Published Monday, November 25, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 2:50 pm
Nyatawa: Husker I-back Ameer Abdullah showing his overall toughness

LINCOLN — Halfway through the third quarter of Nebraska's 23-20 win at Penn State last weekend, the Huskers' star running back was down on one knee, clutching his throbbing left ankle.

Ameer Abdullah eventually stood up on the sideline, but he could barely walk. He shifted most of his weight to his right leg, gently shaking and rotating his left, as he spoke with athletic trainers.

Yet one series later, Abdullah was back slamming into a defensive lineman at the point of attack, cutting upfield on an option pitch and throwing his shoulder at a blitzing defender in pass protection.

About that ankle?

Coach Bo Pelini saw Abdullah go down and figured that he “might just need a second to deal with it.” That's been the case much of the season.

And if you're looking for an explanation for the junior I-back's breakout year, you might as well start right there.

Abdullah doesn't want to skip a snap because he committed to being the best.

We all hear lots of athletes say they want that, too — but few in fact, even if they believe it, completely reconstruct their routines to truly maximize their gifts, never allowing themselves to get so consumed with the big picture they lose focus on the daily grind.

With Abdullah, though, it seems as if he's closing in on adopting that lifestyle full-time.

His competitiveness is the driving force, the reason why he's a workhorse in the weight room, an outspoken leader in the locker room, an obsessive self-critic and an occasionally brazen defender of himself and his team.

It may be a coincidence that Abdullah roomed with Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon for a high school all-star game years back, but it's certainly not an accident that the Big Ten's top two backs text back and forth frequently.

“Hopefully, I can win the title,” Abdullah said.

He's found the right mix of humility and confidence to this point — on one hand admitting that he watches film to spot his flaws most nights before bed, but on the other, issuing a public reprimand of ESPN analyst Desmond Howard, who doubted Abdullah's ability to produce against Michigan State.

Abdullah's quick to deflect praise to the teammates who he says block anonymously and tirelessly for him.

But there's no doubt that the chip on Abdullah's shoulder (the one he's carried since leaving SEC country because most schools thought he couldn't be a running back) becomes a little more noticeable after another doubter surfaces. He was not one of three Doak Walker finalists announced Monday.

Abdullah will likely make several All-America ballets, though. He ranks sixth nationally at 134.8 rushing yards per game, on pace for the most production on the ground by a Husker since Ahman Green in 1997.

He's battled through injury all year.

Abdullah had to hobble off the field at Minnesota last month, careful not to put too much weight on his left foot. He'd sat on the turf at Michigan two weeks later while the medical staff examined his ailing ankle. He's left other games, too, but he's always returned, and most often looked more powerful and more explosive than before he left. He's averaged 6.9 yards per carry in the fourth quarter. He had that 50-yard run to set up the game-tying field goal with just four minutes left at Penn State last week.

“You've got to be mentally tough — not just physically tough — but mentally tough to do what he does every week,” Pelini said.

It might make one wonder about Abdullah's future. What else does the college game have to teach him?

Abdullah could easily think of a few things — start with the four lost fumbles this year. Actually, he hasn't considered the NFL yet.

“To me, that's a really big jump,” Abdullah said.

Abdullah's zeroed in on the task at hand. In his mind, that's what greatness requires.

* * *

Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini at Monday's press conference

Video: Nebraska linebacker Michael Rose at Monday's press conference

Video: Nebraska quarterback Ron Kellogg at Monday's press conference

Video: Nebraska lineman Jeremiah Sirles at Monday's press conference

Video: Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah at Monday's press conference

Contact the writer: Jon Nyatawa    |   402-473-9585    |  

Jon Nyatawa has covered local sports, primarily Nebraska football and baseball, for The Omaha World-Herald since 2008.



< >
2013 college football preview
View our 2013 college football preview, a 26-page, three-part section filled with coverage of the Huskers, Big Ten conference and more.
Big Red Bowl Retrospective
See complete historical results, game recaps and photo coverage from the Nebraska Cornhuskers college football bowl game appearances, from the 1941 Rose Bowl up to today.
Big Ten football recruits
The World-Herald's Big Ten recruiting database contains every football recruit that signed with a Big Ten school from 2002 to 2011, complete with color-coded interactive map representations, player information, high-concentrations recruiting clusters and more.
Devaney Center timeline
Check out a World-Herald timeline to see the evolution of memorable moments at the Devaney Center, complete with photos, videos, memorable quotes and more.
Follow OWHbigred on Twitter
Looking for the latest Husker sports news from The Omaha World-Herald and Follow us on Twitter!
Husker scholarship distribution chart
Want to see how many scholarships NU has invested at each position? Wondering how the Huskers have appropriated their offers by class? Check out our handy chart to look further into how Bo Pelini has built his team.
Husker Signing Day 2013
The World-Herald's top-notch coverage of the Nebraska football's class of 2013, complete with videos, photos, articles, live recruit interviews, interactive components and more.
Husker turnovers: A slippery slope
Bo Pelini has coached 68 games at Nebraska. When NUís turnover margin is positive or even, the Huskers are 35-2. When they lose the turnover battle, theyíre 13-18. Why hasnít Nebraska joined the nationís elite? More than anything, itís turnovers.
Interactive: Bo Pelini's contract
View an interactive PDF of Pelini's revised contract signed by the NU football coach, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Darin Erstad's contract (2012)
View an interactive PDF of NU baseball coach Darin Erstad's contract released in August 2012, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Tim Miles' contract
View an interactive PDF of Tim Miles' contract signed by the Nebraska men's basketball coach on May 4, 2012, complete with brief legal explanations, comparisons to other Big Ten coaches and more.'s Big Ten coverage
Delivering the best news coverage and analysis of the Big Ten Conference, from and other top news outlets from around country.
Husker Recruiting: Changes shrink NU's sphere of influence
For decades, the Great Plains represented fertile recruiting ground for Tom Osborne's football program. Restoring that lost tradition won't be easy.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
< >