Notebook: Burkhead headlines potent returning Nebraska offense

BY SETH ROBERTS | APRIL 11, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Nebraska football team introduced itself to the Big Ten in a big way last season.

The Cornhuskers went 9-4, including a 5-3 mark in league play. Three of the four losses came on the road — at Wisconsin and Michigan, arguably two of the most hostile stadiums in the country, and in Florida for the Capital One Bowl against de facto home team South Carolina. The fourth came by 3 points to Northwestern.

It's a new season, of course; several defensive standouts are gone, and former defensive coordinator Carl Pelini left to take over Florida Atlantic. Many of the Blackshirts who are back are going easy in spring practice or not going at all because of injuries.

But most of the offense that put up 307 points in its wins and 379 total — the fourth-most in the conference — is back. Quarterback Taylor Martinez will be a junior. Leading wide receiver Kenny Bell will be a sophomore.

Perhaps most importantly, running back Rex Burkhead — the player Iowa fans will remember for shredding the Hawkeyes for 160 yards on 38 carries in the first edition of the Heroes Game — will be a senior.

"He's set up to do some great things," head coach Bo Pelini said in a Legends Division teleconference on Tuesday.

Pelini said he has kept Burkhead's workload light to keep him fresh for the season, a decision necessitated by the then-junior's 283 carries in 13 games last year. He rushed more often than anyone in the conference besides Wisconsin's Montee Ball (307).

Burkhead was just as active in the Nebraska community, and will be honored at Nebraska's spring game on Saturday with the 2012 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award.

Minnesota moves forward after loss

The Minnesota football program was shaken late last week when linebacker Gary Tinsley was found dead in his apartment. The Gophers canceled practice on April 7.

"That was very much needed," quarterback MarQueis Gray said in the Tuesday teleconference. "We wouldn't have been able to go full speed in practice."

But head coach Jerry Kill and Company returned to TCF Bank Stadium for a workout on Tuesday afternoon. The second-year coach said he wasn't sure how his team would react to being on the field for the first time since losing one of its own.

"Gary was a very popular young man, so it's difficult — but today, we'll find out," Kill said in the teleconference. "… Hopefully, we'll carry Gary's name proudly."

Tinsley was 22.

Iowa gets oral from 2013 wideout

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz received an oral commitment from 2013 wide receiver Derrick Willies on Tuesday, according to HawkeyeReport.com.

Willies is a Rivals.com three-star prospect who played at Burlington (Iowa) High this past season and caught 57 passes for 7 touchdowns and 934 yards for a Grayhound team that went 2-7, according to MaxPreps.com. He accounted for 27 percent of Burlington's total points.

He transferred to Rock Island (Ill.) High in January.

Willies is listed as 6-3 and 190 pounds, and Rivals says he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds. He had offers from Iowa, Iowa State, and several schools in Illinois.

His offer from Ferentz came in late last week.

"I knew [Iowa] was the right place for me, and I didn't think I needed to wait any longer — there was no reason to," he said in a video posted on HawkeyeReport.com. "… My goal is to start as a freshman, so we'll see how that works out, I guess."

Willies is the second 2013 recruit to commit to Iowa. Defensive end David Kenney committed on April 4; he's a four-star recruit from Indianapolis, according to Rivals. Kenney also had offers from Cincinnati, Indiana, Iowa State, and Louisville, among others.

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