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December 28, 2008


He was the most-publicized recruit landed by Bill Callahan, or maybe by any Nebraska football coach. He was a five-star talent from North Hollywood High, the perfect back for Callahan's West Coast offense. Cornhusker fans chanted his name in Memorial Stadium when he took his official visit to the school.

The curious ebb-and-flow career of Marlon Lucky has certainly taken some unexpected turns during his time in Lincoln.

Lucky seems the prototype third-down back for the National Football League. I hope he gets the chance to play there. His college career hasn't gone quite the way people expected when he signed amid much fanfare back in February 2005.

He broke a longstanding NU record along the way, but now he's winding down his Cornhusker career quietly, having been overtaken at I-back by a sophomore while suffering with a nagging injury.

In his four years at Nebraska, Lucky has had a lot of ups and downs, but he's hung in there through it all. He played on a Big 12 North championship team, and he may have been the Huskers' most consistent offensive player as a junior in 2007, when NU skidded to a 5-7 record. Lucky had the chance to file for the NFL draft after his junior year, when he broke Johnny Rodgers' single-season receiving record with 75 catches, but he decided to come back and play as a senior for coach Bo Pelini.

His statistics this fall indicate that it might have been a bad career move, and Lucky said in a recent Lincoln Journal Star interview that he has second-guessed his decision. It is widely speculated that he might have been a fourth- or fifth-round choice last April. Now his stock has dropped; he produced 1,724 yards of total offense in 2007 but only 792 this season.

On the other hand, Lucky has made progress toward a sociology degree, although he still needs 24 credit hours to graduate.

If you believe that being loyal to your school and pursuing academic goals are important, you'll root for Lucky to finish his career on a high note against Clemson in the Gator Bowl. How about 15 to 20 chances with the football, 100 yards of total offense and a couple of touchdowns?

Roy Helu Jr., whose slashing style of running has captured the fancy of Husker fans, is the future of the Husker running game, and he may well get the start against Clemson. But it would be fitting if Lucky propels Nebraska to a win. He would deserve it.

Lucky has a running style that sometimes frustrated Husker fans. He reminds me of Franco Harris, the Penn State star who made a Hall of Fame career with the Pittsburgh Steelers out of avoiding high-speed collisions. If Lucky gets to the league, his deliberate style may extend his career.

Like Harris, Lucky waits patiently for blocking to develop. Sometimes it pays off with chunks of yardage, as it did on his 40-yard touchdown run at Kansas State as a sophomore – a play that broke open a 21-3 Nebraska victory – but often he looks indecisive at the line of scrimmage, getting tackled for a loss on short-yardage situations.

Lucky helped salvage a shaky 41-40 victory over Ball State in 2007 by running for 102 yards on 21 carries, including a 28-yard TD run, and setting a record for Husker running backs by catching 11 passes. He tried to give Callahan a couple of victories over Texas by tossing a dramatic 25-yard touchdown pass to Nate Swift on a snowy, windy day in October 2006 and piling up 152 total yards in Austin the following year, but the Huskers lost a heartbreaking decision in both games.

This year, his personal highlights have been few and far between. Lucky's best game was at Lubbock, when he rushed for 66 yards and caught seven passes for 80 yards as the Huskers nearly upset Texas Tech in overtime. Two weeks later, he had 165 total yards (83 rushing and 82 receiving) and scored a touchdown against Baylor. He hasn't been too involved in Nebraska's offense since then.

We really haven't heard from Lucky since he lined up in the Joker formation in the first quarter of the Kansas game and threw that jump pass to Mike McNeill for a 4-yard touchdown.

Maybe his turf toe problems have ended and he'll be running at 100 percent in Jacksonville. He should have plenty of incentive to impress NFL scouts. Maybe he'll have his last hurrah in his last game as a Husker, as Cory Ross did against Michigan in the 2005 Alamo Bowl before being signed as a free agent by the Baltimore Ravens.

Having rarely received the good fortune on the gridiron that his name would forecast, Marlon Lucky would seem to be due.

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 [email protected]. | Archive