USC was always known as Tailback U, but the Nebraska Cornhuskers has had a slew of great Running Backs over the years as well.
From my years of watching football, Bob Devaney was the first coach at Nebraska. Devaney was the head coach for the Huskers during the 1971 season when they had one of the best college teams of all time. Devaney was replaced by his Offensive Coordinator, Tom Osborne, who coached the Cornhuskers to a remarkable 255-49-3 record and many of these great I-Backs played for him.
I’ve always liked the Cornhusker because they played power football and this is my opinion of their top all time I-Backs or Tailbacks or Running Backs.
1. Mike Rozier: The Cornhuskers have had some really great teams over the years with the best being in 1971, 1983 and 1994/1995. The 1983 team was awesome, but they were surprised in the Orange Bowl by the Miami Hurricanes. Rozier grew up in Camden, New Jersey and did not have the grades to get into Division 1 football as a freshman. He went to a Junior College for a season and
then transferred to the Huskers. As a sophomore, Rozier ran for 943 yards and turned it up as a junior with 1,689 yards and 15 Touchdowns to make Consensus All American. His senior season saw the Cornhuskers ranked #1 throughout the season and he ran for 2,148 yards and 29 Touchdowns. Rozier easily won the Heisman in 1983. He spurned the NFL for the then United States Football League where he played for 2 seasons. Rozier returned to the NFL and had a couple of great seasons with the Houston Oilers. Not only was Rozier Nebraska’s best Tailback, he was also one of the top college backs of all time.
2. Lawrence Phillips: Just as I already compared the Huskers to the Trojans, Phillips would be Nebraska’s OJ Simpson. Great talent, although not on the level of Simpson, Phillips was still a great one on the field. Off the field, he was not quite so great. Like Rozier, Phillips played on another great Husker team, or two of them. Phillips was incredible as a sophomore in 1994 and ran for 1,818 yards in 1994 in helping Nebraska win the national title. But, Phillips couldn’t stay out of trouble. I really had a hard time deciding between Rozier and Phillips on talent alone. As a junior, Phillips ran for only 712 yards, but he was suspended part of the season due to off field issues such as dragging his ex-girlfriend down the stairs by her hair. It was a super unfortunate incident considering the 1995 Huskers may have been the top college team of all team absolutely crushing Florida in the national championship game. Phillips left Nebraska early to enter the NFL Draft and was drafted with the 6th pick of the first round by the Rams. For such a high pick, Phillips was mostly a bust in the NFL and again could not stay out of trouble. Currently, he is a resident of Kern Valley State Prison in California.
3. Ahman Green: The Omaha, Nebraska product was a sprinter in high school and was a good sized back at 6-0, 220. He got a lot of playing time in 1995 with the Husker’s super team because of the suspension of Lawrence Phillips and he ran for over a 1,000 yards that season. In 1996, Green
struggled with Turf Toe but still managed 917 yards rushing. The following season, Green exploded for 1,877 yards and 22 Touchdowns. Green left Nebraska after his junior year to turn Pro and was picked by the Seattle Seahawks in the 3rd round of the Draft. In Seattle, he never could beat out Notre Dame’s Ricky Watters and was traded to the Green Bay Packers after a couple of seasons. It was in Green Bay where Green flourished and ran for most of his over 9,000 yard NFL career yards.
4. Roger Craig: Roger Craig’s high stepping running style made him one of my all time favorite Running Backs to watch. During his sophomore season at Nebraska in 1980, the Huskers had Jarvis Redwine who ran for 1,119 yards and Andra Franklin who ran for 678 yards. Craig ran for 769 yards that season, but he was the Husker Touchdown maker as he had 15 Touchdowns to Redwine’s 9 and Franklin’s 3. Craig only had one 1,000 yard season and that came in 1981. Mike Rozier had also arrived in 1981 and he had 943 yards of his own. Mike Rozier totally took over in 1982 with Craig in a back up role. Craig was a 2nd round pick by the 49ers who had a knack in those years of finding talent. Craig more than flourished in the NFL with 3 Super Bowls, over 8,000 yards rushing and over 4,000 yards receiving. Roger Craig was the first ever NFL Running Back with over a thousand yards rushing and receiving in the same season.
5. Ameer Abdullah: The most recent Nebraska Running Back success and not a player for any of the earlier Nebraska I-back coaches. The product of Homewood, Alabama left the state because the locals wanted him on defense. Abdullah played sparingly as a true freshman and then started as a
sophomore after starting Running Back, Rex Burkhead was injured. Abdullah ran for 1,137 yards as a sophomore. Burkhead was a senior, so Abdullah was the starter as a junior when he ran for 1,690 yards. He elected to return to Nebraska for his senior season and ran for 1,523 yards. Abdullah had a very impressive career at Nebraska rushing for 4,588 yards and 39 Touchdowns. He also caught 73 passes for an additional 690 yards and 7 Touchdowns. The 5-9, 205 Abdullah was the youngest of 9 kids and was drafted in the 2nd round by the Detroit Lions in the last NFL Draft.
6. Jeff Kinney: As stated above, the Huskers have had 3 teams that many consider the best of all time. Kinney was the I-Back on the spectacular 1971 National Champion Husker team. Quarterback Jerry Tagge, Johnny Rodgers and Jeff Kinney formed the nucleus of a very dominating offense, while Rich Glover led an incredible defense. Kinney wasn’t the fastest of the Nebraska Tailbacks but he was big, strong, tough and he ran hard. Kinney did not have the outstanding numbers, either, but did run for 2,420 yards in his career with 1,136 coming in his senior season of 1971. Kinney just punished defenses with his running style and was 6-2, 215. He was drafted in the first round by the Kansas City Chiefs but failed to make much of an impact at that level. If you haven’t ever seen the 1971 game between Nebraska and rival Oklahoma and you are a college football fan, you owe it to yourself to check it out. The Game of the Century term is way over used and there has been many so called Real game of the century
games matching that title. I wrote about the 1971 game here:
7. Jarvis Redwine: Redwine was a speedy back that started his career at Oregon State. He was little used by the Beavers and he transferred to Nebraska and sat out the customary one year before exploding onto the scene in Lincoln, Nebraska. In 1979, Redwine ran for 1,100 yards and then in 1980, he had 1,119. In 1979, he split time with I.M. Hipp and in 1980, the Huskers also had Roger Craig and Andra Franklin. In 1980, he also lost some playing time with a broken rib, but still managed to become the first Husker to run for 1,000 yards or more in 2 straight seasons. He was a second round pick by the Minnesota Vikings but failed to produce much in the NFL. Still, by all accounts a very nice college Running Back.
8. I.M. Hipp: The Chapin, South Carolina native joined the Huskers as a Walk-On and then proceeded to run for 3,000 career yards. I remember Hipp as a speedster with moves and a cool name. But, he was more than that as his career rushing yardage testified. Hipp had a very impressive sophomore season as he announced his presence on the national level with 1,353 rushing yards. But, that total went down every season after that. He ran for just over a 1,000 yards as a junior and then with Redwine on the scene he only ran for 585 yards. He was drafted in the 4th round by the Falcons, but only played for the Oakland Raiders for a season. But, no matter how Isiah Moses Walter Hipp’s career ended, he will always be remembered by Husker fans or their opponents as the talented Walk-On back with the cool name. I.M. Hipp sounded much better than I.M.W. Hipp.
9. Calvin Jones: Jones arrived at Nebraska just right before they went on their incredible run in the mid 1990’s. During his sophomore season of 1991, Jones ran for 900 yards while Derek Brown was the starter and gaining his own 1,313 yards. Keithen McCant was also on the field some and gained 654 yards himelf. Derek Brown was also back in 1992 and had another 1,011 yards. Jones, while splitting time with Brown, had an impressive 1,210 yards. During his senior year, Jones ran for 1,056 yards even with the super talented Lawrence Phillips on hand. This was the 1993 season right before the Huskers tore up the college football world in 1994, 1995 and a couple more seasons. They were hugely upset by the Texas Longhorns in the inaugural Big 12 season championship game in the 1996 season but bounced back with Scott Frost at Quarterback in 1997 to share a championship with Michigan. I always liked Michigan, but I felt the Huskers were the better team.
Jones was picked by the Raiders of Los Angeles or Oakland in the 3rd round but did very little in the NFL. Still, he was yet another very impressive Cornhusker I-Back.
10. Roy Helu Jr: The Danville, California native rushed for well over 3,000 career yards at Nebraska which placed him as the 4th best in Husker history while sharing a lot of carries with the talented Rex Burkhead. Helu played enough as a freshman to run for over 200 yards and then went over 800 as a sophomore. Helu went over a thousand yards his last 2 seasons with 1,147 yards and 1,245 yards. After his last season, he was drafted by the Redskins in the 4th round and he has done fairly well in the NFL so far.
Rex Burkhead: Tough hard nosed runner from Plano, Texas.
Ken Clark: Could have easily been on the list.
Rick Berns: Wichita Falls talent from years ago.
Tony Davis: Fun player from the 1970’s.
Derek Brown: From the years of Calvin Jones. Another talent.
Cory Ross: Played in struggling Husker seasons.
Correll Buckhalter: Tough runner from the last days of legendary coach Tom Osborne.