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NEARLY EVERY CRICK WAS THERE. HIS PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS, HIS aunts and uncles and cousins. They all had traveled many miles to Waco, Texas, to see Nebraska play Baylor last Oct. 31. Looking up into the stands at his family minutes before kickoff, with most of his kin wearing his number 94 jersey and one relative waving a sign that read CRICK OR TREAT, Jared Crick, a shy, soft-spoken native of Cozad, Neb. (pop. 4,296), sensed he was about to play a special game. But he didn't sense that in three hours he would be in the Huskers' record book.
On every offensive play the Bears double-teamed left tackle Ndamukong Suh, who would win the Outland and Lombardi trophies at season's end. This meant Crick, Nebraska's right defensive tackle, faced only one offensive lineman (freshman Ivory Wade) most of the afternoon—the last time all season that would happen. Using his rare combination of strength and speed, the 6' 6", 285-pound Crick dominated Wade and the game. When the final whistle blew, he had amassed a school-record five sacks, a school-record seven tackles for loss, 13 total tackles, one fumble recovery and one pass defended in the Huskers' 20-10 victory. It was, in the words of Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, "a nearly perfect game" by a defensive player.
"I had no idea what the stats were, and I just kept making plays," Crick says. "I was kind of in the zone."
Expect more special games this year from Crick, who last season had 73 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 9½ sacks. How good can Crick, a player whom Suh described after the Holiday Bowl as "the next Suh," be in 2010? He's already being projected by some NFL scouts as a first-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft should he forgo his senior year. "Jared has so many tools," Pelini says. "He's big, strong, athletic, explosive and just has a wonderful combination of power and speed. He's capable of being a dominant player week in and week out. He made big strides last year, and we expect him to make big strides this year. No doubt, he's special."
Growing up in Cozad, which is a three-hour drive straight west on Interstate 80 from Lincoln, Crick had one big dream as a kid: to play football for the Huskers. He accepted his football scholarship hours after it was formally offered while he was a junior at Cozad High, where he played defensive end and tight end for the football team (he had 68 tackles and 15 receptions as a senior), center for the basketball team (he averaged 12 points a game as a senior) and put the shot for the track team (he finished second in the state tournament his senior year with a throw of 60' 10¼").
After redshirting in 2007 Crick was a backup defensive tackle in '08 before emerging as a starter last year. Crick's impact on the program has already been profound. During his redshirt season Nebraska had 13 sacks; last season the Huskers racked up 44 sacks, which tied for second most in the country, behind Pittsburgh (48).
"There were a lot of times this spring when Jared simply couldn't be blocked," says wide receiver Niles Paul. "We'd be in the huddle and just have no answer for him. The crazy thing is, he's getting better every day."