Nebraska Running back Rex Burkhead has led by example ever since he arrived in Lincoln as a freshman in 2009.
He continued being a multi-faceted player for the Cornhuskers in 2010 and it doesn’t look like this trend will stop during his first season against Big Ten defenses.
One of six freshman to see action immediately, he finished the 2009 season as the Cornhuskers’ second-leading rusher.
Burkhead was known as “Superman” during his playing days at Plano High School in Texas. While he cannot leap tall buildings in a single bound, he may be Bo Pelini’s prototype for a “Swiss Army knife” athlete. A player that can truly do it all.
Rex finished the 2010 season with 951 yards rushing (5.5 YPC) and seven touchdowns, but his output on the field didn’t stop there. Burkhead caught 15 passes for 148 yards (9.9 YPC), and when no healthy quarterbacks were available, he took over in the Wildcat formation and utilized the quarterback skills he honed at Plano High School.
Burkhead is an excellent example for young running backs when the issue of playing through pain arises.
He suffered a broken foot as a freshman, sidelining him for five games before he returned for a 100-yard rushing performance versus Colorado.
On a team where just 11 of Nebraska’s 120 scholarship players are seniors, leadership is sorely needed during this upcoming season.
This was a strong quality that head coach Bo Pelini saw in the Texas native during Burkhead's recruitment.
“Rex is a pretty special young man,” Pelini told ESPN before Nebraska’s Big 12 Championship Game versus Texas in 2009.
“You look at what he did as a high-school athlete. He’s done it for a long time when he did it in a competitive high-school area. He’s tough, hard-working and is a leader. He exemplifies everything I want to bring into this program.”
Two seasons later, Burkhead is going to be counted on to not only take new running backs Braylon Heard, Aaron Green and Ameer Abdullah under his wing, but the entire team will also likely look to No. 22 for support.
Perhaps the most admirable trait that he possesses is his humble nature. Rex has never been shy about giving others praise.
Nebraska defeated Iowa State in thrilling fashion last season due in large part to Burkhead as he rushed for 129 yards and two TDs. When discussing his personal contributions during the contest, such as the game-winning touchdown, he was quick to point out that there were a few others responsible for the score.
"It was a read play by Cody (Green), and he read it a little late, so I was just making sure I had the ball at first," Burkhead told the Lincoln Journal Star.
"I ran out on the perimeter and got a few great blocks from Brandon Kinnie, and I think it was Mike McNeill out there. They were driving their guys down the field. It helped me make a cut on the safety.”
It seems that to Rex, he's simply doing his job and the bottom line is doing what it takes to help his team win. He will share the wins and the spotlight with them. He will take blame for the losses alongside the coaches.
This is what makes Burkhead special and identifies him as not only a force at running back for the Cornhuskers' 2011 season, but also perhaps the very heart and soul of the team.
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