In 2010 when Roy Helu, Jr. needed a rest, he was there. When Nebraska needed five yards for a manageable second or third down situation, he was there. When the Cornhuskers’ quarterbacks couldn’t muster a productive performance, he was there. This is the saga of Rex Burkhead and the tale is only half-written.
The junior running back from Plano, Texas has a versatility that allows him to put the Nebraska offense on his back and plow forward. Burkhead contributed well as a true freshman, but truly burst onto the scene as a sophomore. In 2010, he rushed for 951 yards and seven touchdowns, caught 15 passes for 142 yards and even threw a trio of touchdown passes. What will he do for an encore?
Injury has only slowed Burkhead, but never stopped him. After breaking his foot in an October 2009 practice, he returned just five weeks later against Kansas State. While he didn’t set the world on fire against the Wildcats, he rebounded with 100 yards on 18 carries (5.6 YPC) against Colorado. His remarkable recovery lends even more credence to his nickname of “Superman.”
After the 2010 season ended, the idea that he may be the heart and soul of the 2011 offense sprung up. Given the unstable nature of the quarterback position, the notion has been solidified. Bo Pelini has made mention of Burkhead’s ability to rally the troops before.
Following last year’s visit to Ames which resulted in an attempt at amateur chiropractic adjustment by Iowa State linebacker A.J. Klein, Pelini said of Rex, “He is an exceptional young man in every regard and I think the other players, they recognize that,” according to the Omaha World-Herald. Pelini continued, “You ask guys about who they respect on the team and I think, to a man, everyone will mention Rex Burkhead.”
You don’t see many quotes from the soft-spoken back, but when he does speak, his humility shines through. He praises the big bodies up front that get him lanes to run through and lauds other backs. He also isn’t shy about helping his teammates better understand their assignments. Essentially a coach in pads, he’ll be mentoring a handful of young athletically-gifted teammates at his position this summer and fall.
There is more pressure than ever on No. 22 as Nebraska joins the Big Ten conference, but the Cornhuskers couldn’t ask for a better back. Burkhead will no doubt be the go-to guy when it comes to leadership on offense, but as the season wears on, the team as a whole will look to him for strength. There’s no question that he can shoulder the burden. He’s Superman, there’s not much that he can’t do.