LINCOLN — Nebraska's 2011 walk-on quarterback — Aurora's Tyson Broekemeier — put on a record-breaking show at the Shrine Bowl last year.
NU's 2012 walk-on signal-caller — Grand Island's Ryker Fyfe — spent much of Saturday on the wrong end of the South team's dominating defense. One that featured an Iowa scholarship player (Drew Ott) and several impressive-looking Husker walk-ons (Trey Foster, Ross Dzuris, Andy Janovich and Brad Simpson among them).
Simpson, a linebacker from Ralston, started the game with a sack. Two plays later, Lincoln Southeast's Foster tipped a Fyfe pass that Simpson intercepted and returned for a touchdown. The North team's flashy spread offense — five-wides, bunch sets, Pistol shovel passes — broke down on the Memorial Stadium turf. At least five drops. More missed blocks. Two fumbled punts.
“Turnovers killed us,” Fyfe said after the North's 34-18 loss. “They got the early lead, ran the ball and we just didn't have enough possessions to come back. That's on me, though, getting the offense organized. I should have done a better job.”
Fyfe spent a lot of time struggling with a new, slick ball and running for his life in the first 2½ quarters.
“Our front line — they're all just animals,” Gretna's Janovich said.
“We shut him down pretty good,” Simpson said.
“That was a goal today: Get into Ryker's head, pressure him a little bit, rough him up a little bit,” Foster said.
His 6-foot-5 frame and live arm make him a better long-term prospect than any in-state quarterback since North Platte's Nathan Enderle, who started at Idaho. But Fyfe didn't get much help Saturday. And by throwing off his back foot and into double coverage in the first half, he didn't help himself.
Fans finally got a glimpse of Fyfe's talents on two consecutive touchdown drives late in the game. He zipped a deep post pass to Grand Island's Sam Foltz for a 34-yard touchdown. He smoked a slant pattern to Omaha North's Terry Grigsby for a 17-yard touchdown. On those two drives, Fyfe completed 6 of 7 passes for 92 yards.
“Everyone started running crisp routes,” Fyfe said. “I started getting the right depth on my dropback ... I can throw it anywhere, but they were leaving the middle of the field open at the end there. And we were running great routes.”
When in a rhythm, the kid can hum it. And on the few first-half plays where Fyfe ran the zone read, he ducked and darted around well enough. Had he played behind the South's thick, strong line, he might have had a field day.
“The thing that's most impressive is his elusiveness,” North coach Travis Hawk of Alliance said during the week. “He's taken some of our quickest kids in practice and left them standing. That's amazing. He's a long strider, and usually a long strider isn't very quick.”
Fyfe's final numbers — 13 of 25 for 118 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception — are well off Broekemeier's 371-yard dazzler last year. But Fyfe's skill-set isn't. And he has a key advantage: height.
“You want to be able to see the field and make good reads,” Fyfe said.
Unlike 6-footers Broekemeier and former Millard South star Bronson Marsh — a scholarship guy now listed as a quarterback on NU's roster — Fyfe has those extra inches to look over a defense. It didn't do him much good on the low pass Foster tipped, of course. But his 34-yard dart to Foltz is a play that shorter quarterbacks struggle to make without floating the ball.
I watched former Husker Zac Lee — who had a great arm — still balloon that pass at NU. And, of course, Taylor Martinez is reworking his mechanics on that kind of throw.
Fyfe can put that pass on a lower, more consistent trajectory. Whether he can run the option — and absorb the punishment — depends on how much weight he can gain. He wants to add 30 pounds in a redshirt year.
“It'll be tough — but that's my goal,” he said.
But, like Broekemeier and Marsh, Fyfe will get his spin at the wheel on scout team. Nebraska's scholarship depth chart remains thin. The Huskers have yet to land a scholarship quarterback for this cycle. And walk-ons have held starting jobs all over the place in coach Bo Pelini's tenure. The key in those situations — other than punter and kicker — is whether the walk-on can put on the weight and master the role.
Nowhere is the role more challenging than at quarterback, a position that Husker fans arguably haven't been entirely pleased with since Zac Taylor's fourth-quarter drive vs. Texas A&M in 2006.
It doesn't stop Hawk from making a prediction.
“We're going to see him on the field, leading Nebraska — as long as things go his way, he stays injury-free,” Hawk said. “But he's going to have the opportunity to be a tremendous, great Nebraska quarterback.”
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