Big Red Redemption

Huskers battle back against Oklahoma The stands are close to the sideline at Oklahoma State’s Boone Pickens Stadium. So there was no ignoring the remarks of fans, whose purpose definitely was not to encourage visiting players. Niles Paul took the abuse in stride. He told them: “God bless.” “It just fuels me,” the Nebraska wide receiver says. If so, Oklahoma State fans might have contributed to their team’s 51-41 loss against Nebraska. Paul, fueled by whatever was said, did his part, returning a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown and catching nine passes for 131 yards. Six of the receptions picked up first downs. “I always have a lot of confidence in Niles. He’s a great player and a great receiver. He hardly ever drops the ball, with the exception of last week when we all played bad, including myself,” quarterback Taylor Martinez says, referring to a 20-13 loss against Texas the previous week. Ah, yes, the Texas game. Martinez was replaced by Zac Lee in the third quarter, and Paul was among three Huskers who dropped would-be touchdown passes against a Longhorns team that lost to Iowa State, at home no less, while Nebraska was out-scoring Oklahoma State. Texas has now lost three of its last four games. Martinez came back strong, rushing for 112 yards and completing 23-of-35 passes for 323 yards and five touchdowns — count ’em, five — against the previously undefeated Cowboys. The redshirt freshman’s performance earned him recognition as the Football Bowl Subdivision National Offensive Player of the Week from the Walter Camp Foundation. Paul’s performance showed his resilience in the face of fan criticism so personal that he felt compelled to cancel his Facebook account — criticism from Husker fans, remember. The Texas game “was a humbling experience, a growing experience for me,” says Paul, whose response was to work harder during practice in addition to spending time afterward catching passes in awkward positions, which he would probably never encounter during a game. He did “a lot more,” on his own. “My father raised me that way,” Paul says. “If I’m put in a tough situation … just find a way out of it, just work as hard as you can.” He did that during the summer, preparing for his final season at Nebraska, using video of NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice as motivation. But he’d gotten away from such commitment. Paul had to set aside the personal remarks, “cleanse my mind,” he says. Criticism is one thing, personal remarks another. Even so, “I realized it was frustration involved with the fans, the (Texas) game. It’s affected me to a certain extent,” Paul says. “But I can forgive them for that. It’s all part of the game. It’s done.” He sees both sides of the issue because he’s also a pro football fan and has caught himself “criticizing guys in the NFL, ‘Oh, he should have caught that ball,’” he says. “(With) my experience now, I’d be a good fan. But if I never played football, I probably wouldn’t be a good fan.” Paul is a fan of his teammates, whom he was quick to credit for the 100-yard kickoff return. “We knew we would have a chance to take one back to the house. I saw the hole, and thank God for my teammates because they got blocks and opened me up,” says Paul. He singled out Tim Marlowe, in particular, for helping to clear the way. Brandon Kinnie, who also dropped a touchdown pass in the Texas game, redeemed himself by catching three against Oklahoma State, all for touchdowns, his first as a Husker. “I can’t really say I understand what he went through because I’m not from Omaha, and it happened, in-town fans giving him trouble,” Kinnie says of Paul. “But I was here for him, saying, ‘Hey, it’s going to be all right, just make the plays that you know you can and you’ll be fine.’” Paul definitely did that and now leads the team with 26 catches. The Oklahoma State victory was Nebraska’s seventh in a row on the road. Last season’s Big 12 Championship game in Arlington, Texas, was considered a neutral site, of course. “I like playing road games,” Martinez says. “I like the atmosphere and the hostility. I think our team comes together as a unit more when we play on the road.” , Just about any Husker would say the same thing. And Paul would add: “God bless.”

posted at 08:46 pm
on Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

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