Now well into his third fall camp at Nebraska, Devine Ozigbo admits he had thought things would be much different for him at this point.
Rather than being the Huskers’ clear-cut starting running back entering his junior season, Ozigbo once again finds himself in a crowded backfield rotation that has yet to see anyone emerge at the obvious No. 1.
While there’s certainly still plenty of opportunity for Ozigbo, sophomore Tre Bryant or junior Mikale Wilbon to separate from the pack, the Sachse, Texas, native knows there’s no better time than the present to finally make his push.
“This is my third camp, and I’m not in the spot that I want to be as of yet,” Ozigbo said. “That just gives me the motivation to push to get where I need to go.”
Ozigbo’s efforts towards winning the starting spot suffered a setback right away this spring, as a lingering back injury essentially made him a non-factor in the running back competition for the first half of spring ball.
“I couldn’t really pick up my legs, and if I tried to slam down and plant, (my back) would lock up and then I’d have to come out,” he said. “That really held me back.”
But after getting a week off over spring break to rest and recover, Ozigbo came back and put on a strong second half on into the Red-White game, where he carried seven times for 49 yards and a touchdown.
That resurgence transferred on into the summer, as Ozigbo opted to stay in Lincoln to focus on his strength and conditioning and - more importantly - stick to a strict new diet in an effort to reshape his body.
Along with emphasizing better portion control with his meals, he cut out some of the unhealthy foods he loved the most. In particular, no more of his mother’s Nigerian cooking or value meals from Whataburger.
“I definitely feel like I’m in a lot better shape,” Ozigbo said. “I’m a lot stronger, and I feel a lot quicker and a little more explosive. I just feel like physically I can do everything how I want to and how I need to, now I’ve just got to go out there and do it.”
As for improving on the field, Ozigbo said he worked just as hard on the mental aspects of the game he’d been struggling with as he did improving his 6-foot, 230-pound frame.
He said his biggest weakness the past two years has been pass protection, so he spent the summer doing daily study sessions reviewing offensive line protection calls and identifying blitz pickups.
Ozigbo said he’s made good strides in that regard, but offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said neither Ozigbo or any of the other running backs had improved to the point where they were the frontrunner at the position.
“You’d love to have one take off with the job,” Langsdorf said. “That hasn’t happened yet. You always have some concern about hits and tired, but you also want a guy that can get into that groove and that rhythm of the game. So we’d rather not have a bunch of guys playing, but they’re all worthy of playing. They’ve looked pretty good, so we’re trying to sort that out still.”
Ozigbo said he still doesn’t even know what the running back rotation might look like once the season opens on Sept. 2 against Arkansas State, as the practice depth chart has generally changed by the day this fall.
But with his performance trajectory now back on upswing, Ozigbo has every intention of making sure he’s at the forefront of the discussion from here on out.
“It’s frustrating, but it does make you work harder, because you don’t know where you’re at (in the rotation),” Ozigbo said. “You could be at the bottom, so you’ve got to push. You’ve got to have that mindset every day.”