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updated: 9/11/2013 8:03 PM

Nebraska's Newby is channeling his inner Payton

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  • Nebraska running back Terrell Newby has always worn Walter Payton's No. 34 and resembles his idol with his 5-foot-10, 185-pound frame.

    Nebraska running back Terrell Newby has always worn Walter Payton's No. 34 and resembles his idol with his 5-foot-10, 185-pound frame.
    Associated Press

Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. -- In street clothes, Terrell Newby is quiet, if not a bit shy.

In a Nebraska football uniform, everything changes.

The Southern Mississippi defender who was on the receiving end of Newby's helmet-popping stiff arm last week can vouch for that. The play drew a personal foul and a little smile from Newby. It was, after all, right out of a video highlight of the running back Newby models himself after, the late Chicago Bears great Walter Payton.

"He's more physical than you think he is," running backs coach Ron Brown said. "Even that penalty he got the other night, that was a physical play. Unfortunately, the guy's helmet came off and the flags came out."

That might be Newby's signature play so far. Give him time. The freshman from the Los Angeles area has appeared in just two games. His third is Saturday when No. 16 UCLA (1-0), the hometown school that was his second choice, visits the 23rd-ranked Cornhuskers (2-0).

Newby -- who has always worn Payton's No. 34 and resembles his idol with his 5-foot-10, 185-pound frame -- is part of the Huskers' three-back rotation along with Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross. His 23 carries through two games is second-most on the team behind Abdullah's 36. He's averaging 5.9 yards a carry and 68 a game, and he teams with Kenny Bell on kick returns. He couldn't have asked for a better start to his career.

"I wanted to be able to help the team out any way I can," Newby said. "That was basically my goal coming in. I didn't want to come in with the mindset of being redshirted."

That, according to Brown, was never a consideration. Newby was one of the nation's top running-back prospects last year after a second straight 2,000-yard season for Chaminade High School in West Hills, Calif. He was on Nebraska's radar early.

His best high school performance was a 360-yard, eight-touchdown game last October. A week later, UCLA called to offer a scholarship.

Newby grew up 15 minutes from the UCLA campus and was delighted the Bruins wanted him. But by then he already had made two visits to Nebraska and he and his parents felt Lincoln was the right place for him.

"I had a good relationship with the coaching staff, I felt they brought the right guys in and I felt it was a great atmosphere here," Newby said. "I love it. I really fell in love with the guys here and the coaching staff."

Newby and Brown connected quickly. Newby's dad, Terrell Newby Sr., grew up in Chicago and is a lifelong Bears fan. He passed on to his son stories about the exploits of Payton. Brown was a defensive back at Brown University in the 1970s and got to know Payton when he was in training camp with the Bears. Brown and Newby discussed Payton's inspirational work habits and attitude.

Brown also sold Newby on the long tradition of running backs at Nebraska and the program's continuing commitment to the running game.

"When I come in I'll be part of a legacy," Newby said, remembering what Brown told him. "It's cool to be part of that now. Ahman Green. Johnny Rodgers. There's a list of guys. Just to even be part of that, to be mentioned with them, is an honor."

Brown said he knew Newby would have to contribute right away because Rex Burkhead graduated and two other running backs had transferred from Nebraska the past two years.

"When we saw him in camp that first scrimmage against our varsity defense, he lit it up pretty good," Brown said. "You knew there was something special there."

In the opener against Wyoming, Newby ran nine times for 47 yards during a 13-play scoring drive that gave Nebraska a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter. He finished with 76 yards on 15 carries in the 37-34 win.

Last week he bounced back from a fumble to break a 20-yard run at the start of the Huskers' final scoring drive in the 56-13 victory over Southern Miss. It was on that same drive he drew his penalty for pushing his left hand into Alexander Walters' face mask as he went out of bounds on a 19-yard run.

"No one really said anything to me about it on the sideline," Newby said. "I just stiff-armed him like we stiff-arm the sled every day in practice. I didn't know it was going to be a personal foul."

Newby said he tried to not think about the game against UCLA until this week, even though friends back home have reminded him about it since he verbally committed to the Huskers in January.

UCLA coach Jim Mora said he's watched film of Newby this season and that nothing he's done has surprised him.

"He's a very good player and he's going to be a great player, and we really liked him," Mora said. "He's a local kid, and we were disappointed to lose him to Nebraska, obviously. Hope he's happy there and has a lot of success -- just very limited success this weekend."

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