It wasn't exactly the metamorphosis of a butterfly, but Nebraska's coaches looked at Jake Young last spring and instead of seeing an offensive guard, they saw a center.
You may remember Young as the kid from Midland, Texas, who made a half-court basketball shot on a recruiting trip to Texas Tech in 1986, but was prohibited by the NCAA from keeping the $1,538.46 prize money. Well, last season, playing guard, Young became the first Nebraska offensive lineman to earn a varsity letter as a freshman in Tom Osborne's 14 years as head coach. Then, when center John Nichols suffered a knee injury this spring, Osborne moved Young in as the replacement. Young broke his leg in spring drills, but not before demonstrating Lombardi/Outland potential at the position. He'll be ready for the opener against Utah State.
Another change of position involves senior McCathorn Clayton. Three years ago Clayton was the "quarterback of the future." Two years ago he started 10 games and led Nebraska to a 9-3 season and the Fiesta Bowl. Last year he was a backup quarterback to Steve Taylor. Now he's a cornerback.
"We have great depth at quarterback," says Clayton, who has NFL aspirations. "I felt I could play anything from receiver to running back to defensive back."
Clayton's move took on added significance in spring practice when starting right corner John Custard suffered a knee injury that will cause him to miss the 1987 season. Osborne then juggled his secondary, and Clayton won the left cornerback job.
The change the Huskers really want to see, of course, is in the Big Eight final standings. Oklahoma "stole" the conference title from Nebraska last year with a come-from-behind stunner at Lincoln. But, though you might not know it to visit Lincoln in November, the Huskers play more than a one-game season. They hope their patchwork secondary can survive UCLA, Arizona State and South Carolina before the usual assortment of Big Eight fish food and the grudge match with the Sooners.
Among the players who won't be changing positions: I-back Keith Jones, last year's conference rushing champion; receiver Rod Smith, the defending NCAA punt return leader; the talented tight end tandem of Tom Banderas and Todd Millikan; and all-conference defensive end Broderick Thomas.
The Nebraska defense has extraordinary athletic ability, but, says defensive coordinator Charlie McBride, "Just because a guy runs a 4.3 or a 4.5 40 or is the strongest player they've ever heard of at Nebraska doesn't mean he's a good football player. If we don't do the mental part right, you can throw all that physical stuff out the window."
More likely, Nebraska will throw all that physical stuff at its opponents. What would you do if you had Neil Smith, a 6'6", 261-pound defensive tackle with a 7'1½" arm span and a 35-inch vertical jump, who can run faster than any previous Nebraska lineman?
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