Everyone in Nebraska knows Rex Burkhead’s name. Not only for how he brought Jack Hoffman’s fight against pediatric brain cancer into the spotlight, but for something else Husker fans are quick to underscore – his heart and determination on the football field.
Burkhead wasn’t the fastest running back, but what he did better than anyone else wearing an “N” on their helmet was lead. The entire team believed in him, coaches and players alike. When Nebraska needed a yard, he’d get two. When the run was stymied, he caught passes. In 2011, he tallied 1,357 and 15 touchdowns in workman-like fashion with an “aw, shucks” attitude that made everyone associated with the program smile proudly.
Five years later, the Cornhuskers have another like him in their midst.
Senior wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp is at the top of wide receivers coach Keith Williams’ totem pole. His leadership goes beyond his legacy, though. He’s not just the guy who makes behind-the-back catches and wins games by snagging Hail Mary passes. Like Burkhead, Westerkamp doesn’t show off or take all of the credit. He knows his role.
“I’m a wide receiver,” Westerkamp said in an interview with ESPN’s Mitch Sherman. “It’s kind of what I’m expected to do. I’m supposed to catch the ball.”
It’s a good thing that other Husker wideouts recognize his talent and look up to him. Two other seniors and likely starters this upcoming fall, Alonzo Moore and Brandon Reilly, will be departing after this season. The Big Red will need to reload and quickly.
It’s time for the young guns to take the baton from Westerkamp much like Ameer Abdullah did from Burkhead in 2012. The running back from Plano, Texas, was kept from playing because of injury while Abdullah began what would be a storied career, but Burkhead’s leadership never waned even from the sideline.
Westerkamp has an opportunity to achieve something that no other Nebraska player has ever done in 2016. He could become the very first Husker to record 1,000 receiving yards in a season. He’s slowly been building towards that number during his Big Red journey, falling just 82 yards short last year.
That would be an excellent way to cap his career, but the bigger picture matters most for the Cornhuskers. After 2015’s 6-7 record, it has to be and nobody’s more aware of it than Nebraska’s second team All-Big Ten wideout. The key for the Big Red will be consistency and that’s what Westerkamp brings to the field whether it’s for a practice or when it counts in the win-loss column.
He is the model athlete that the Huskers must rally around.Know your role, expect the best from yourself and sure enough, it will come from those around you. This mentality is what the senior brings in a year that presents a tremendous opportunity for head coach Mike Riley to hit the reset button on a large chunk of Nebraska fans’ perceptions of him.
The Huskers will find themselves in precarious circumstances as they did last year, but whether or not they can take a page out of Westy’s book and stay calm when heartbeats quicken will determine if they’re on the winning side of history this time around.
Truly, it’s no coincidence that the leader of the Cornhuskers wears No. 1.