One of the pleasant surprises for Nebraska's defense—an uncharacteristically average unit for most of 2011—was the emergence of junior college transfer Daimion Stafford, who burst onto the scene with a huge hit in Week 1, took the starting role at free safety in Week 2 and never looked back en route to being third on the team in total tackles for the year.
Stafford is back for his senior season, and as he prepares for his second (and last) season of D-I ball, one would think he's got an increased level of confidence in his abilities. One would be wrong.
Here's more from the Lincoln Journal-Star:
“With football, I never try to get into my comfort zone because that’s when you think you’re good and stuff like that,” Stafford was saying the other day. “And I try not to think like that.”
So, yes, the senior safety knows more than he did a year ago when his head was spinning as a rookie Husker. Yes, his coaches and teammates have praised his offseason progress. And yes, you can find voices who will say Stafford has the highest ceiling of anyone on this Nebraska defense.
But the big-hitting safety still gets butterflies when he takes the field, and he rather likes it that way.
Make no mistake: Stafford's got the skill set to be the best safety at Nebraska since at least Larry Asante (and probably well before him, too). He also ranks tops among free safeties in the Big Ten Blog's position rankings.
But more promising than even Stafford's physical talents is his approach to the game. What makes a good player great isn't just the ability to run a 4.4 40 or anything that shows up in scouting combines. That next step is an attitude of relentless self-improvement, and there Stafford stands out.
It takes an especially honest type of player to admit that "after that game, after I made that hit, that game was still fast for me," as Stafford told the Journal-Star. And that self-awareness means something even more frightening for Big Ten opponents: Daimion Stafford's going to be even better by the time the Huskers reach the meat of the Big Ten schedule.
Stafford's ceiling is, at this point, unknown. That's a good thing. For a big hitter, he's deceptively good in coverage, and Kirk Cousins' attempts to test him in the 24-3 Husker win over MSU last year resulted in three passes defended for Stafford and Cousins' single worst game of his career as a starter.
So at this point, "deceptively good" has to turn into just plain "good," and that's going to take a stone-cold mastery of the playbook and film studies. And unfortunately for opposing quarterbacks, nobody's more committed to making that mastery happen than Stafford himself.