Nebraska’s Breakout Star of 2011: Ameer Abdullah

| by Alex Groberman

There is a reason that Ameer Abdullah is quickly stealing the hearts and minds of just about everyone who watches the Nebraska Cornhuskers play on a weekly basis. During a year where at times it felt like everything you thought you knew about the program was turned on its ear, and everything you expected to see somehow didn’t come to fruition – Abdullah has been the lone constant.

Week after week after week -- starting from Nebraska’s Week 2 victory over the Fresno State Bulldogs and ending with that last historical win versus the Ohio State Buckeyes -- Abdullah has capitalized on the opportunities presented to him and left a resounding impression every single time out.

Against the Bulldogs, when a team with a torn apart offensive line that was supposed fold quick didn’t, it was ultimately Abdullah’s 100-yard return that was instrumental in guiding the Huskers to a 2-0 start. Against the Washington Huskies when, amazingly enough, it looked like the road team was in solid position for an upset, Abdullah made something out of nothing and gave his offense undeniably strong field position. Field position, mind you, that quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead eventually turned into points and, subsequently, victory.

And against the Wisconsin Badgers when it looked like earth as the Huskers knew it was spinning out of orbit, he was the lone piece that made any ground on the opposition. Time after time, and then five times after that, Abdullah put his squad into pristine field position that they were never actually able to capitalize on. Nevertheless, he did his part – he put them there.

When a guy goes out onto the field every week, does exactly what’s expected of him and can clearly be seen leaving it all on the grass, he inevitably becomes a fan favorite.

Don't forget, this guy was supposed to get lost in the shuffle.

Abdullah, of course, was one of three freshmen running backs that came in and weren’t expected to really make a particularly big dent on the program.

Apparently nobody told the speedster that he was supposed to take the year off, though.

"When I first came into camp and practice, you're just trying to make a statement, make a name for yourself, without going into the details of what needs to be done," he said recently, as recounted by Rich Kaipust of the Omaha World Herald. "I was just running around like a chicken with his head cut off. My adrenaline was going, and everything was so fast at first.

"Now, as I really critique this position, I really try to slow down my mind of how every block's going to be executed and what hole could be potentially open for me to hit. I've really slowed it down, which has created opportunities for me."

Coming into their college football campaigns, a lot of guys don’t fundamentally understand how difficult it is to differentiate themselves from the pack. They honestly figure that if they wait, the opportunity will come.

To Abdullah, simply waiting for the opportunity to come wasn't good enough. He saw a hole, and realized he could be the guy to fill it.

"That's the main way for me to get on the field right now, so I have to make the best of it," Abdullah said.

For the season, Abdullah has returned 20 kicks for 638 yards and a touchdown. His 31.9 yards per return average is among the best and the nation and, if he keeps up this pace, he’ll essentially been a shoe-in for an All-American slot.

Over the course of a season where the offense and defense have been reduced to playing hot potato for who should really be expected to lead the program, it's refreshing to see a guy just go out and play.

Keep an eye on Abdullah, his progress as a player is one of the more pleasant unexpected surprises of the 2011 college football season.