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C O M M E N T A R Y
T A D    S T R Y K E R
August 10, 2009

To some degree, all men have the capacity for both building and destroying. Ndamukong Suh just has more capacity than most — in both areas.

Suh, who this past spring was on the Big 12 Commissioner’s Academic Honor Roll, is on track to graduate in December with a degree in construction management. That would track nicely with his father’s business in Portland, Ore.

Suh is well acquainted with success. He comes from a family of high achievers. Both parents and his sister all have excelled in athletics. His mother is an elementary school teacher, one of the major reasons her 6-foot-4, 300-pound son is returning to Nebraska this fall to wrap up his degree.

In an interview earlier this year, Suh told me that his family heritage has helped him become a high achiever. “We have very high expectations for ourselves,” he said. “Success is not something we take for granted, but it’s something that we expect.”

Suh is best known for his success on the field, where he helps destroy the plans of opposing offensive coordinators. He was an All-Big 12 selection at defensive tackle last season and the versatile senior is an All-America candidate who could be a first-round NFL draft choice next April. That would track nicely with a career in pro football.

Perhaps Suh’s greatest legacy in the Nebraska football program will be that he came back from a dismal 2007 season — the dark days of the end of the Bill Callahan-Kevin Cosgrove era, when the Huskers allowed a school-record 37.9 points per game — to lead a revival of the Blackshirts. Suh has made it his mission this year to get the program back to what he calls its “rightful place” in the college football world.

To do that, Suh must be destructive. He needs to leave opposing offenses in turmoil, and since he’s already proven his ability to do that, he will absorb two and sometimes three blockers on many plays. He’ll find it harder to get the statistics he piled up last fall, which leads to Suh’s biggest responsibility in his senior year. He needs to make his teammates into better players.

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In the offense-minded Big 12, Suh bucks the trends. He has shown that he can stuff the run, rush the passer, block kicks, intercept passes and take them all the way to the end zone.

But this fall, he will do his greatest damage to the conference’s high-octane attacks if he’s able to inspire the younger Husker d-linemen to step up their game, especially sophomore tackles Jared Crick and Terrence Moore and redshirt freshman Baker Steinkuhler. He needs to be a shining example for junior defensive end Pierre Allen and even senior Barry Turner. While Suh does the interviews and holds the spotlight, the others must beat their man-to-man blocks and disrupt the opposing backfield.

If those guys can make Husker opponents pay dearly for ganging up on Suh, the Nebraska defense will become very hard to deal with.

Now’s when we find out how well he can lead. Will he carry the Michael Jordan effect? He has CEO-type traits, as Jordan does, but can he use them to elevate his teammates’ level of play?

As a junior, Suh was voted onto the Huskers’ Unity Council, and he returns to that post for his senior season. He isn’t fiery, like a Broderick Thomas or a Christian Peter. He doesn’t have the “wild man” persona that so many successful defensive linemen have, but he is influential. He’s quiet and confident and articulate. He’s more in the mold of Minnesota Vikings Hall of Fame defensive tackle Alan Page, who went on to become an associate justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Suh, a man who has the ability to both construct and destruct, can accomplish both seemingly incompatible tasks this fall. He can tear down opposing offenses by building up his own teammates.

This is the man best positioned to make the nation’s college football fans think of “Big 12” and “defense” at the same time. In the final analysis, it will come down to this: Can Suh make those around him into better players?

 

Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at tad.stryker@gmail.com. | Archive

 
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