Purdue is next up for the Nebraska football team. And, it’s safe to say, no Husker is more excited about the trip to West Lafayette, Ind., than sophomore defensive end Randy Gregory.
“It’s a big week for me,” Gregory said at Nebraska’s weekly news conference on Monday.
The reason doesn’t require much research. Gregory went to high school in Fishers, Ind., a suburb of Indianapolis and an hour’s drive from the Purdue campus. In addition, he committed to Purdue out of high school and would be there now had he qualified academically.
Because he didn’t qualify, Gregory went to Arizona Western Community College – at the suggestion of Purdue. The other possibility was Iowa Western. The deciding factor was available “scholarship money,” said Gregory. “And they also had a meal plan. So I went there.”
He still intended to transfer to Purdue after his first year at Arizona Western. By the end of his second season, however, he had decided Nebraska was the school for him.
He and his dad came to Lincoln on an official visit the weekend of the Michigan game last season, and “I wanted to commit on the spot but felt like I wanted to do it the right way,” Gregory said. “I talked to the staff at Purdue and told them how I felt about everything and then committed here.
“Lucky for me the (Purdue) staff got fired that same weekend. It kind of made it easier for me.”
Lucky for Nebraska, too. The 6-foot-6, 255-pound defensive end has had an immediate impact, to the degree coach Bo Pelini compared his development to that of former Husker linebacker Lavonte David, another junior college transfer who earned All-America recognition his senior season.
“Where Randy was after four games is probably ahead of where Lavonte was at that time,” Pelini said on the Monday before the Illinois game. “It didn’t happen for Lavonte right away. It took him a little bit of time. Obviously they play some different positions, but I feel really good about Randy Gregory. I think he is going to be outstanding. There’s a ton more out there for this kid.”
Gregory has started all but the opener and ranks fourth on the team with 25 tackles, including six for losses and a half-sack. He leads the team in quarterback hurries. He has forced a fumble. And he has intercepted a pass, returning it 33 yards for a touchdown.
“Really, he came in and he was ready to go,” said defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski, who was familiar with Gregory from recruiting him out of high school while an assistant at Iowa.
“Randy’s just got to get more detailed in his job,” Kaczenski said. “You just can’t rely on athletic ability all the time, and I think sometimes he kind of falls into that. We talked about his being a three-down guy, and I think he’s doing a good job of that, getting better in (stopping) the run.”
Unlike most junior college transfers, Gregory has three seasons of eligibility. He missed his second season at Arizona Western because of a broken leg, suffered in the team’s opener. Interestingly enough, that’s about the time Nebraska first contacted him.
Other major schools contacted him, too, among them UCLA, Washington and Oregon State. He also drew recruiting attention for basketball; such is his athleticism. However, “at the end of the day, I didn’t want to turn down Big Ten football for MAC-level basketball,” he said.
Gregory was among the most prominent members of Nebraska’s 2013 recruiting class. Avery Moss, a redshirt freshman defensive end, had heard the hype but was skeptical.
When Gregory made his recruiting visit, “he was only like 210 (pounds) at the highest. ‘There’s no way this kid can play D-end,’” said Moss. “But when he came back up here, he was in the 250 range. So I wanted to see what was all the hype about? I think he’s a really good player.”
Gregory originally committed to Purdue because of “the history they had at defensive end,” he said.
In particular, he was a “big Ryan Kerrigan fan,” he said. Kerrigan, who now plays for the Washington Redskins, was an All-American at Purdue and a first-round NFL draft pick.
He “always envisioned myself out there,” Gregory said. In addition, he committed there because of its proximity to home, so that “all my friends and family could see me play.”
That’ll be the case on Saturday; hence the excitement.