Nebraska head coach Scott Frost knew he'd be without JD Spielman this spring as the Cornhuskers' leading wide receiver from 2019 headed home to Minnesota to focus on his mental health. What Frost didn't anticipate was getting all of two practices in before everything was called off due to what is now our new normal for the moment.
As he adjusts and tries to organize his program as best he can from Lincoln with a roster spread out across the nation, he should seriously entertain the idea that Spielman won't be back.
There are two main reasons that Nebraska needs to take this approach.
The first is fairly simple. Like any good Boy Scout, the Huskers must be prepared. In this instance, that means planning for the worst and hoping for the best. It's not meant to be a pessimistic view, but rather a realistic one.
We may have already seen steps being taken in this direction with the move of redshirt freshman Chris Hickman from a crowded tight end room to now work with new offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Matt Lubick.
Assuming Spielman doesn't return, that leaves the Huskers with Wan'Dale Robinson and Kade Warner as their most prolific returning receivers (Nos. 2 and 8 on last year's yardage list, respectively). This underscores the need for Jamie Nance and Demariyon Houston to make an immediate impact. With spring practices nixed, they miss out on crucial development time as does early enrolee Alante Brown.
Now, the Big Red not only has to hope whatever conditioning these players are able to get in carries over to the season but also that any distance teaching that results in the coming months sticks. In addition, true freshmen Marcus Fleming and Will Nixon also have the pressure dialed up to come in and produce.
There are also still some academic question marks surrounding two of the biggest signees from the most recent recruiting class in Zavier Betts and Omar Manning, two players with the potential to be starters this fall.
That's a tremendous number of what-if scenarios that Nebraska simply doesn't have full answers for at this time. What would come as absolutely no shock would be Frost and Lubick eyeballing the transfer portal for some immediate help as they did with Kanawai Noa this past year. The Huskers' lineup demands players that have some manner of current FBS experience.
Again, this goes back to Frost and his staff covering all of their bases as they look to find more cohesiveness for an offense that looks like it may have to carry the load for the Blackshirts, at least initially.
Now comes the part that is, quite frankly, bigger than football.
Spielman wasn't the only player who stepped aside to address his own well-being this offseason. Darien Chase, a redshirt freshman wide receiver departed the program to do so as well. Said Chase on his personal Twitter account, "I've lost a lot of family members and I have struggled with mental health and depression for the past 6 or 7 years and these events put me in a place I can never fall to again, and it is the best decision for me and my family for me to transfer closer to home."
In a time when so many of us now find ourselves far more isolated than we have perhaps ever been, taking time to understand and address our own mental well-being is paramount. It's a daily process that can be incredibly difficult to grapple with even on a day-to-day basis.
Spielman's issues are unknown. However, addressing whatever they might be will take time, patience and understanding. Frost was publicly supportive of the senior-to-be during the Huskers' only press conference of the spring saying, "We're keeping tabs on him and wish him the best while he's dealing with things that he has to deal with. I think there'll be a lot of dialogue down the road, but right now we just wish him the best."
The complexity of mental health is such that there is simply no true timeline for recovery. We're all unique in how we interact with the world. Spielman was the first Nebraska receiver to ever have three straight 800-yard seasons. There was the distinct possibility that he could surpass former teammate Stanley Morgan, Jr.'s single-season receiving record. Sadly, we may never get to see that.
But that's okay.
Our current situation has illuminated so much and shined a spotlight on the vulnerabilities of those in and out of the sporting world. However, perhaps an even greater appreciation of the weight players carry emotionally can be taken from this once they again take to the fields and courts.
Perhaps Spielman ultimately returns to Lincoln, has yet another 800-plus-yard season, breaks the aforementioned record and is remembered as easily one of the greatest wideouts to ever wear scarlet and cream. Maybe he finds a home elsewhere. Perhaps he takes solace in simply not playing the game anymore and developing in other ways.
Regardless, Nebraska simply has so many unknowns as part of its receiver rotation that they must move forward and give Spielman time to heal, however much that may be. Husker fans are immensely grateful for the performances No. 10 gave during his career thus far. Whether or not he returns, he will never be forgotten.