LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska's Imani Cross was one of the Big Ten's most dependable short-yardage backs last season. This spring, he's out to show he's capable of being so much more.
"Oh, yes, yes," he said. "I want to be a pass-catching back, I want to be a blocking back, I want to be an inside-zone back, an outside-zone back, a sweep back. Whatever type of back you name, I want to train to be that one day. It's hard to do, but that's what dreams are for, to try to go get them."
Cross last backed up Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah, and took turns with Braylon Heard. Burkhead has graduated, Abdullah is shut down for the spring because of an injury and Heard is transferring. That's allowed Cross to get a long look from coaches, and they like what they see.
"Really pleased with his demeanor," offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. "He knows Ameer is out. He doesn't care. He'll take every snap. He'll run till he drops."
Cross was the Huskers' go-to man when they needed tough yards last season. He converted 16 of 20 times when 1 to 3 yards were required for a first down or touchdown. He finished with 55 carries for 324 yards and seven TDs.
Abdullah was a 1,000-yard rusher last season and will go into the fall as the No. 1 back. Cross, a rising sophomore, is approaching the spring as if he'll play an expanded role.
He spent the offseason shaving some weight and working to get faster, and he usually leaves the practice field a half-hour after most of his teammates so he can get in some extra work.
"My freshman season, I rate it as a learning experience," Cross said. "I was able to be behind a great running back, Rex Burkhead, and behind another one in Ameer. That helped me to see things, and I got some playing time and was able to take a lot of mental notes."