Randy York's N-Sider
It’s been 40 years since Johnny Rodgers won a Heisman Trophy, but four decades has not dulled his sense of what’s really behind an award given to a player deemed the most outstanding player in collegiate football. “The Heisman is given to an individual, but in reality, it’s a team award,” Rodgers said, “and every player, every coach, every fan and every media member knows what it takes to win it ... a great team, a great marketing campaign, incredible individual consistency and a team that cares so much about each other that everything falls into place.”
So count Johnny the Jet among those who support Nebraska’s launch of a Rex Burkhead website to promote the All-Big Ten Conference and Academic All-American running back who would be the last man on earth to promote himself.
“The best player with the best marketing campaign is going to win the 2012 Heisman Trophy,” Rodgers said. “If Nebraska can be a serious contender for a championship and end up in a BCS bowl game, then Rex is going to get the attention he deserves. If we can go 10-2 or 11-1 or something like that, people will notice. If we lose four games, he won’t win the Heisman no matter how good he is.
“I don’t think it’s far-fetched at all for Rex to win the Heisman, especially when you have the university pushing with the right kind of marketing and Bo Pelini pushing the team to reach new heights,” Rodgers said. “We all want to see Nebraska reel off four, five or six wins right off the bat. When you do that, the nation will notice, and the way I look at it, a Rex Burkhead for Heisman campaign can fit right in with the team concept that Bo believes in.”
Winning Big Ten Aligns with Winning the Heisman
“Bo’s team goal is to win the Big Ten championship and break that long drought we’ve had since 1999,” Rodgers said. “If we do that and qualify for a BCS bowl and Burkhead plays well and stays healthy, he’ll be right there in the Heisman discussion, and the bowl game won’t even count because the voting deadline is the Monday right after the conference championship games.”
Rodgers sees Burkhead as a uniquely talented leader who can put a team on his shoulders like Jeff Kinney did in the 1971 Game of the Century at Oklahoma.
“Rex Burkhead reminds me of Jeff Kinney,” Rodgers said. “Jeff wasn’t a breakaway runner, but you could run him to death, and he still wouldn’t fumble the ball. When I played, we would run Kinney until he literally couldn’t run anymore. Burkhead is pretty much that same kind of player. He’s dependable. He’s durable. And when he gets back in that Wildcat formation, that gives him the opportunity to show his versatility. Rex is a winner. He’s a leader and everyone wants to play with him and for him. That’s why a Heisman campaign makes sense. You know it would never go to his head or take his attention off the team. I applaud Nebraska for understanding that and letting the rest of the world know what every Husker already knows.”
The extra push will complement Nebraska belonging to a conference “where almost anyone can see almost every one of our games across the country every week,” Rodgers said. “The Big Ten is a big deal. There’s a lot of exposure, so we can create the Heisman as long as we create the wins. It’s a team award every bit as much as an individual award, and I see Rex getting a lot of attention for who he is and what he stands for. He’s a leader and his teammates look up to him. We all know he would never focus on an award like the Heisman, but his teammates can.”
Rodgers: Burkhead Inspires Everyone around Him
“Some of Rex’s teammates are going to have to rise up to get Rex where they want him to be,” Rodgers said. “He can’t be the only captain of the ship. He needs to be surrounded by others who play like all-conference players, even All-Americans. The more they step up, the more they can promote their leader. Rex is very quiet and very humble, but he inspires everyone around him. If they can clear the path for him to have six, seven or eight straight 100-yard games and be in the Top Ten, that’ll get you into contention, especially when some of those games are big ones on national television. I know Rex’s total focus will be on winning, and that’s all that matters.”
Johnny the Jet expects Burkhead to get 25 to 30 touches a game. “I think it’s important for us to win the first big game to get his campaign rolling because if we lose, it becomes harder to build things back up,” Rodgers said. “You want to get something big going and then keep building, building and building some more.
“Rex is the kind of guy who will just keep getting better and better as the season goes on, and his teammates have to be the same kind of players,” Rodgers said. “They have to keep performing better and better. That’s Bo’s process, and it works. The focus is on constant improvement. That has to start up front and keep going to the end. If Rex can lead the team and maximize that process, people will be talking. There will be a buzz. He’s the kind of guy who can will his teammates into doing something big.”
Rodgers would like nothing more than have a role model like Burkhead become Nebraska’s fourth Heisman Trophy winner and join The Jet, Mike Rozier and Eric Crouch in that elite category.
Heisman Would Be Appropriate 50-Year Present
“I hope Rex can win a Heisman because the more Heisman Trophies we have, the merrier,” Rodgers said. “USC, Ohio State, Notre Dame ... they’re known for their Heisman winners. Any time you get another one, you enhance your winning reputation. We’ve won more games than any other school over the last 40 years, even 50 years. So this would be an ideal time for Nebraska to have another Heisman winner.”
Rodgers can’t wait to see what Pelini and offensive coordinator Tim Beck unveil this fall. “If we can get that offense going, we have a chance to do some big things,” Rodgers said. “Rex has some great backs behind him and a third-year starter at quarterback. Taylor Martinez also has an outstanding corps of receivers and some linemen that look like they’re ready to stand up and be accountable to their teammates and their coaches. I like that focus. Burkhead doesn’t have to make all the big plays. If we can move the ball around, it will give Rex an edge. If everyone isn’t always keying on him, he can be a lot more consistent than he already is. We have to be focusing on other people doing other things, and it sounds like that’s what’s happening this year.
“I think Martinez is going to be a real surprise to everyone, and he has a lot of guys who can really catch the ball,” Rodgers said. “If our passing game opens that running game up, Burkhead is the kind of guy who can really capitalize. He’s made a lot out of the blocking he’s had and had to fight his way through a lot of problems. Now that we have some bigger and healthier guys in front of him, Rex is just the guy who can take us right into the end zone, whether it’s 1 or 2 yards, 10 or 20 yards or more. It doesn’t matter. All he needs to do is get at least 100 yards every game, score lots of touchdowns and help his team win.
“I won the Heisman because I played on a good team that transformed itself into a great team,” Rodgers said. “My guys were so good blocking, I could run in for a touchdown going backwards. It wasn’t that I was that darn good. It’s just that they were blocking that darn good. We had so many people making big plays on both sides of the ball ... Rich Glover, Joe Blahak, John Dutton, Larry Jacobson. Somebody was making a big play all the time. Jerry Tagge, Billy Olds, Jeff Kinney. Willie Harper, (John) Spider Adkins. There was some serious talent, some unbelievable drive.”
‘Everyone Has to Put What They Have in the Pot’
“We had weapons all over the field, and that’s what we have to have now,” Rodgers said. “Everybody has to be responsible for putting out whenever his number’s called and do whatever they have to do. It’s a team game. One person can’t do it all. Everyone has to put what they have in the pot. Make the big play whatever position you’re in ... that’s what’s going to carry the day. It can’t be Rex, Rex, Rex. It has to be everyone.
“Tom Osborne will remember how disappointed I was when I didn’t get the ball all that much,” Rodgers recalled. “And he reminds me that I always got the ball when we really needed it. I think Nebraska is building its offense to try and do what we did. We knew we could do whatever the other team would try to negate. We could still move the ball because we didn’t always try to run it down someone’s throat. We tried to run it where the other team was weak, just like we’re planning to do this season.
“We were all trying to read the defense before the ball was snapped. We didn’t even need to huddle,” Rodgers said. “We’d just go up to the line, read the defense and hit the weak spot every time. We knew we could get three or four yards every single time, and there was no way they could stop us. If they tried, we’d just run a down-and-out or a curl and keep them off balance.
“I wasn’t successful by myself. No one is,” Rodgers said. “Rex Burkhead isn’t going to win the Heisman by himself either. He’s going to win it because he’s on a good team that has good coaches. When we listened to our coaches, we all felt like we could become All-Americans. Everybody pitched in, first-teamers, second-teamers, scout-teamers, you name it. We had All-Americans all over the field because we had good players, good coaches and unbelievable teamwork. That was the main storyline of my Heisman success ... teamwork. We made each other All-Americans because we all had the same mindset. We all believed in each other and everybody wanted to be the best that they could be. I think that’s the same approach Bo has going right now.”
Johnny the Jet: Website about Team, Little Jack
A hard-working, blue-collar mindset always will be the standard at Nebraska, and Rex Burkhead is just the kind of leader who can bring it back in style, even if a website doesn’t really match up with his personality.
The effervescent Rodgers has the perfect answer to make Burkhead feel more comfortable about that website. “It really isn’t a personal website,” Rodgers said. “It’s a website for the entire team, for that little Jack, his little buddy, and for role models everywhere. Rex’s teammates and coaches have picked him to represent their standard of excellence, and they want to do everything possible to help him take that standard even higher. Even a humble guy like Rex has to feel good about that. It’s not about him. It’s about the team and really, when you think about it, it’s about what a Heisman Trophy can do for everyone who believes in and loves Nebraska.”Send a comment to firstname.lastname@example.org (Please include current residence)
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