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Mikale Wilbon

Nebraska running back Mikale Wilbon hauls in a pass as he warms up for football practice at the Hawks Championship Center in March.

Lee Enterprises file photo

Never mind that Mikale Wilbon’s first official session with some members of the Nebraska media corps was brief.

The Husker redshirt freshman running back didn’t need much time, anyway, to make his message clear.

He’s learning, he’s gaining confidence, and he’s eager.

How Wilbon figures into a new Nebraska football coaching staff’s plans come fall isn’t yet known.

But the 5-foot-8, 190-pound Wilbon, a native of Chicago and graduate of De La Salle Institute, will have opportunities to showcase his abilities Saturday, when Nebraska holds its final practice of the spring in the annual Red-White Spring Game at Memorial Stadium.

Wilbon, in following the example set by other running backs, namely veteran Imani Cross, worked an extra 15 to 20 minutes after a practice earlier this week. That was shortly before he was scheduled to meet with a tutor.

In between athletics and academics, an upbeat Wilbon explained to reporters how his biggest football growth through nearly four weeks of spring practices has been learning about defenses.

“I’m learning a lot,” Wilbon said. “Last year, I redshirted, so I really didn’t learn a lot toward defense, so now I’m really learning a lot with (running backs) Coach (Reggie) Davis.”

Picking up a blitz, for example, can be challenging for any running back, but especially for young, inexperienced running backs — those who probably weren’t always used to the responsibility in high school.

Strong pass protection, in general, is of utmost importance in first-year coach Mike Riley’s pro-style offense.

“I’m really growing in that right now, and I’m really proud of myself,” Wilbon said, noting Cross’ blocking technique is probably the best of any of the Huskers running backs, so Wilbon is taking notice.

Nebraska, of course, is replacing durable, every-down running back Ameer Abdullah, and the new coaching staff has a room full of options to help fill his void.

Cross and junior Terrell Newby are the most experienced, while Wilbon and Adam Taylor, who’s recovered from a broken ankle suffered in last season’s fall camp, are coming off redshirt seasons. Walk-on Graham Nabity, a junior from Elkhorn, also has had a strong spring.

Coaches, Wilbon said, are seeking every-down backs.

“We need to block, catch and run the ball well,” Wilbon said. “Every aspect of the game, as far as a running back, we’ve got to do it.”

Wilbon came to Lincoln after consecutive seasons in which he posted strong rushing numbers while also battling injuries. He played in only six games his senior season but rushed for more than 1,200 yards. He rushed for 863 yards as a junior — a season in which Wilbon was limited to four games because of injury.

Wilbon’s 1,600-yard rushing season as a sophomore, though, is what sparked recruiting interest, with offers from other Big Ten Conference schools Iowa, Indiana, Purdue, Penn State, Illinois and Maryland among his long list of schools.

Running the football, Wilbon said, is easy for him. So is catching the football.

“Anything with the ball in my hands, I can do it well,” he said. “That’s my biggest strength.”

And this offense, Wilbon said, will indeed involve running backs in the passing game with more frequency.

Not a problem for him.

“I did it in high school, so I’m pretty comfortable with it — swings, screens,” Wilbon said. “I’m pretty comfortable with both.”


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