It was an awesome experience.”
And what made it extra special, Martinez said, was the reaction from a crowd of 60,174 during the Husker spring game.
“It was probably one of the loudest I've heard the stadium,” he said.
— Rich Kaipust