LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Miscast as a tight end, Nebraska's Freedom Akinmoladun looks like a star in the making at defensive end.
The redshirt freshman has a team-leading four sacks through four games, including two in Saturday's 36-28 win over Southern Mississippi. The most important was his takedown of Nick Mullens at midfield to end the game.
The previous coaching staff had recruited Akinmoladun as a tight end, and that's where he worked on the scout team last season. Akinmoladun couldn't get comfortable, and when Mike Riley's staff arrived, he requested a move to defensive end.
Given Nebraska's shortage of personnel on the defensive line, coordinator Mark Banker was fine with the switch.
''He just continues to grind away, listen to the coaching points, plays within the scheme of things, works on his tools and techniques, and he's coming along,'' Banker said.
Akinmoladun's rapid progress is one of the few bright spots for a maligned and injury-plagued unit that ranks 103rd in the country in total defense and 128th and last in passing yards allowed.
Akinmoladun made his first start three games ago. He replaced senior Jack Gangwish, who dislocated his elbow on the last play of the opener against BYU.
''I'm really proud of Freedom,'' Gangwish said. ''He's really stepped up to the plate. He's only been a D-end for a few months now, but he's been doing a great job. Freedom had played tight end on scout team, so as a D-end I was face-to-face with him a lot. So I already had an idea of his competitiveness and athleticism.''
The 6-foot-4, 255-pound Akinmoladun has been so good that Banker can't promise Gangwish will get his starting job back.
Banker said his challenge to Akinmoladun is this: ''Go win a shirt, go win a shirt. And he's certainly close to doing that.''
Banker was referring to a black shirt, the practice jersey traditionally worn by Nebraska's defensive starters.
Akinmoladun's desire to become a dominant defensive end showed when he started working at the position in the spring. He said he asked defensive line coach Hank Hughes ''probably 3,000 questions'' about what to do in certain situations.
He spends a lot of time with defensive tackle Maliek Collins studying video. Akinmoladun said he planned to spend a good portion of Sunday breaking down the Southern Miss game with Collins.
''We'll go down the list, seeing what we did right and wrong. It helps a lot,'' Akinmoladun said.
Akinmoladun said Collins' presence alongside him allowed him make the last-play sack on Saturday. Southern Miss' offensive line paid extra attention to Collins, and Akinmoladun slipped around the left tackle to get Mullens and bring him down.
''I think I just got off the ball and the tackle was so focused on Maliek Collins,'' Akinmoladun said, ''and I took advantage of the opportunity.''