LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Michael Rose-Ivey was his usual boisterous self while Nebraska practiced in full pads for the first time, and defensive end Jack Gangwish loved hearing that familiar booming voice again.
“When he’s back there and he’s being loud and talking,” Gangwish said, “that motivates me.”
Rose-Ivey tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a non-contact drill last year and missed the season. Gangwish and other Cornhuskers defenders missed the playmaking ability and enthusiasm the linebacker showed in 2013, when he obliterated the school’s freshman record for tackles.
Hours after he was hurt on Aug. 8, 2014, Rose-Ivey wrote on Instagram, “I will be back better than ever before!!”
Based on how he performed in Tuesday night’s full-padded scrimmage, it’s apparent he’s serious. He said he’s become more explosive, thanks to hip-strengthening exercises he did during his rehabilitation, and he’s taken steps to become a better pass-rusher. He devoted the offseason to soaking up new defensive coordinator Mark Banker’s system and quickly won back his starting job alongside Josh Banderas.
“Man, Rosey is rolling this fall,” Gangwish said. “From my perspective, I don’t think Rosey has missed a beat. He’s back. He might have more drive than ever right now.”
Rose-Ivey said the injury made him appreciate football more.
“A lot of guys walk around and say they’re sore. I’m excited to get out here,” he said. “I guess it’s cliche to say it’s a blessing to be out here. But it really is - just to be able to come out here and do something I love, something I’ve been doing since I can’t even remember when.”
Rose-Ivey’s return is crucial for a defense that lacks depth at linebacker and struggled the last month of the season, especially against the run.
The 5-foot-11, 240-pound junior from Kansas City, Missouri, appeared in 12 games in 2013 and started seven. He made at least seven tackles in six games, and his 17 against Iowa in the last regular-season game were the most by a Nebraska defender since Lavonte David had the same number against Michigan in 2011. Rose-Ivey made nine more tackles against Georgia in the Gator Bowl.
His 66 tackles for the season were the most by a Nebraska freshman, breaking the record of 49.
Rose-Ivey said he was worried about his future after Bo Pelini and his staff was fired. Not only was he coming off a year in which he didn’t play, new coach Mike Riley and his assistants didn’t know much about him.
“I think I was one of the first guys up there to meet with those guys,” Rose-Ivey said. “I wanted to show my face and let them know I’m dedicated to getting back to 100 percent and being a contributor in whatever way they wanted.”
Rose-Ivey said he and Banderas immersed themselves in film study with linebackers coach Trent Bray over the winter.
“We kind of got a leg up on everybody a little bit,” he said. “I felt from the conversations I had that they were giving everyone a clean slate. Even though I’m coming off the injury, they understood what skill set I brought to the table. That made me feel good, that little bit of encouragement.”
Preseason practices can be exhausting, and Rose-Ivey is doing all he can to make sure his right knee holds up. He said he gets treatment in the morning before he joins teammates for yoga sessions and weight lifting. He’s back in the training room before and after practice.
“I brought a pillow and blanket and stored it in the training room. It’s kind of where I’m at now,” he said. “That’s my responsibility to this team, to make sure I’m taking care of my body. I feel that’s especially important so I can be out here giving as much as I can.”
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