Written by Chuck Carlton
Carlton: Why ex-Plano star Burkhead could be key to Big 12 title game
LINCOLN, Neb. - Rex Burkhead might be the Swiss Army knife of Big 12 backs.
Any position, any situation, he has delivered.
Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson praises his "ability to pick up whatever. He could pick up a golf club and be good at it in two weeks. He is a player who has that unique feel for football, for the game."
Burkhead's special ability could become a major factor in the Dr Pepper Big 12 Championship on Saturday against Oklahoma. The sophomore from Plano might be the indispensable offensive piece for the Cornhuskers.
Starting quarterback Taylor Martinez is either extremely limited by ankle and foot injuries, per an Oklahoma City broadcast report, or taking snaps in practice like normal, according to the Nebraska coaches.
Backup Cody Green has started four games in two seasons.
Which brings us to Burkhead, whose versatility at taking the direct snap in the Wildcat formation could give Nebraska another way to generate offense.
Against Colorado in Nebraska's most recent game, he ran for 101 yards and completed two passes, both for touchdowns.
"He is a huge, huge, huge asset to our offense," offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles said.
Burkhead was wondering what all the fuss is about.
He played quarterback as a sophomore at Plano, amassing 1,700 yards of total offense before returning to running back for his final two seasons and rushing for 3,530yards. But he also ran the Wildcat - when he wasn't a wideout or a kicker or a punter or returner or a linebacker or a safety.
"I play pickup games all the time. We're always throwing it around," Burkhead said. So does he play quarterback? "Now and then," he said, smiling.
Jaydon McCullough, Plano's football coach, talked for nearly five minutes on the phone offering a tribute to Burkhead's play and character.
"He exemplifies the type of player and person we want to represent our program," McCullough said. "Everything he does permeates through the team."
For the record, McCullough remembers watching Burkhead throw deep with arc as an eighth grader.
"He's got a great arm," McCullough said
Nebraska unveiled the Wildcat in a Holiday Bowl win over Arizona last season, then put the formation on ice with the emergence of Martinez.
The Huskers brought back the Wildcat when Martinez was injured, using it in wins over Iowa State and Colorado with Burkhead producing.
"He has an impact on the game in a lot of different ways," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "Everyone focuses on the Wildcat, but he runs the ball hard, he's efficient, he can run inside or outside."
Very little seems to faze Burkhead.
He is acutely aware that Saturday might be the final college game he plays in his home state, with Nebraska exiting the Big 12 for the Big Ten this summer.
"A lot of friends and family are going to be there," Burkhead said. "It may be the last time some of them get to see me play. It will be big and a special moment."
Nebraska has used Rex Burkhead in the Wildcat formation primarily in three games during his two-year career.
Year Opponent Att. Yds. TD Pass Yds TD 2009 Arizona 17 89 1 0-0-0 0 0 2010 Iowa State 20 129 2 0-0-0 0 0 2010 Colorado 19 101 1 2-2-0 30 2