Nebraska lineman Randy Gregory is the one that got away from the Purdue Boilermakers.
The Cornhuskers aren't complaining.
The sophomore has become a staple of the 'Huskers' young defense. In fact, Gregory has established himself in seven games as the new heart of the Blackshirts.
However, that heart could have easily been playing against Nebraska during Saturday's matchup with Purdue, a game in which the 'Huskers won in a rout, 44-7.
Gregory had originally committed and signed a letter of intent with the Boilermakers in 2011. The native of Fishers, Ind. was academically ineligible to play for Purdue right away, though. In 2012, he found himself at a junior college at Arizona Western instead.
While there, Purdue's former head coach Danny Hope hit a rough patch. During that time, other schools stepped in to recruit Gregory. Nebraska was one of those programs.
Gregory committed to the Huskers only four days after visiting Lincoln.
His decision was reinforced when Hope was fired a few short weeks later, and Purdue's current head coach Darrel Hazell never re-recruited him. After seeing Gregory in action, Hazell may be kicking himself for not doing so.
The past is the past. The important aspect is that Gregory landed at Nebraska, and by doing so, he has brought life to a young Nebraska defense.
Gregory isn't exactly a veteran, however much he plays like one.
The defensive lineman carries with him on the field a noticeable confidence that has caught the attention of many observers of Nebraska football. Moreover, his ability to make plays has turned heads since the opening week of the season.
And since then, Gregory has continued to command attention.
Nebraska's matchup with Purdue was no different than any other game for most of the players. But given Gregory's background with the Boilermakers, the stakes most assuredly were a little different for him. It was a homecoming of sorts. It was also a day to prove what Purdue was missing, and Gregory made his point.
In fact, he made it time and time again.
Purdue freshman quarterback Danny Etling got to know Gregory well. Had it not been for a penalty by Husker cornerback Josh Mitchell, Gregory would have boasted three quarterback sacks on the day. The two sacks he was able to record were still incredibly impressive, though.
One even gave Gregory and his team some points.
With 3:35 left in the third quarter, Gregory rushed towards Etling, pushing him back into the end zone. The officials ruled it a safety and two points for the Cornhuskers, which came as the result of a big-time play by a young defender yet to receive a Blackshirt.
Randy Gregory 2, Purdue 0.— John Schreier (@jschreier18) October 12, 2013
Randy Gregory checks safety off the to-do list. Remember, he doesn't have a blackshirt, but Thad Randle does. #Huskers— Grant Muessel (@GrantMuessel) October 12, 2013
Huskers head coach Bo Pelini may want to consider awarding Gregory the coveted jersey now. After all, Gregory is quickly on his way to becoming one of the best defensive linemen in the Big Ten.
How many Big Ten defensive ends are playing better than Randy Gregory right now? I can only think of a few possibilities.— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) October 12, 2013
Fans are already worried about Gregory leaving. Having not even played a full season for Nebraska yet, many have cried out for the sophomore to stick around after his junior year.
Even with that date a year-and-a-half away, it makes sense why fans are already thinking towards the future.
Gregory has proven himself to be the heart of this defense. He's a passionate player who brings out the best in those around him.
Since the first game of the season, Gregory has been chasing down quarterbacks. His success in doing so is what prompted the Nebraska coaching staff to give him his first career start against Southern Mississippi.
Gregory shined against UCLA, even when everything else on that side of the ball was falling apart around him. Against the Bruins, he had seven quarterback hurries, two tackles and a forced fumble. The rest of the game may not have been pretty, but Gregory made his presence known to the Bruins' Brett Hundley.
Despite his individual success, Gregory has remained a team player and has become a valuable leadership asset to Nebraska.
In his post-game interview courtesy of Huskers.com, Pelini was short and sweet when discussing his breakout defensive star: "He's been playing good football."
There's not much else that needs to be said. Gregory has, in fact, been playing good football. Fans can expect him to a major factor when the Cornhuskers enter the toughest part of their conference schedule.
Purdue may not have been the most difficult of matchups for Nebraska, but playing well and emerging victorious over a program that effectively dismissed him was an important one for Gregory. It seems only fitting that the Huskers' final point total match the number he wears.
For Purdue, Gregory is the one who got away. For Nebraska, he is very much the heart of the Blackshirts.