April 3, 2009

Paul hopes to make up for 'bad day' at Gator Bowl

Don't get him wrong, Niles Paul was as happy as anyone following Nebraska's 26-21 win over Clemson in the Gator Bowl this past January.


He just wished he had done more good than bad in helping the Huskers do it.


Along with just two catches for 13 yards, the then-sophomore wide receiver made a handful of costly errors that nearly cost Nebraska a bowl game victory that has since catapulted the team's hopes heading into this season,


He muffed a punt that would've given NU great field position across midfield trailing 14-10 in the third quarter. Instead, the fumble gave Clemson the ball back and led to a touchdown that put them up 21-10. He also bobbled a kickoff and received a 15-yard personal foul penalty for hitting a man out of bounds on kickoff coverage.


As a result, Paul spent the closing minutes of the game watching from the bench. While everything ended up OK for the Huskers, it still didn't keep him from beating himself up over his performance all winter.


However, that hasn't necessarily been a bad thing.


"When it came to some days where I didn't want to wake up and go work out, or when I felt like I couldn't do squats because it was too heavy or bench because it was too heavy, I thought about that game," Paul said. "I told myself, I've got to get better. I've got to get way better than I was last year. That game is still going to be my drive through the summer.


"It was a horrible way to end the season for me, but a great way to end it for the team. I felt like I could've helped out the team a little more. I think I put our team in a rough spot that game. Coach (Ted Gilmore) told me to not think about the past, but that's my drive. It's going to help me get better."


Now entering his junior season, Paul is determined not only to make up for his bad day at the Gator Bowl, but also to take his game to the next level. Coming into the spring, he is expected to be the leading candidate to win the starting Z receiver job. While there's plenty of competition at the position this offseason, Paul is determined to prove he's a better player than he was that day in Jacksonville, Fla.


"It was my drive this offseason to get bigger, stronger and faster, because everything that could've went wrong that day went wrong," Paul said. "I just feel like I put too much pressure on myself in that game and I didn't react as well as I thought I should have… I know I'm better than that game. Every player has a bad game, it was just I had a bad game at the wrong time. It was definitely a bad game for me, but I'm not looking to make up for that game. I'm just trying to get better as a football player."


Through the first the first five practices of the spring, Paul has already impressed his coaches with his improved work ethic and drive to improve his overall game. Gilmore, NU's receivers coach, said he's still a long way from naming his starting wide outs, but Paul has definitely made a case to be considered for a spot so far.


"It is his job to lose," Gilmore said. "He's been here, he's been in this system, and he should have an advantage over some of the others. I've always challenged Niles to do the little things, the details, and continue to work and taking that next step in his progression. He's done that to this point, and he's trying to earn a spot. He knows right now that nothing is promised."


He may be the frontrunner for a starting spot at the moment, but Paul has no plans of slowing down or working any less hard the rest of the spring and on into fall camp. In his mind, he's got more to prove - or at least make up for - than any player on the roster.


"I look at it as my job to gain," Paul said. "I'm not the starter, but I'm going to work to be the starter until the starter is named. You've got to work to win that spot, so if I win it, I'm going to be happy."


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