LINCOLN — I-back Ameer Abdullah is putting his dream of playing in the NFL on hold, choosing instead to return for his senior year at Nebraska and to complete his college degree.
Abdullah announced his decision Thursday in a six-paragraph statement released by NU media relations.
“If playing in the NFL is truly in God's plans for me, then God will again present this opportunity to me after I complete my college education,” Abdullah said.
The return of the two-time 1,000-yard rusher gives the Husker offense a major boost heading into 2014, when it will be replacing 10 seniors who started at times last season.
Abdullah also will give himself a chance to climb more of the school's all-time rushing chart. The 5-foot-9, 190-pounder from Homewood, Ala., finished his junior year sitting at No. 8 with 2,977 career yards.
NU head coach Bo Pelini said in a statement that Abdullah was very thoughtful in his decision and “handled this the right way.”
Underclassmen have until Wednesday to declare for the NFL draft.
“We look forward to having Ameer represent the Nebraska football program for another season,” Pelini said. “Ameer has the opportunity to leave a legacy at Nebraska that will put him among the all-time greats to play here. He is a young man that is deserving of being a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy and other national awards in 2014.”
Abdullah was first-team All-Big Ten and a Doak Walker semifinalist as a junior when he ran for 1,690 yards (6.0 per carry) and nine touchdowns. He gained at least 100 yards in 11 of 13 games and his 1,690 ranks No. 4 on the NU single-season chart, trailing only Mike Rozier (2,148 in 1983), Ahman Green (1,877 in 1997) and Lawrence Phillips (1,722 in 1994).
Abdullah, the youngest of nine children, said in his statement that parents Kareem and Aisha Abdullah instilled in their kids the importance of family, education and taking advantage of life's opportunities. All of his siblings have completed their college education.
“While it may be true that none of my siblings were presented with the possibility of playing professional sports, it is equally true that the average NFL career, because of the violent nature of the sport, is less than five years,” Ameer Abdullah said. “In analyzing these truths, I have come to realize that life is bigger than football, and that my chances of long-term success in life will be greatly enhanced by completing my college education.”
Abdullah declined further comment Thursday when reached by The World-Herald, asking that interview requests be put on hold until he returned to the Nebraska campus next week.
Five Nebraska I-backs previously have entered the NFL draft after their junior seasons, with Brandon Jackson the last of those as a second-round pick in 2007. Phillips went in the first round (1996), Green (1998) and Calvin Jones (1994) in the third and Derek Brown (1993) in the fourth.
Had Abdullah chosen to turn pro, he would have joined a crowded field of running backs declaring early for the draft, led by top prospects Tre Mason of Auburn, Bishop Sankey of Washington, Lache Seastrunk of Baylor, James Wilder Jr. of Florida State and Terrance West of Towson.
As of Thursday, that list also included DeAnthony Thomas of Oregon, Storm Johnson of Central Florida, George Atkinson of Notre Dame, Henry Josey of Missouri, Jerome Smith of Syracuse, Adam Muema of San Diego State, Darrin Reaves of Alabama-Birmingham, Kapri Bibbs of Colorado State and Isaiah Crowell of Alabama State.
Nebraska offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles said Thursday night before the Outland Trophy banquet that Abdullah also will benefit from being the “focal point” of the Husker offense next fall.
“I think he has an opportunity to go out and have a tremendous year — another one,” said Sirles, one of five offensive linemen that NU must replace. “I felt possibly he was maybe leaning toward going out this year, but with all the backs going out, he could be the key guy next year. He could be the first running back off the board next year.
“Hopefully he goes out and has a great season, stays healthy and is able to put up numbers like he did this year. I think he has nothing but success in the NFL after that.”
With Abdullah returning, Nebraska keeps intact an I-back corps that includes junior-to-be Imani Cross, sophomore Terrell Newby and redshirt freshman Adam Taylor. Abdullah led the team with 281 carries this season, with Cross getting 85 and Newby 54.
At the Huskers' team banquet last month, Abdullah was named the team MVP, lifter of the year and a captain for 2013.
“He's going to have the role (again) that he's been doing for the past few years, which is leading by example,” NU quarterback Ron Kellogg said. “He's really big into that. He works hard in the offseason. He loves the offseason. People are able to gravitate to him and get the sense of direction.”
Sirles said getting Abdullah back also will help NU's young quarterbacks — Tommy Armstrong and Johnny Stanton — with Taylor Martinez and Kellogg leaving the program.
“Guys look up to him for when he's in that role, when things do get tough,” Sirles said. “Because there's going to be adversity. There is every year. And having someone to look to, with so many seniors leaving, having him be there as the focal point senior on our offense — him and Kenny (Bell) — is going to be huge.”
World-Herald staff writer Jon Nyatawa contributed to this report.
I would like to start off by thanking everyone for their patience as I reached this decision. I cannot begin to tell you how truly thankful I am for the Husker coaching staff, my teammates, and the Nebraska fans. My time here at Nebraska has been memorable and more than I could have ever hoped. It is truly an honor to play for this program.
As you know, since the midway point the season I have been asked, repeatedly, whether I would return for my senior season. In reaching my decision I have had to consider a number of factors such as my family's economic condition, my projected draft position, and my long term success, not just in football, but in life in general. In order to fully understand my decision one must know who I am and where I come from.
I come from a very modest upbringing. As the youngest of my parents' nine children, I have had to fight for just about everything I have gotten. Despite these apparent obstacles, my parents were able to instill in their children the importance of family, education, and taking advantage of life's many opportunities.
In holding true to these values, all of my siblings have completed their college education with many of them even going on to obtain advanced degrees. Despite my family's tradition of completing its college education, I find myself in a very unique situation of having to decide between pursing my dream of playing in the National Football League and breaking from my family's tradition of completing our education.
While it may be true that none of my siblings were presented with the possibility of playing professional sports, it is equally true that the average NFL career, because of the violent nature of the sport, is less than five years. In analyzing these truths, I have come to realize that life is bigger than football, and that my chances of long-term success in life will be greatly enhanced by completing my college education. Although I have always wanted to play in the NFL, at this time I would like to formally announce my intentions of returning to Nebraska for my senior season.
If playing in the NFL is truly in God's plans for me, then God will again present this opportunity to me after I complete my college education.
I know Ameer was very thoughtful about his decision and, as you would expect with Ameer, he has handled this the right way. As I have told Ameer and other players who have had to make this same choice, I fully support whatever decision they make, and am willing to help in any way I possibly can.
Ameer comes from a great family, has great character and is a great leader in our program. He stands for all the right things as a student-athlete, and I know it is important for him to leave the University of Nebraska with a degree.
We look forward to having Ameer represent the Nebraska football program for another season. Ameer has the opportunity to leave a legacy at Nebraska that will put him among the all-time greats to play here. He is a young man that is deserving of being a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy and other national awards in 2014.