January 3, 2009

Holt, Castille ready to shine next season

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Menelik Holt leaned up against a wall outside of Nebraska's locker room at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium Thursday evening, trying to balance two distinctly different forms of excitement.

On one hand, Nebraska had just pulled off a come-from-behind 26-21 victory over Clemson in the Gator Bowl, capping off a 9-4 season that many are referring to as the foundation for the Huskers' return to college football prominence.

At the same time, the junior wide receiver was already looking towards next season.

With the departure of seniors Nate Swift and Todd Peterson, the role of NU's top receiver in 2009 appears to be up for grabs, and Holt is the leading candidate to fill the job.

On a night where Holt could have been basking in his team's success this season, a part of him simply could help from thinking about what he has to do to now to make sure the Huskers do even better next year.

"Not only does (the win) set the tone, it sets the bar high for next year," Holt said. "It's time for a lot of us guys who consider ourselves leaders - you know, I'm going to be a senior next year, and it's time for me to step up, and coach expects no drop off. It's time to go to work."

Holt isn't the only player who started looking towards next season only a few hours after Nebraska's Gator Bowl win. Sophomore running back Quentin Castille also said he's eager to take his game to the next level in '09, and after his career-best 125 yards on 18 carries against the Tigers, it looks as if he's already on his way there.

Because of injuries to fellow running backs Marlon Lucky (toe) and Roy Helu (knee infection), Castille was handed the bulk of the workload in the backfield. Though he had issues with fumbles earlier in the year, his near flawless performance on Thursday put many Husker fans at ease about the future of NU's running back situation between him and Helu.

In Castille's opinion, the Gator Bowl was only a glimpse of his potential when given the opportunity.

"I don't want to say that our other backs don't run physically, but I feel like I run the hardest," he said. "Not to take away anything from Marlon and Roy or even (Marcus Mendoza). They run hard, but I have it in my mindset that I can go out there and just do what I can, and that's just run. That's what the coaches told me to do (on Thursday), just run. Be me. Be Quentin.

"I just focused on just running today, and not thinking about fumbling or all that other stuff. Just like Coach (Bo Pelini) said - just run. That's what I did."

Holt's numbers on Thursday weren't nearly as impressive as Castille's, as he finished with just two receptions for 35 yards. However, he steadily emerged this season as arguably the most viable candidate to help fill Swift and Peterson's shoes next year,

Despite starting just four games, Holt ranked fourth on the team with 28 catches for 320 yards and a touchdown. He said he's tried to model his game and practice habits after Swift and Peterson the past three years, and even though they'll be gone next here, Holt said he plans to continue watch tape of the two and pick up as many of their successful habits as possible.

For players like Holt and Castille, the torch has officially been passed, and as soon as the final whistle blew on Thursday, their opportunity to shine officially began.

"I'm working to come in an make as big of an impact or bigger," Holt said. "I'm here to make plays, and I'm going to try and do just that."

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