Gifford thriving in new home at linebacker
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[rl]Luke Gifford has always been a team-first type of player, so when Nebraska's new coaching staff presented an opportunity to both help improve the defense and give him a better chance for playing time, he didn't hesitate to take the challenge head on.
After coming to Nebraska as a first-team All-Nebraska and Super State safety from Lincoln Southeast, Gifford spent last season in the Huskers' scout team secondary battling for future playing time in a loaded safety group. Over the offseason, new head coach Mike Riley and defensive coordinator Mark Banker approached him with the suggestion for a position change to linebacker.
Though he was undersized and inexperienced for the role, Gifford accepted and began his fresh start at linebacker in the spring. While every practice has been a learning experience for the redshirt freshman, Gifford has already made quite the impression on his new coaches.
"Luke Gifford had a great week," Banker said. "He's improved, and that's what we love about him. He wants to be a good football player, he wants to excel and help this group, and he showed that this week. Now let's see if he can put it together on Saturday."
Linebackers coach Trent Bray has been equally pleased with Gifford's progress thus far, saying the former three-star prospect who was ranked the No. 39 athlete in the country in the 2014 class has both the drive and talent to thrive as a DI linebacker. Gifford arrived on campus last fall at 6-3, 200, and since then he's added 25 pounds of muscle to his frame. Bray said Gifford's ideal playing weight would be right around 235.
"His want-to to learn what's going on has really helped him," Bray said. "I think he can become a really good player because he's very smart, he's very intelligent and he shows up in the right spots. Once that physical part comes along and he gets stronger and that stuff keeps developing, I think he could be a really good player."
During Nebraska's first major scrimmage of fall camp last Saturday, Gifford showed a glimpse of his potential at linebacker when he delivered the biggest hit of the night by leveling wide out Brady Pelzer over the middle and drawing a roar from his defensive teammates. Not that he had any doubts about his position move before that, but Gifford said that hit solidified that he had found his true home on the football field.
"I was like, 'This is what I want to do. I fit in here,'" Gifford said.
Given Nebraska's lack of proven depth at linebacker, Gifford should have an immediate role in his first taste of action this season. It's not really a matter of if he'll see the field, either, but more a matter of how much.
"Absolutely," Banker said when asked if he expected Gifford to be a part of NU's linebacker rotation. "He has to help. We don't want him to, he has to."
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