Steven M. Sipple: Herian says he'll be at full speed
BY STEVEN M. SIPPLE / Lincoln Journal Star
Sunday, Apr 09, 2006 - 12:07:00 am CDT
Ah, spring football.
Sweat and optimism permeate campus practice facilities across the country.
You see, nobody loses in spring football, at least in the conventional sense. There are setbacks, but mostly there are victories. They’re often little victories, sometimes undetectable, but victories all the same. It might be a young I-back suddenly understanding a blocking concept. Or a player bonding with his position coach. Whatever. It’s small stuff that can mean a lot.
Nebraska picked up one of those victories Saturday.
Tight end Matt Herian, in his first extensive interview since fracturing two bones in his left leg in October of 2004, said he expects to be fully recovered for the 2006 season.
And there it is, a sentence that will set Husker fans’ imaginations swirling and bobbing like a kite in a 30-mph wind. Matt Herian at 100 percent? Back to his old self? With his trademark speed? In Bill Callahan’s pass-happy offense?
Too good to be true? We’ll see.
Hey, it’s spring. Go ahead and imagine the possibilities.
Imagine the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Herian matched against a safety. Herian wins the jump ball.
Imagine Herian, assuming all of his speed returns, matched against a linebacker. Herian wins that foot race.
In short, Herian presents a matchup quagmire for defenses.
“There are not a lot of tight ends who can get vertical (down field),” said Husker backup quarterback Joe Ganz. “Safeties tend to sit on the tight ends because they don’t respect them vertically. If a tight end can get deep, that can really open up the passing game.
“You hit him down the seam on a vertical route, now the safety’s scared to death that he’s going to go deep again. So now the tight end can run the basic crosses across the middle or curls in the middle.”
Asked if he can regain all of his speed, Herian said, “I think I can. I know I can. The doctors said there’s no reason I shouldn’t.”
Herian said his broken leg is no longer the issue; it’s the hamstring in the same leg.
“During winter conditioning I was doing fine, until I tweaked the hamstring a little bit,” he said. “Everything was looking just as good as it was before.”
As a freshman in 2002, Herian wowed Nebraska coaches when he sprinted 40 yards in an electronic time of 4.67 seconds, second-fastest among Husker freshmen behind current NFL cornerback Fabian Washington (4.61). For perspective, I-back David Horne ran a 4.78 that day.
Herian put his speed to use. He caught seven passes for 301 yards and four touchdowns in 2002; 22 for 484 and three scores in 2003; and 24 for 308 and three TDs in eight games in 2004. All told, that’s 20.6 yards per reception.
In the eighth game of 2004, Herian was blocking on a run play when a Missouri linebacker unintentionally landed on his leg. Herian was carted off the field. Memorial Stadium fell silent.
Herian had fractured his tibia and fibia. Doctors told him the tibia doesn’t always heal quickly, he said.
“It’s such an important bone,” the tight end said.
He underwent an initial surgery in November of 2004, missed spring practice, then underwent another surgery in April of 2005.
“It started healing, then kind of slowed down,” Herian said. “The healing stopped (after the first surgery), and the doctors realized they needed to do something before too long. … It probably took longer than it should.
“They said it’s not uncommon for that stuff to happen.”
Regarding the rehabilitation process, Herian said, “There have been good days and bad days.”
He said he refused to get down on himself and never doubted his return to full strength.
He said he learned the value of patience and no longer takes football for granted.
He said he now feels “a little rusty.” After all, he has been unable to participate in live scrimmaging, let alone a game, since incurring the injury. Consequently, he’s unsure whether he’ll play in Saturday’s annual Red-White Game.
“Every practice I’m doing more and more, until I get comfortable with it,” Herian said. “We’ll see next week.”
Said Callahan: “We want him for the fall. Beating the White team or the Red team ain’t the big thing right now. It’s more important to get him ready for the fall.”
Nebraska has quality players at tight end, but nobody who approaches Herian’s prowess when he’s healthy.
Please flash back to November of 2002. Nebraska vs. Texas. A counter-boot-throwback play. Herian runs a post pattern, sprinting past cornerback Nathan Vasher with those impossibly long and easy strides.
“A wide receiver running that fast would be exceptional,” former NU assistant Ron Brown said then. “For a tight end, that’s phenomenal.”
Herian now looks you dead in the eye and insists he can be that player again.