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Heading for home
BY STEVEN M. SIPPLE Lincoln Journal Star
WILLIAM LAUER/Lincoln Journal Star

Jamie Burrow (48), a junior backup at middle linebacker, talks with senior starter Carlos Polk (13) during Nebraska's practice Wednesday afternoon.

NU FOOTBALL: Burrow returns to Ames with a purpose

Nebraska backup middle linebacker Jamie Burrow knows he could be starting right now had he chosen to play at a place like, say, Iowa State.

"But Nebraska is where I've wanted to come my whole life," said the junior from Ames, Iowa. "I'll just wait my turn and any repetitions I get are a blessing to me."

Burrow's an upbeat guy. His thoughts and words arrive quickly. Ask him about his big play in last Saturday's Missouri game and he really lets loose. He saw the ball on the ground, picked it up and rumbled 28 yards for a third-quarter touchdown. What a blessing, he said. He unleashed a primal scream as he reached the end zone. His teammates mobbed him.

It's all a blur, he said. A wonderful, scintillating, smile-evoking blur. A blur he'll remember the rest of his life. The kind of moment that makes a backup feel as though all the work really is worth it.

"I can't even describe the feeling - it was amazing," he said. "It was the most fun I've had playing football in my entire life."

And that's saying something. The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Burrow helped lead the Ames High Little Cyclones to three state playoff berths. As a senior, he was the star of the show, recording 160 tackles and also catching 20 passes for 450 yards and six touchdowns for the state runners-up. Of course Iowa State - Nebraska's foe Saturday in Ames - recruited him, and Burrow appreciated the Cyclones' scholarship offer, but . . .

"A couple weeks later, Nebraska offered," Burrow said. "It was a pretty easy decision at that point."

It's hard to imagine Burrow playing for anyone beside Nebraska or Iowa State. His father, Jimmy Burrow, played defensive back and returned kicks for the Huskers in the mid-1970s. He stood 5-11, weighed 170 pounds and was extremely quick.

The elder Burrow is a former assistant coach at Iowa State. He was on the sideline on Nov. 14, 1992, when the Cyclones toppled then-No. 7 Nebraska in Ames. For Jamie Burrow, the details of that stunning upset have faded. But he thinks he viewed it from the Husker sideline, because "dad didn't want me to get in any trouble on his sideline."

Jamie Burrow knows all about Iowa State's gridiron struggles. His dad coached there during some particularly lean years. That's why the triumph in 1992 stands out.

"That's the happiest I've ever seen my dad, until maybe this past weekend," the younger Burrow said. "Even though I didn't go to Iowa State, I'll still pull for Iowa State every week, except when we play them."

Burrow appeared briefly the last time Nebraska played in Ames, a 42-7 victory in 1998. He was a redshirt freshman, still learning the defense. The coaches played him, he said, because he was in his hometown and the Huskers owned a safe lead. "It was snowing, and I remember slipping all over and not making any plays," he said.

Now Burrow's expected to make plays. He played 20-some snaps in the opener against San Jose State, but he played sparingly against Notre Dame and Iowa. Before the Missouri game, Nebraska defensive coordinator Craig Bohl told Burrow his playing time would increase, and it did - he played about 19 snaps.

The coaches feel it's important to rest starter Carlos Polk on occasion since he's added special teams to his duties. The 6-foot-2, 260-pound senior, a preseason All-American, leads Nebraska with 37 tackles.

"Obviously, Jamie had a great touchdown Saturday," Bohl said. "But there were a couple other plays where he was in one-on-one situations, and he did a nice job."

Playing behind Polk, Burrow said, is "frustrating at times. I'm just waiting my turn. Any opportunity I get is a blessing."

Burrow makes it clear he has no regrets about choosing Nebraska over Iowa State. But he also clearly admires Iowa State's progress under sixth-year head coach Dan McCarney. Although the Huskers have won the past five games against the Cyclones by a combined 290-63, Burrow expects a difficult challenge Saturday.

Both teams enter with 4-0 records. The Cyclones haven't won their first four games since 1980.

"This is what they've been waiting for in Ames for a long time," Burrow said. "This is what Coach McCarney has pushed for. . . . That field is going to be electric on Saturday."

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.

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