From Good to Great: MVP Enunwa Explodes

Randy York’s N-Sider

Whenever a coaching staff decides like Nebraska did Wednesday in Jacksonville’s Gator Bowl to explode a bomb within inches of the Huskers’ own end zone, it’s not a case of rolling the dice and hoping something big can happen. It’s a research study built on facts, practice, experience, talent, will, reliability and trust. Redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. probably isn’t a yes answer on all seven of those pivotal principles. But senior wide receiver and Gator Bowl MVP Quincy Enunwa just might be a clean sweep of all seven.

Enunwa has redefined himself using the Bo Pelini passionate process philosophy and it was only a matter of time before the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Californian’s journey from good to great could be featured on national television. The payoff may have surprised large flocks of fans, but I’d be willing to bet that Nebraska’s sixth-year head coach and two offensive assistants, Tim Beck and Rich Fisher, were not surprised either. I also am willing to go out on a limb and say almost every Husker player who has watched Enunwa’s transformation from good speed to great strength and power were not astonished. In their minds, the historic touchdown is a simple exclamation point that speaks for itself.

Was Pass Longest TD Reception in Collegiate History?

Enunwa’s 99+yard touchdown reception from Armstrong late in the third quarter not only is the longest pass in Nebraska football history, but, as one of ESPN2’s announcers pointed out, it could be the longest touchdown catch in the history of college football. With the ball spotted within a whisker or two of Nebraska’s end zone chalk, how could anyone argue?

It was an amazing moment when Operation Good to Great intersected with the ultimate breakthrough that Enunwa has been working meticulously on for a season-and-a-half. You would understand if you were listening closely to Enunwa in early November when he openly confessed how much he messed up on seven-on-seven drills during his early summers in Lincoln because he had no strength. He could not bench or squat. He had a bit more speed and not much strength or power. “I tried to be shifty,” he said.

Once he hit the weight room and put on some muscle, he was a changed, motivated man who instinctively knew that defenders didn’t want to deal with a runaway locomotive. He became so strong that “honestly I wouldn’t say scared or intimidated if I saw myself running down the field, but I’m a big load. So with that little bit of speed behind it, I don’t know if I’d want to come head-on against me either. I try to use my strength to my advantage.”

Fisher Becomes His Mentor, Leader, Motivator

As an underclassman, Enunwa tried to be a high stepper in practice but not in games because he hadn’t earned the right to get on the field. Position Coach Fisher has his players’ respect. He’s a tough mentor who meets with every receiver solo, so he can speak candidly about what he expects and how each student-athlete can find a way to get better.

“It’s give-and-take,” said Enunwa, who broke Heisman Trophy Winner Johnny Rodgers’ single-season Nebraska record for touchdown catches. Enunwa’s four receptions for 129 yards included a 5-yard TD reception in the first quarter to complement his 99-yard third-quarter catch, giving him 12 touchdown catches for the season – one more than The Jet’s previous record of 11 in 1971. The 99-yard play was the longest in Nebraska history and in Gator Bowl history. The Huskers’ previous record was Fred Duda’s 95-yard pass to Freeman White against Colorado on Oct. 23, 1965.

Enunwa’s 129 receiving yards were a career high and the second-most in Nebraska bowl history, trailing only the 138 receiving yards by Johnny Mitchell in the 1991 Citrus Bowl. Enunwa passed Maurice Purify and Matt Davison in career receiving and his 1,526 total yards now rank No. 7 on Nebraska’s all-time list. When Enunwa was asked about the prospects of beating Rodgers’ single-season record for touchdown catches, he admitted hearing about the record, but preferred not to “speak on it” because “let’s not jinx it.” He learned his lesson listening to Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner talking about reaching 1,000 yards receiving together. “I want to be better than I was the year before, but I don’t want to start saying ‘Let me do this and this and this.’ I like to set standards for myself. But sometimes, you set those too high and you feel bad about it later.”

Good to Great Similar to Business Improvement

Enunwa’s relentless drive from good to great parallels the way business people think. He gets the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus. He’s more interested in the quiet, deliberative process that produces results. He embraces working diligently, positively and quietly, step by step and turn by turn, so he can create momentum in the right direction. He’s a firm believer that if you keep pushing, the process always reveals the brutal facts of how much you put into it.

In Enunwa’s mind, it might not happen today, tomorrow next week or next year, but if you keep your own regimen for disciplined action, people, thought and decisions, eventually you’re going to break through the biggest barriers and when that happens, the only people who should be surprised are the ones who least expected it to happen.

Quincy Enunwa will never forget  when people looked and called him a tight end playing wide receiver. “I used to hear that all the time,” he said. “I’m glad I haven’t heard it for awhile. I don’t know. I guess people are seeing what everybody inside the program saw – that I’m not a tight end. I’m a receiver. I didn’t take advantage of my opportunities early on. But I made up for it.”

Enunwa spent most of his junior season blocking, and it reinforced all the references to him being a tight end. “It was a little frustrating,” he said, “but honestly, when I look back and look at the film and how I did, I didn’t deserve to be asked to do anything else. This year, I’ve changed what I did wrong. In fact, I’m still changing what I did wrong.”

This Receiver Sizes Up Defenders, Detects Will

Such diligence and honesty created a bigger platform. “Everybody says I run violently,” Enunwa said. “I just try to find a way to the end zone, whichever way is possible. Sometimes, you can kind of see whether a guy wants to tackle you or not. You have to take advantage of that. I don’t want to be like some crazy, maniac football player that says ‘I see the fear in their eyes,’ but I sometimes see guys that don’t want to tackle me, and I try to take advantage of that and not let them tackle me.”

And here’s the most amazing thing that coincides with Enunwa’s strength, speed and agility: The power that triggered the gutsy call that changed a 17-12 score to 24-12 might have made the only Georgia player who had a chance to tackle Enunwa on the record-breaking play think otherwise. Whatever was brewing in the minds of those involved with that shocking play, know and understand one thing.

“I tell guys all the time not to wait until they’re a senior to see what I saw,” Enunwa said. “You don’t want to look back and say: ‘Wow, I could’ve done this, this and that.’ Luckily, I’ve figured all that out this year because it would have been bad if I had figured it out midway through or toward the end of my last year. All summer, I tried to tell guys: ‘Work hard and keep working hard. Don’t be good. Be great!’ Not many older guys told me that. I heard it occasionally, but I try to tell the guys that as much as possible. I don’t want anybody to fall into a trap and say nobody told them.”

Could Enunwa Be Nebraska’s Next Niles Paul?

What a magical way to end the Huskers' injury-plagued season that produced its share of miracle finishes through crisis managment. In Enunwa, we may have a wide receiver with the skill sets to become the next Niles Paul, a 6-foot-1, 233-pound, third-year tight end for the Washington Redskins. Emerging into an NFL tight end is certainly a promising prospect, but how about the legacy a co-captain leaves with his candor? Enunwa's greatest contribution may be the tone he sets, challenging the Huskers to navigate  through a 15-year conference championship drought.

The journey is something Enunwa inherently understands now more than ever. Going from good to great is a trek everyone should take. It's a year-round process that begins this week for junior captain Ameer Abdullah and whoever wants to step up to the same kind of challenge. Who's Nebraska's next Quincy Enunwa? The alarm clock gets set fairly soon. Whoever turns it on needs one arrow that points to good and another one that spells out that elusive word we all want to experience...G-R-E-A-T! 

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