I'll spend the coming weeks familiarizing myself with Nebraska's full roster, but I have an idea about my favorite Huskers player to watch. Big Ten fans should like him, too.
What's not to like about Rex Burkhead? He ran the ball for 951 yards and seven touchdowns on 172 carries last season. He also served as Nebraska's quarterback out of the wildcat formation. All three of his completed passes went for touchdowns in 2010, as Burkhead boasted an Aaron Bates-like passer rating of 396. Burkhead is no stranger to the quarterback position, calling signals for Plano High School as a sophomore while playing running back his other three seasons.
I caught up with Burkhead earlier this week.
So you run the ball, pass the ball. Are you going to kick field goals this year without [Alex] Henery there?
Rex Burkhead: I don't know, I've never been the greatest kicker in the world. I punted in high school. That's about it.
How much fun is it to contribute in multiple ways? It seems like football is becoming more and more specialized.
RB: It's fun. Just to show your versatility and to act like you're the quarterback of the team every now and then, it makes the game a lot of fun. Stand back there and be the leader of the team every now and then throughout the game, just to give a spark to the offense, it's a good thing.
How much have you and your teammates talked about the move to the Big Ten since the Holiday Bowl? Have you spent much time on it?
RB: Oh, yeah. We're already watching film on the Big Ten games from last year. We're definitely looking forward to it, and a big thing is playing new teams. That's what a lot of people are looking forward to. We're not playing the same Big 12 teams every year, so now it's a whole new conference, a whole different style of games, so we're just looking forward to it.
What stood out to you when you watched tapes of those Big Ten games?
RB: Teams are very physical. That's a big thing. The offensive schemes are just lining up, pounding it at you and then throw the play-action pass. The defensive lines and offensive lines, they're very big and athletic, so that has really stood out to us.
Do you think you'll have to adjust your style at all for the Big Ten? Will there be a feeling-out process between you guys and your opponents?
RB: Yeah, I think we're going to have to feel it out and see what we're dealing with. But the coaches have confidence in our scheme and whatever they feel like they're comfortable with, we're going to go with it 100 percent.
I know you didn't end last season the way you wanted to. What has been the mood around the team as you go through your winter program?
RB: We've had a really good winter so far. The guys, we came back and started even a week early. The guys have been really motivated. Especially after that loss, you get a bad taste in your mouth, so the guys have been really determined. We're working hard out and coach [James] Dobson, our strength coach, he's getting us prepared.
You're from Texas and so are some of your teammates. One big question a lot of people are asking is: Will Nebraska still have a presence in Texas for recruiting? Will that be a bigger challenge now that you're in the Big Ten?
RB: Yeah, I think it will be a little bit more of a challenge. I wanted to play in the Big 12 because there were games close to home, but at the same time, Nebraska's such a tremendous program that people are still going to want to come here from all over the country. We have a few guys that have connections down in Texas on our coaching staff, so I'm sure we'll be getting guys out of there every year.
The guys in this recruiting class from Texas, did they express any concerns about their families not being able to go to as many games or anything like that?
RB: Honestly, I haven't heard any of that. I think they're in the same boat as we are and just looking forward to playing the new teams. I'm sure they're a little upset, but at the same time, it's college football, so you've got to love it.
What are your goals individually going forward? You played a big role last year and you guys lose Roy [Helu Jr.]. Where do you see yourself fitting in?
RB: I want to especially lift up the leadership role. That's a big thing. The coaching staff kind of put that on my shoulders this offseason as well. That's my biggest goal, to step up and say things when things need to be said and hold other guys accountable and make sure they're holding me accountable as well.
No matter what happens with the offense, do you expect to be a team with a lot of guys carrying the ball, or could you be more of a featured back going forward?
RB: In college football now, you've got to have multiple backs. That's just how it is. It's a long season, especially how we run the ball. So you're going to have to have multiple backs. In the NFL, you see that every team has multiple backs. The system's kind of changed now, and I think it helps change up the pace of the game.
A lot of people are excited about the running back recruits you signed. What have you learned about those guys?
RB: I texted with Aaron [Green] throughout the process, just telling him what was going on here. Because his brother [Andrew] was on our team, I got to know him quite a bit and he's a great kid, great-looking kid. Saw his highlights, saw him play in the Army All-American Bowl. I love that he's coming here and I look forward to playing with him and getting to know how we works.
What are your thoughts on the schedule for 2011?
RB: It's going to be exciting. Some of the stadiums we're playing at are incredible, with a lot of tradition. We're just looking forward to it. There's going to be some great games, especially some home games that we have. Ohio State we have at home, so it should be fun.
What should Big Ten fans expect from Nebraska fans when you start playing in the league?
RB: Oh, man. They're great, they travel well, you can expect them to come to the away games. They're really nice and humble, that's the main thing. They love their Nebraska football, that's what it is here in the state. So they're fired up.