ERIC OLSON, AP College Football Writer
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Ameer Abdullah is in position to become the first Nebraska player to record three 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Not that it’s a primary goal for him.
“Probably like 49th on my list,” Abdullah said Monday. “Win is like one through 38. And then you’ve got championship 39 through 47.”
Abdullah forgot to mention No. 48. Undoubtedly it would have been something team oriented.
His 1,690 yards last season were the most by a Nebraska player since Ahman Green went for 1,877 in 1997, and he strongly considered entering the NFL draft as an underclassman.
But he came back for one more season — not to set records but to win, and win big. The Huskers have reached the Big Ten championship game once in his three years, and that turned out to be an ugly loss to Wisconsin in 2012.
Abdullah said he’s willing to do anything to help the Huskers make it back to Indianapolis in December, even if it means playing on the punt-block unit.
“I consider myself one of the better players on this team, so I want the best players out there the whole time,” he said. “Just because you play offense and play a pivotal role doesn’t mean you can’t contribute on special teams. You want the best 11 out there in every phase.”
Coach Bo Pelini said Abdullah has auditioned for a number of roles on special teams, and nothing has been ruled out.
Pelini, whose 22nd-ranked Huskers open against Florida Atlantic on Saturday, said the 5-foot-9, 195-pound Abdullah’s drive to win has been palpable since the spring.
“He’s stronger, he’s a little bigger, just probably more explosive than he was,” Pelini said. “We haven’t overused him in camp. I think he’s in a great mental state, and I think we need to play well around him to enable him to do what he does.”
Abdullah’s 281 rushing attempts last season were second most in the Big Ten to Jeremy Langford’s 292 for Michigan State and second most by a Nebraska player since 1994. Rex Burkhead had 284 carries in 2011.
“I know I might have a heavy workload this year,” Abdullah said. “The only way to lighten the load is to take it the distance every time.”
Abdullah said he’s tweaked his training regimen to condition himself for breakaway runs. He had 17 runs of 20 yards or longer last season, and he wants more this year.
When he gets tagged in practice, he’ll often continue running, he said, “to get in that mindset of taking it the distance every time.”
Green, the No. 2 career rusher at Nebraska and all-time leader for the Green Bay Packers, was the kind of breakaway threat Abdullah wants to be. The two met for the first time at the spring game, and Green keeps in touch to share observations about Abdullah’s game and about the intricacies of playing running back.
If Abdullah rushes for 1,000 yards, he’ll pass Green on the school’s career chart. Abdullah would need 1,804 yards to break Mike Rozier’s record of 4,780.
While Abdullah makes it a point to downplay his statistics, he said it’s an honor to have his name alongside some of the other great backs who have come through Lincoln.
“You walk through the hallways every day. We see Mike Rozier, Johnny Rodgers, even though he played more receiver, and we see the Ahman Greens,” Abdullah said. “We understand the legacy here is really strong at the running back position. You want to hold yourself to that level.”
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