CHICAGO -- Ameer Abdullah recounted a story of how he returned home to Alabama this summer, stunned to learn that a friend since childhood had flunked out of college, addicted to drugs, and another had been sentenced to 25 years in prison.
The top returning rusher in college football, Abdullah said he questioned how his friends could meet such fates.
“If it could happen to them,” he said, “it could happen to any student-athlete in this room today.”
On Tuesday, at the conclusion of the Big Ten media days, the senior running back from Nebraska addressed his peers and an audience of several hundred as the student-athlete speaker at the league’s 43rd annual Kickoff Luncheon.
“Nothing is guaranteed, but if we continue to strive to educate ourselves athletically, academically and personally, then maybe, just maybe, one day we can reach our full potential,” he said.
Abdullah turned down an opportunity to leave for the NFL after he rushed for 1,690 yards last season. In his 10-minute speech, he talked of the importance of an education, the value of personal sacrifice and the essence of the student-athlete.
He said he learned a great deal from his beginnings at Nebraska in 2011.
Abdullah started school in Lincoln as one of three true freshmen at his position. In his first opportunity to carry the football in practice before that season, he took a toss and saw open field ahead.
He said he thought it was his moment to shine until he was “completely destroyed" by star linebacker Lavonte David.
“As I sat there, humiliated and embarrassed,” Abdullah said, “in that moment I learned a very valuable lesson: that in life, there’s always going to be somebody stronger than you; there’s always going to be someone faster than you; and oftentimes there’s going to be somebody smarter than you.
“But you cannot let that deter you from your goals.”
Abdullah played sparingly as a freshman but has since developed into a team leader and has accumulated nearly 3,000 yards in his career. He enters this fall with the chance to leave Nebraska as its first three-time 1,000-yard rusher.
The other two running backs in his freshman class transferred.
Abdullah has pushed forward, clearing new hurdles regularly. On Tuesday, he conquered a fear of speaking in front of a large crowd and earned a standing ovation at the end of his speech.
Early in his message, he described himself as a true “Big Ten guy.” His freshman year at Nebraska marked the school’s first year in the league.
“I’m proud to be able to say the Big Ten is the only conference I’ve ever known,” Abdullah said. “And for the universities of Rutgers and Maryland, who are entering the Big Ten this year, you, too, will soon realize that the academic and athletic prestige of the Big Ten is second to none.”