Nebraska Cornhuskers Are "Special" in 2011

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Nebraska Cornhuskers Are
Ameer Abdulla 100 yard TD return (FRANCIS GARDLER / Lincoln Journal Star)

No, I don’t mean the Nebraska Cornhuskers are more blessed than any other institution that dots the college football landscape.  Nor do I mean the Husker teams of yore are any less talented than the 2011 'Skers.

My point: the Huskers' 2011 squad boasts some of the most traditional elements of Nebraska's historically successful teams. 

P.S. More on speedster Ameer Abdulla and the 2011 Huskers in a moment...

First, Let's examine:

During one specific play in the 1994 Orange Bowl, Nebraska Cornerback Barron Miles lined up across from Miami punter Dane Prewitt.  Before the snap, NBC announcer Tom Hammond warned viewers to look out for “Nebraska’s kick-blocking specialist.”  Miles ended up missing the block by a couple finger nails, but his legacy had already been firmly cemented.

Miles finished his Nebraska career with seven kick/punt blocks and several hundred return yards.  He was one of the most prolific special teams players in Huskers history.

Placekicker Kris Brown eclipsed Miles as a special teams artist in 1998, becoming the (then) highest-scoring player in Huskers history.  He amassed 388 career points.  He was later drafted to the Pittsburgh Steelers where he would become the team’s leading (season) scorer in his rookie season.

Placekicker Josh Brown came close to Kris’ mark in 2000, becoming, then, third on the Huskers' scoring list with 315 career points.  He would go on to become one of the most prolific kickers in the NFL.  In 2006, the Seattle Seahawk ball-striker set an NFL record by kicking four game-winning field goals in a single season.

Punt return specialist DeJuan Groce became a household name in 2002 by running for the most kick/punt return yards since Nebraska Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers.  Groce had five career punt returns for touchdowns and became the 2002 First-Team All-American Return Specialist.

Finally, in 2010, placekicker/punter Alex Henery became the highest-scoring Husker in Nebraska history by amassing 397 points with his magic foot. 

Even prior to that, Henery indelibly embossed his name on Husker lore in 2008 by walloping a 57-yard field goal to beat Colorado with time running out.  He would go on to become the most accurate kicker in NCAA history.

But, let’s revisit the present.

Husker Nation thought the kicking game was over with the graduation of Henery last spring. Enter Henery’s placekick holder:  Kearney, Nebraska native Brett Maher.

His name is pronounced just like the comedian of the same last name, but there’s nothing funny about his talent.  He’s a serious player with an even more serious leg.  Maher’s a junior who’s kicked in only two games but is already raising eyebrows and setting records.

In Nebraska’s first game of 2011 against Tennessee-Chattanooga, Maher was named Big Ten Special Teams Co-Player of the Week by drilling a perfect four field goals and four extra points.  More impressively, he hit from 50 and 48 yards in his first start as a Huskers kicker. 

Like Henery, he also excels in punting, averaging 52 yards per punt so far this year.

However, Nebraska’s special teams prowess does not stop with Maher.

Freshman Husker running back and return specialist Ameer Abdulla may be the fastest player on the team's roster, not to mention the most explosive. 

Saturday, Abdulla made a nifty shake-n’-bake move before switching on the afterburners and torching the FSU Bulldogs for a 100-yard kick return that put the Huskers up for good.  In a prior kick return during the same game, he was a fingernail tackle away from breaking another touchdown.  In all, he galloped over the FSU kick coverage team for 211 yards - a Nebraska single game record.  Add another 21, and you'll have his all-purpose yards total.

For his efforts, Abdulla was named the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week and National Returner of the Week.

Abdulla's breakaway speed rivals, possibly surpasses, that of Huskers legend DeJuan Groce.

In short, Nebraska excels when its special teams excel. 

During Nebraska’s only losing season since 1961, Nebraska’s interchangeable placekickers were plagued by students holding shoes in the air as a sign of hope/disappointment.

This won’t be one of those years. 

Nebraska’s special teams look good and the Huskers will benefit from them.

This year Nebraska will be “special.”

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