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October 19, 2010

Criticism of Paul reaches new, disturbing heights

Niles Paul has certainly dealt with his share of criticism over the course of his career at Nebraska, but it has never been as bad as this.

Walking back to his car with several members of his family following the Huskers' frustrating 20-13 loss to Texas on Saturday, a handful of Nebraska fans saw him from a distance and decided to voice their frustration with Paul's performance.

"You suck!"

"You lost us the game!"

"Texas can have you!"

Paul did his best to ignore it, and he even had to keep his older brothers from going after the fans in retaliation. But it didn't stop there.

When the senior wide receiver got home, he found his Facebook profile flooded with even more insults and personal attacks. It was bad enough that Paul went ahead and deleted his profile completely.

Paul has no issues with fans being upset with his play against the Longhorns. He was more disappointed than anyone with his three dropped passes that could have been the difference in a game Husker fans wanted to win so dearly.

But a line was crossed, in his opinion, when the boo's directed towards him from the stands carried over to attacks in his personal life.

"It hurts. It hurts," Paul said. "When I was walking back to my car (after the game), people were yelling stuff at me, and that's just disrespectful. As an athlete, I've got to keep my cool and stay focused, because I don't want to do anything to put the situation I'm in in jeopardy."

Head coach Bo Pelini is no stranger to what Paul went through on Saturday night. He said he's had more criticism and insults yelled at him off the field than he can remember, and when Paul came to him to talk about his incident, all he could tell him was to do his best to block it out.

"Oh yeah, I got yelled at the other night (Saturday)," Pelini said. "It is what it is. I mean, I don't care. I could care less."

Hasn't he ever wanted to just slug one of his more vocal critics in the face?

"Honestly, do you? Yeah, you want to, but honestly, it just bounces off you," he said. "I could care less. But I also don't pay attention when they say good things either, because I know what the deal is. That's just the way it goes. You can't pay attention to it."

Saturday was far from the first time Paul has been the target of blame for a Nebraska loss. For as athletic and talented as the Omaha native may be, he's seemed to have had the most unfortunate luck when it's come to making the biggest mistakes on the biggest stages.

Whether it was his personal foul and fumbled punt in the 2008 Gator Bowl, his lack of an attempt to recover a lateral screen pass against Texas Tech or somehow just dropping the ball on what would have been the game-winning touchdown against Iowa State last season, Paul has made it easy to be the scapegoat for NU's misfortunes.

However, he said that doesn't give fans the right to act the way those few did on Saturday. This time, it reached an entirely new level of disrespect.

"I think it is a little harder, because even with the Iowa State game, I took a lot of criticism, but it was never to this extent," Paul said. "I would never have to walk to my car and hear people blatantly disrespecting me, as I'm walking to my car in front of my family. It's a little harder now because I have to keep my cool and focus on being here for the team and being a leader on the team."

"I can't deal with that," he continued. "People going on my page and kind of using me as a scapegoat and saying bad things to me on Facebook for making a mistake that receivers make or being human in a game. I just kind of block it out."

After talking with Paul about the whole situation over the weekend, Pelini said he fully understood his receiver's frustration both with the fans and his own mistakes. In both cases, though, Pelini said he was confident Paul would not let them get the best of him.

"Niles is a prideful guy," Pelini said. "He just didn't have the type of game he wanted to have, so I mean that's part of it too. But it doesn't help the situation when that happens. It makes him even madder. But one thing I know about Niles is he'll respond the right way. He's a competitive guy with a lot of pride. He'll come back. He'll respond very well to the whole thing."

Niles Paul has always been a Husker. He's Nebraska born, the nephew of one of the greatest NU running backs of all-time and is still, despite his inconsistency, one of the team's top playmakers when he doesn't get in his own way.

However, as much as he's tried to ignore it all, Paul has realized he'll never be able to make everyone happy. From now on, the only people he's worried about are the people in the locker room with him before and after every game.

"It definitely surprised me a little bit, but I've got to realize I'm not playing for the fans, I'm playing for my coaches and my team," Paul said. "I was more upset that I let down my team out there than anything."



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