Cotton sees game as step toward NFL

“I've always wanted to do three things: Play for my dad, play pro football like my dad and I want to be a coach like my dad," Ben Cotton said.


LINCOLN — Barney Cotton played four NFL seasons after leaving Nebraska, first as a rookie lineman with Cincinnati in 1979 before going three years with the St. Louis Cardinals.

One person who knows that nugget of trivia is his son, Ben, now a former NU tight end starting his own pursuit of a possible NFL career.

“It's come up a few times, just because football's been our life,” Ben Cotton said. “So we've talked about just about anything.”

It's always been a dream for Ben to follow that path, and here's why, he said: “I've always wanted to do three things: Play for my dad, play pro football like my dad and I want to be a coach like my dad.”

The next three months will go a long way in determining whether Ben Cotton can pull off the NFL part.

Cotton on Saturday will play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and has been practicing in Los Angeles for the all-star game. Still unsure about an NFL Combine invitation, he knew the value this week of practicing before scouts and getting time with team personnel for interviews.

That part, he said, has been easy.

“It's gone really well this week,” Cotton said. “And I think I've done well with them.”

The rest is still a process.

Cotton was known more for his blocking than his receiving during his Husker career. He knows that's the perception that many have of him, and his expertise in that field will help the 6-foot-5, 258-pounder.

But he also wants to prove he's the total package as NFL teams evaluate prospects before the draft in April.

“This is an opportunity to show I can be more effective than some people think, especially in the passing game,” Cotton said from Los Angeles. “It's a great opportunity to be out here.”

Cotton will play for the American team that is led by Herm Edwards. Former NU linebacker Will Compton is playing for the National squad coached by Dick Vermeil.

Cotton is one of two tight ends for the American team, which has former Colorado head coach Jon Embree as offensive coordinator. He said Embree's time with former NU offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has helped make some things come easier to him.

And Cotton said playing for both Watson and current Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck left him prepared for just about anything through the week with the American team's pro-style attack.

“They just want to make sure we can perform and execute on Saturday, within reason,” Cotton said. “But a lot of things they've been looking for is how quick can you learn it and when you make mistakes can you not repeat them.”

Cotton was somewhat hidden in the Husker passing game because of other receiving threats, including fellow tight end Kyler Reed. But he still finished with 40 career catches, including the go-ahead score this season against Northwestern, a key touchdown as NU tried to keep pace at Ohio State and a career-long 56-yarder in the Capital One Bowl.

He's just trying to add to that in Los Angeles and in anything else that is ahead.

“Coach Bo (Pelini) and the rest of the coaches tell you that 95 percent of your resume is already completed,” Cotton said. “Your four years of playing is already on film.”

Cotton has the bloodlines, too, but he just wants a chance to get where his father once made it. Barney Cotton is now a Husker assistant coach.

“Like Coach Edwards told us, it doesn't matter if you're drafted in the first round or the seventh round or you sign as a free agent,” Ben Cotton said. “Just the most important thing is to get into a camp and then show what you can do.”

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