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NU’s Bland wastes no time making a big impression
For the Star-Herald
LINCOLN — Make no mistake why Philip Bland is in the game.
Bland is a true freshman, and he moved into the starting lineup against Rice on Thursday.
The native of Lafeyette, Colo., and Boulder Fairview High School came to Nebraska knowing he might have to redshirt. At the same time, Bland knew there was a chance he could play if he could show the coaches early what he was capable of doing in the defensive secondary.
Bland stepped up his level of play all through camp and saw plenty of action in the Huskers’ first two games. After another solid effort against Notre Dame, Bland received a coveted Blackshirt, signaling that he really is a member of the top unit.
“You have to believe that you can play at this level,” Bland said. “You have to believe you belong, or you will be overwhelmed, and you just won’t be able to do it. I believe I can do it.”
Why would the 6-foot-2, 205-pound rover not believe it? He’s been all over the field, giving the Huskers a physical, run-support player at a position that hasn’t had that type of player since Mike Brown. The Huskers paid dearly last year for not having that kind of player, as teams knew they would get yardage if they could get past the defensive line and middle linebacker Carlos Polk. Not this year. Not with Bland on the scene.
And just a month ago, Bland found himself lost in a Sea of Red.
“Actually, if I had to tell (new) players how to handle it, I’d say, ‘Don’t look up in the crowd,’” Bland said with a smile. “I mean, how do you ever tell someone the kind of roar that 77,000 can make.”
Actually, it’s been more than 77,000 in each of the home games, but who is counting?
After all, Bland has stepped into a role and into a position that usually takes a good year or two to learn.
“Hard to believe he was playing high school ball a year ago, isn’t it?” asked Husker secondary coach George Darlington. “Philip has the athletic ability, there’s no question about that. But it’s what he’s done since he’s been here that has made the biggest impression on us, as a coaching staff.”
And what he has done — at least most impressively — is offer run support. Granted, the true freshman in him comes out at times, and against Rice he missed a tackle late in the second quarter that went for a 13-yard gain. But that he was able to read the play and shoot the gap and have a shot at the Rice back spoke volumes in itself about Bland’s level of play — and this from a player who has only been in the program for a little over six weeks.
“Philip Bland is a player who came in and started making a name for himself right away,” said head coach Frank Solich.
But don’t expect Bland to speak volumes about himself. Neither will Darlington, though even the longtime coach — and the only remaining member of Tom Osborne’s original staff — admits he’s found something special.
“To come in and play right away, well, I’d have to say that takes a special kind of player,” Darlington said.