Last season, the Nebraska Cornhuskers found a nice surprise in their running game. Freshman Imani Cross proved to be an excellent power back in the Huskers running game with a burly frame and downhill running style that got him a nice little role in the Nebraska offense. Not satisfied to be a situational back, however, Cross spent this offseason slimming down to turn himself into an every down kind of back.
Last season, Little played at 235 pounds with a wide frame that lent itself well to his short-yardage role. He ran the ball 55 times in 2012, gaining 324 yards and scoring seven touchdowns. Over the winter, Cross stuck to a strict diet and workout routine that allowed him to enter spring practice 14 pounds lighter and ready to take a run at the starting job vacated by Rex Burkhead.
His coaches have taken notice. Head coach Bo Pelini told ESPN:
“He’s looking good… I think he has a chance to really be a good football player for us and do some things. Not be just a short-yardage guy, but a guy who can carry the ball and help us in a lot of different areas and a lot of different situations.”
And his running backs coach, Ron Brown, expected nothing less from the hard-working sophomore and isn’t worried about the weight loss affecting his strength:
“Imani is one of the most proactive guys you’ll ever be around. He is constantly, constantly working for development… My concern about anybody who drops that much weight is, ‘Did he get really weak? Does he have the stamina to see it through a practice and game?’ So far, so good. He looks really good right now.
“He’s repping 500 pounds in squats. He reps them, he doesn’t just max it.”
Cross is hoping that his lighter frame will allow him to change direction more fluidly and get in and out of his cuts with a little extra burst. He still has the leg strength and solid frame to punish would-be tacklers at the point of attack, but has added enough wiggle to also make guys miss.
His biggest roadblock to taking over the every down responsibilities is the return of junior Ameer Abdullah. Coaches feel confident in what they’re getting in Abdullah and will be quick to trust him after he ran for 1,137 yards on 226 carries in relief of the injured Burkhead. Nebraska will also welcome a pair of heralded freshman to Lincoln this summer in Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor who will challenge for playing time.
But this spring, it is Imani Cross and a huge opportunity to show what he can do. While he’s happy to contribute in any way possible, even just as a short-yardage back, Cross wants to be the man in the Nebraska backfield. With a great spring, he can start to make that happen.