LINCOLN, Neb. -- A leadership role can be a burden at times, but it's one Nebraska wide receiver Brandon Kinnie is willing to bear.
"It's heavy," Kinnie said, "but it's a good heavy, not a stressful heavy."
Kinnie and his fellow Huskers receivers were experiencing a different type of "good heavy" in early January as they chowed down on wings and other greasy delights at a local Buffalo Wild Wings. As a senior and the Huskers' only returning receiver who logged significant playing time last season, Kinnie knew he'd have to lead an unproven group of wideouts in 2011.
Affable and chatty off the field, he'd have to be a bigger vocal presence at all times. The process began when he invited all the receivers to dinner at BW3.
"The whole time we were eating, I was thinking, 'I want to say this, I want to say this,'" Kinnie recalled. "I want to reach out and let them know, 'Hey, there’s no difference here. We're all the same.'"
Last season, Kinnie and Niles Paul weren't the same. Both players had game experience and entered the fall as Nebraska's top two wideouts. They competed for catches and pushed each other in practice.
Although Paul led the receivers, he and Kinnie had natural separation from the others, both in age and in production. They accounted for more than half of Nebraska's receptions (83 of 163) and 47.9 percent of the team's receiving yards.
"It wasn't a knock on Niles being a leader," Kinnie said. "That’s just how it was. You live and you learn. Going through the experience I did last year made me learn some things I had to learn to be a good leader, just take things that didn’t happen and change. ... It wasn't a lack of leadership or anything. It was just things we didn’t do, and I could have helped as well."
Kinnie is doing his part to unite the receiver group these days. Although Nebraska brings back talented tight end Kyler Reed, who led the team with eight touchdown receptions in 2010, the Huskers return no receivers besides Kinnie who tallied more than one catch last fall.
Nebraska needs young, untested wideouts to step up. Kinnie needs them, too.
"I have all their [phone] numbers," Kinnie said. "We talk. We text. Whenever they’ve got questions, they ask me. So it's fun. I told them, 'There's no difference between me and you guys. I may be older, but that’s it. We play for the same coaches. We deal with Bo [Pelini] yelling. We deal with coach [Rich] Fisher yelling. We deal with advisers, we deal with teachers, all that stuff. There’s no difference between us but age.’
"I think that really grabbed hold of them. I’m not walking around like, 'Oh yeah, I’m the guy that played last year, I'm this and I'm that. I'm in the corps just like y'all.'"
Kinnie's teammates appreciate his effort to take charge and bring the group together.
"Brandon's been great," junior receiver Tim Marlowe said. "He said, 'I hope you hold me accountable as I hold you guys accountable. If you see me slacking, let me know.' So he's been a great leader. We had a good night at BW3, just talking as a group outside of football."
But there's no question about Nebraska's top option in the pass game this fall. The 6-3, 225-pound Kinnie looks to build on his numbers from 2010 (44 receptions, 494 yards, 5 TDs).
"BK had a great year last year, and he's going to have an even better one this year," running back Rex Burkhead said. "He just naturally came into that [leadership] role. I think he's one of the best receivers in the nation. He'll definitely come out and prove that this year."