|I-back Dahrran Diedrick|
Lincoln -- Dahrran Diedrick envisioned great things from his senior season with the Nebraska football team.
The 6-0, 225-pound I-back from Scarborough, Ontario, planned on leading the Big 12 in rushing again. He planned on helping the Huskers battle their way back to the Big 12 Championship and national title games.
He expected what Nebraska football players have come to expect over the past 40 years ? a national championship season.
But fate has had other plans for Diedrick this season. After reeling off seven 100-yard rushing performances as a junior, Diedrick is still searching for his first 100-yard effort entering tonight?s game with Texas.
Although Diedrick has started all nine games for the Huskers, true freshman I-back David Horne has erupted for a pair of 100-yard efforts in the last two games and split much of the workload with Diedrick over the past four games.
Although Diedrick has rushed for 570 yards and four touchdowns on 123 carries in Nebraska?s first nine games, he said it is a far cry from what he expected for his Husker finale.
"Obviously this season hasn?t gone as well as I had planned," Diedrick said. "I thought I would be pushed a little more and maybe be relied on to shoulder a little bit more of the load on offense, but that did not really happen. You just have to fight through those things. Even though I am struggling right now, I just have to keeping moving ahead and pushing to get better."
Diedrick?s relentless attitude led to a bit of redemption in Nebraska?s 38-31 win at Texas A&M last Saturday. Diedrick carried 15 times for 85 yards and a score, including 78 yards in the second half. Diedrick?s leadership and never-give-up mentality came through strongest on Nebraska?s three-play, 68-yard drive to cut Texas A&M?s lead to 31-21 midway through the third quarter.
After the Aggies? Byron Jones raced 66 yards with a fumble return for a touchdown to give Texas A&M what seemed like a comfortable 31-14 lead with 7:43 left in the third quarter, Diedrick rumbled 18 yards on NU?s first play of the ensuing drive.
The Diedrick File
On the next play, Diedrick sprinted 29 yards for his longest run of the season to set up Horne?s 21-yard scoring run on the following play and spark one of the biggest comebacks in Nebraska football history.
"I think I ran the same way as I always do," Diedrick said after the game. "I had a couple of strong runs early in the game, and then in the third quarter the offensive line opened up some big holes."
Despite his strong second-half performance, Diedrick was still left searching for his first 100-yard effort of the year because of a 16-yard loss on a mishandled option pitch from quarterback Jammal Lord.
In some ways, that play has typified Diedrick?s frustrations this season. Diedrick?s dreams of individual success and a national championship have not materialized in his senior campaign, but he said learning to deal with setbacks is at the heart of what college athletics is all about.
Learning to overcome challenges and adversity began early for Diedrick at Nebraska.
"The journey from high school to Nebraska has been a long and hard-fought road," Diedrick said. "I was the top player in Canada coming out of high school, and I thought I was going to come to college and blow up and become a big star as soon as I stepped on the field.
"When you come to a great football school like Nebraska, you find out that?s not the way it works."
Rather than earning immediate playing time when he stepped on campus as the Huskers? first scholarship recruit from Canada in 1998, Diedrick battled it out with Nebraska?s top defensive units every day on the practice field while redshirting.
"You have to learn the ropes first before you know what to really expect when you get on the field," Diedrick said. "I spent time on the scout team, and I think it helped me get tougher. It really helps going against the top defense every day and getting your head knocked off every play."
Diedrick said his time on scout team made him grow as a competitor.
"I remember fighting every day with Kyle Vanden Bosch, Mike Brown, Steve Warren and Joe Walker," Diedrick said. "I would just run with a full head of steam right at them and go as hard as I could go. A lot of times, the top defensive guys would want to take a little break because they would be kind of beat up from games on Saturday. When you?re on scout team, you can?t give them any time off. It?s your job to push them every day. I know they liked it, because I made them play better and harder, and it made me better, too."
Diedrick?s fire and competitiveness grew in his second season in 1999, when he got his first taste of varsity action. Although he was playing behind future NFL running backs Dan Alexander and Correll Buckhalter, Diedrick appeared in all 12 games and managed 303 yards on 57 carries, including a career-long 46-yard burst against No. 5 Kansas State. Against the Wildcats, Diedrick rushed for 93 yards on just 14 carries, which just trailed a 99-yard effort on 16 totes in a win over Iowa State.
"Waiting behind Correll and Dan made me learn to make the most of every opportunity that I had," Diedrick said. "I didn?t get the ball much as a freshman, so I had to make the most of every carry."
Diedrick also found ways to contribute on special teams, tying for the team lead among offensive players with four tackles, including one forced fumble against Texas A&M as a member of the kickoff coverage unit.
After helping the Huskers to a 12-1 final record, a Big 12 championship and a final No. 2 national ranking, Diedrick spent more time waiting in the wings at I-back behind Alexander and Buckhalter as a sophomore. He carried just 33 times for 212 yards, while the Huskers spent most of the season in the national title hunt until late-season setbacks at eventual national champion Oklahoma and Kansas State.
Diedrick said the patience he learned as an underclassman has continued to be a valuable lesson.
"You have to be patient. You can?t expect things to go your way all the time," Diedrick said. "Always be strong and let things work themselves out. As long as you keep working hard, things will eventually turn in your favor and you will be successful."
Diedrick?s patience and team-first attitude paid off last year, when he led the Big 12 in rushing in his first year as Nebraska?s starting I-back. He carried 233 times for 1,299 yards to rank 14th nationally with 118.9 yards per game. He also helped the Huskers to their 15th NCAA rushing title, teaming with Heisman Trophy quarterback Eric Crouch to help the Huskers roll for 314.7 yards per game.
Despite his success, Diedrick said he had plans for even bigger things in his junior season.
"Last season I thought I had a good season, but not as good as I planned," Diedrick said. "I always want to do better than I do. I led the Big 12 in rushing, and we went to the national championship game, but we were just one step away from winning the title."
With a solid year of starting experience under his belt, Diedrick expected even bigger things from himself this season. Another Big 12 rushing title and a chance to become just the sixth 3,000-yard career rusher in Nebraska history were both well within reach.
Although both goals have become unlikely, Diedrick has continued to give maximum effort each day in practice.
Nebraska running backs coach Dave Gillespie said Diedrick?s constant desire to improve is an example of the kind of attitude he brings to the field every day.
"He is just a great team player who loves to play the game," Gillespie said. "He plays and practices with great enthusiasm and energy. I think the example he sets for our younger backs with his work ethic is helping all of them improve."
Gillespie said Diedrick?s resolve and character is apparent every day in practice.
"Last year he was the leading rusher in the Big 12, and he has done a lot of excellent things for us throughout his career. This year has been a tough year for Dahrran, and things have not gone exactly how he would have liked out there on the field," Gillespie said. "To his credit, he just keeps hammering away at it with a great attitude. He is a consummate team player."
Diedrick has continued his ascension among the short list of outstanding running backs in school history. He ranks 14th on Nebraska?s all-time rushing list with 2,384 yards and 24 touchdowns and needs just 116 more yards to become just the 10th player in school history to rush for more than 2,500 yards.
However, Diedrick said individual accomplishments and career totals are the furthest things from his mind right now.
"This season has been a little rocky, and we are not having the type of season that our team wanted," Diedrick said. "These are things that are fans aren?t used to, the players aren?t used to and the coaches aren?t used to.
"Right now we are just trying to focus all of our energy on getting back on track and getting back to our winning ways."
Gillespie said that Diedrick?s response to this season?s adversity has been a model for younger players.
"From his work ethic, I think all of our other backs follow his lead. I think the younger backs have also learned a lot from the way that he has responded to competition and adversity."
Horne said Diedrick has definitely helped him become a better player this season.
"He influences me every day in practice," Horne said. "He is always encouraging me and pointing out things that I need to do to keep getting better. He?s always pushing all of the younger backs to improve."
Diedrick?s approach to the rest of the season is simple.
"I am coming to practice and giving everything I?ve got every day to make myself and this team better," Diedrick said. "That is the only way to play this game. From now on throughout the season, I am just going to go out there every game and try to get my confidence back and have great games."