Jake Cotton helps pave a path against Georgia in the Capital One Bowl.
By Randy York
Today’s blog begins with a quick zoology lesson. The cheetah has a very different body structure than most of the big cats in the world. A long, slim, muscular animal with narrow paws and fully retractable claws, the cheetah is a dual threat in every sense of the word. Because it has paws like a dog and claws like a cat, the cheetah can adapt like a sprinter, yet run like a marathoner. Its slightly curved claws help a cheetah dig deep into the earth for a better grip and make it almost impossible for the animal to slip. In a metaphorical nutshell, a cheetah has some of same strengths as Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska’s junior running back and Big Ten Conference Co-Offensive Player of the Week. The amazing Ameer shares that honor with Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde.
This zoology lesson is brought to you by Jake Cotton, Nebraska’s junior offensive left guard who came up with an analogy Monday that might fit Abdullah’s 225-yard rushing and 240 all-purpose-yard, two-touchdown day in Saturday’s 39-19 Husker win over Illinois. Let the record show that Cotton was credited with two successful blocks on Abdullah’s 43-yard signature touchdown run early in the third quarter. After blocking one Illinois defender, he dove to take down another. It was a clean, legitimate block, giving Cotton a rare double on the same play. Somehow, Jake turned the conversation away from that anomaly back to the benefactor of his extraordinary effort.
‘If I Did What He Did, I’d Break Both of My Legs’
“Ameer went right, then left and tried to come back again,” Cotton said. “If I did what he did, I’d break both of my legs.”
“I’m not kidding,” Cotton told me.
“Then how could he make something like that happen?” I ask.
“He’s like a cheetah,” Cotton said. “He gets all gyrated up, then dials into where he has to go.”
Whether you see it live or on film, Nebraska coaches and Husker players have come to grips with Abdullah’s unique ability to jump out of his own skin and land somewhere else.
“When you watch him sometimes, you would think he had a tail or something. I’m telling you, he’s like a cheetah,” Cotton said. “I don’t know how he stays in balance. No one can explain it.”
Cheetah Spent Time in Weight Room and Film Room
A lot of Abdullah’s skills “are natural,” Cotton said, “but he also worked himself into what he is. He spends a lot of time in the weight room, and he spends a lot of time watching film. He has the natural instincts, but he has also separated himself with all the hard work he puts in every day.”
Cotton never will forget the first day he saw Abdullah. “Ameer was short and had dreads,” Cotton recalled. “I remember thinking ‘OK’ … then the first time I saw him in a scrimmage, I said ‘yea, that’s the real deal there.’ He’s tough, and he’s resilient. That’s Ameer, man. He can do things some of us can’t even imagine.”
In some way, the same can be said for Jake Cotton, who deflected the truth of his double block, telling me he couldn’t remember it. Fortunately, after lunch, I caught up with Barney Cotton, the father of three Husker players – Ben, Jake and Sam, a third-team tight end who, incidentally, had one of Nebraska’s most inspirational plays Saturday when he caught a pass and carried multiple Illinois defenders with him on the last half of a 17-yard reception. Barney smiled when asked to set the record straight. Yes, Jake had two blocks on Ameer’s signature run. Film never lies. It’s the ultimate source of proof.
Are Ben, Jake and Sam as Tough as Their Old Man?
Two additional questions are too awkward to ask, so we don’t bother Barney with something he would never answer. Are Ben, Jake and Sam chips off the old block? Are they tough because their dad was tough? John Garrison is the right source here because the former Husker player and Nebraska assistant works collaboratively with Barney in coaching the offensive line. During the off-season, Garrison stumbled onto some old film from the 1978 Orange Bowl. He told Jake it was amazing to watch how well his dad blocked 35 years ago, so Jake is definitely aware of what his dad has contributed to his alma mater. Truth be told, though, that information has come mostly through what others have told him, not his dad The Cottons give their football hearts and souls to the Huskers, but what they do is reward enough.Basically, Barney’s three sons believe what their dad believes – that he is a hard-working, humble product of the environment and culture that enabled him to become a Husker. Ditto for Ben, Jake and Sam.
One well respected sportswriter asked Cotton Monday if he was Ricky Henry with a Roman Numeral II. “I had the great opportunity to play Scout Team defense against Ricky,” Jake said of Henry, who is drawing a full NFL paycheck while on injured reserve with the Kansas City Chiefs. “It was an unbelievable benefit for me to have a first-hand 16-week experience going head-to-head against Ricky. When you’re on defense and go against guys like (Mike) Caputo and Ricky every day, you can’t help but get tougher yourself.”
A similar experience helped his dad go from defensive starter to offensive starter when he was a Husker. “When the coaches asked me if I wanted to play Scout Team defense, I was on board with it immediately,” Jake said. “I knew it would help make me tougher and better.” Transitioning back to offense worked like it all was meant to be. Now Jake Cotton is part of the pipeline creating holes for Abdullah, Imani Cross and Terrell Newby. “They’re all good, and they’re all different,” Jake said, admitting afterwards that the talent stretches across the board, but only includes one cheetah – the Amazing Ameer Abdullah. The Triple-A I-back is looking forward to playing against Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., instead of backwards into Lincoln’s wayward wind. “We made a lot of progress,” Jake said, “but we still left a lot of plays and a lot of points out there on the field. It’s fun blocking for all three of those I-backs, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
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