The Man of Steel returns

Senior running back Rex Burkhead will start against Wisconsin on Saturday in the B1G Championship.

LINCOLN, Neb. - On Monday night the Big Ten Conference announced Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah had earned second-team All-Big Ten honors after being selected by the conference's coaches.

Abdullah likely won't even be starting against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship on Saturday.

The honor goes to senior running back Rex Burkhead, who returned from a four-game absence against Iowa in the second half to rush for 69 yards and a touchdown last Friday.

Burkhead earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2011 and was expected to battle with Wisconsin's Montee Ball this season for the conference's top running back.

Burkhead missed six games this season with an MCL sprain (USPRESSWIRE)
A MCL sprain in the Huskers opening win of the season derailed those plans. In all, he has missed six games in 2012, after re-injuring the knee multiple times.

After an extended period out, Burkhead feels healthy and says he has no pain from his half of football against the Hawkeyes last week.

"There was no swelling and no soreness after. I'm feeling good," said the Texas native. "We were shooting for the Big Ten Championship Game. That was for sure the timetable and my frame of mind as well as the trainers' and coaches'. We thought possibly this past game against Iowa as well, but we didn't want to rush it. We wanted to make sure that I was good to go."

Nebraska didn't have intentions to use Burkhead against Iowa. He was viewed as a "only if they really needed him option." But down 7-3 at half, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini asked Burkhead, nicknamed Superman, if he could go. The senior only needed four words - "Absolutely, let's do this."

"I thought it would be a mental boost for us," Pelini said.

The fifth-year head coach was right. The Huskers had an extra pep in their step in the second half on offense, and grinded out a comeback win in very tough environmental conditions.

Superman was needed, and he showed up to do a job.

"It was good to be back out there with the guys on the field," said Burkhead. "It was a very cold game. It was kind of a different atmosphere. It was fun to be back out there with the guys and be able to play again."

The Avengers might be the hot super hero with the kids these days, but there is only one Man of Steel.

The Nebraska running back trio of Ameer Abdullah, Braylon Heard, and Imani Cross more than carried the load in Burkhead's absence this season, but there is only one Rex Burkhead and the Huskers should greatly benefit from his return in the Big Ten Championship game on Saturday against Wisconsin.

"I hope it gives a burst of energy to the team," said Burkhead. "Just being able to finish off runs, fight for those extra yards and just help the team where I can."

Currently Burkhead is No. 6 on the career Nebraska rushing list, leaving many to wonder what might have been if he had been healthy all season. He is currently 752 yards behind Ahman Green for second place all-time. A spot that seemed very reachable coming into the season.

On Saturday with just 25 yards, Burkhead will move inside the Nebraska top five. It will be a milestone that will cement his legacy while wearing the N on his helmet. But even more impressive might be the fact that Superman has a chance to put Nebraska on his shoulders and represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl - just the program's second year in the conference.

Superman is born...

The date is Nov. 17, 2007. The location, Texas Stadium - home of the Dallas Cowboys.

Down 28-13 at halftime, the Plano Wildcats were experiencing an unexpected battle from Rockwall High School in 5A Bi-District Playoff action.

Plano, 9-1 overall and ranked inside the top five, was playing a team considered just a road-bump at 6-4 on the year.

The Yellow Jackets might have dominated the first half, but it was all about to change in the second. Plano had a secret a weapon. A force that got more powerful as the game went on. On the field they called him Superman – off the field he was known as Rex Burkhead.

In high school, Burkhead showed he was a 4th quarter player
"He gets stronger in the 4th quarter," said Plano head coach Jaydon McCullough. "I think it's one of thing that separates him, his endurance and physicality. He's just going to get better."

A long story short, Plano came back to beat Rockwall 42-35, large in part due to Burkead's performance. The junior running back had three touchdowns in the second half, ending the game with 195 yards and five scores overall.

There are many more examples of "Superman" like performances for Burkhead during his days in 5A Texas high school football, there is just not enough time to log them all.

Plano would reach the state semi-finals in 2007, before being knocked out by eventual state champion Euless Trinity in double-overtime, 30-27 - a game still referred by many in the state of Texas as one of the best high school football games ever. Burkhead ran for over 200 yards and a touchdown.

"Every time we played in big games, he played better at the end then they did," said McCullough. "It's almost like he carried his pads faster at the end. He gets better when he gets in the groove of things."

As a freshman at Plano, he was a running back and played in the secondary, intercepting former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy during his senior year of high school.

As a sophomore, Burkhead played quarterback and set Plano records, throwing the ball in a running based offense.

His junior and senior year, back to running back with a little bit of everything else sprinkled in.

"In the four years that we had him, he had over 6,100 all-purpose yards," said McCullough. "How he got the nickname Superman, we had nothing to do with that. Believe me, he didn't go around saying I'm Superman. That is not how he operates."

Described by many as one of the most humble men you will even meet, Burkhead was given the nickname Superman by local reporters early in his high school career according to his father Rick. It could be due to the fact even as a freshman, Burkhead showed the potential of a great player in the making.

"I'm a comic buff, so I refer to him as Bruce Wayne. He just doesn't want anyone to know who he is outside until he has the helmet on," said Rick Burkhead in an interview with Big Red Report in 2011. "He was pretty young when the Superman thing started, maybe the end of his freshman year. It just spread. We saw people wear stuff to games and stuff. I think it was more embarrassing than anything for him."

It might have been embarrassing and at times he might not have liked it, but the name has stuck – even in Lincoln, Neb.

From Plano to Lincoln...

After rushing for nearly 1800 yards and 30 touchdowns his senior year at Plano, Burkhead was awarded the AP Texas 5A Offensive Player of the Year award.

"Watching Burkhead in high school you knew that he was a certain difference maker. He was the guy fans showed up to specifically watch on Friday nights, because you knew he was going to do something special," said Midlands Recruiting Analyst Greg Powers.

"He's to me, the definition of what a role model is and what a student-athlete should be…I wouldn't trade him for another player in the country. That's how much I think of Rex and what he is to our program and the University of Nebraska."

Nebraska HC Bo Pelini
But not everybody shared Power's excitement for the recruit. Critics of the senior had multiple reasons for not projecting success at the next level. He wasn't fast or wasn't big enough to take punishment in college. Some felt he was too polished, saying he wouldn't be able to improve any and was tapped out talent wise. Others thought he would be better at other positions.

"When scouts were projecting him to college they always debated what position might be best for him, but there was probably a little too much nit picking going on regarding his game," said Powers. "As a running back, he could do a little of everything and then some. He was a tough runner and could catch the ball out of the backfield.

"At the time he committed with Nebraska they had some pretty talented or highly thought of players in the pipeline at running back, and many thought he could end up playing receiver or safety, but he has come in to the program and has done exactly what he was doing in high school -- make big plays."

Burkhead ignored his critics and inked with Nebraska, stating on National Signing Day the Huskers wanted him on special teams and at running back – his position of choice.

"I don't know if it motivated him. Rex is self-motivated by the love of the game. So he doesn't let things like that overcome him," said Rick Burkhead. "I would say he takes note of it. I think we as parents notice it more than him. I would say this, people who said he wouldn't succeed, weren't around him everyday. They didn't realize how athletic he was and how gifted he was when it came to knowledge of the game."

Something tells us now they do.

Josh Harvey has covered college football and recruiting for Fox Sports & since 2008. He is now the Publisher of Big Red Report, covering Nebraska athletics.
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