Jaquez Yant has verbalized his goals for this spring in clear terms.
“My mission was to lose weight and try to build stamina so I could play more games,” Nebraska’s sophomore running back said.
The fact that he was so ready with his answer is a good sign for his team, as is his slim frame.
Oh, Yant was not way overweight last season. After all, he rushed 47 times for 294 yards (6.26 yards per carry) and a touchdown, ranking third on the team in rushing and rushing yards. On the other hand, 127 of those yards came against a Northwestern defense that finished the season ranked 119th nationally in defending the run.
So, yes, Yant needed improvement, and more specifically, to become lighter.
The 6-foot-2 Florida native played last season at around 250 pounds, he said, but is now tipping the scales at 232.
His stamina improved as spring training progressed, according to Nebraska running backs’ first-year coach Bryan Applewhite.
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“He couldn’t play two games in a row on the first day,” the coach said.
This is a problem in the world of Applewhite.
“We finish the races,” he said of his back. “If we’re on the 50 and it’s a running play, they have to cross the goal line at full speed and then you have to go back because you might have to run the next play. But, yeah, ( Yant) did a good job of getting in shape. But they all did. Because that’s the norm here, right?”
Yant seems to understand his coach’s demands. That’s why he eats more green vegetables these days and makes less trips to fast food restaurants.
Pizza, for example, is a temptation he must resist.
“It wasn’t difficult at all,” Yant said. “If you have goals set in your mind, you’re going to do whatever it takes to get there. I know that’s what I want, so I’m going to make sure it happens.”
He actually wants to lose a few more pounds at 229, he said.
“It’s a good choice for me,” he said of his weight loss. “I feel more explosive. I feel a lot better at this weight here than last year. I was a bit slow. I couldn’t make certain cuts and movements.”
As Yant answered questions from reporters last week, the conversation turned to last season’s 30-23 loss at Minnesota. On fourth and the goal at the Gophers 1-yard line, with the Huskers trailing by five late in the third quarter, Yant took a handoff and stumbled forward, essentially going to the ground before being hit .
“It was a heartbreaking moment,” he said. “I wish I could get him back. But we’re not looking back anymore, we’re looking forward so we can have a great season this year. I mean, the past is the past. It sucks.”
The good news is that Yant thinks he learned from last season, when Nebraska went 3-9 unbeaten by more than nine points.
“I mean, you can have the most talent, you can have the No. 1 team, and if you don’t do the little things right, it can get you beat,” he said. “Like last year, it was a close game, a close game, a close game, but we weren’t finishing them because it was the little things. Every game was always something so small.
“This year, that’s all the coach is focusing on. If you don’t do it right, you do it again and you’ll keep doing it.”
Let’s be clear: Yant is enjoying a good spring through nine practices (out of 15). But Anthony Grant, a transfer from the New Mexico Military Institute, has already made an impression, and second Rahmir Johnson – who rushed for 495 yards (4.4 ypc) and four touchdowns last season – s strives to push his game to the next level.
Meanwhile, Gabe Ervin is recovering from a knee injury suffered in Game 4 of last season.
“Man, there are more smiles now,” Yant said. “There’s competition. I’m not going to single anyone out because we’re all a group. We push each other. As the coach (Applewhite) says, there are standards. We make the standards of higher and higher each and every day for each other and for the team.”
Yant wears a smile because he feels healthy.
“I feel good, fast,” he said. “Whatever I want to do, I feel like I can do it.”
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