Lincoln, Neb. Nebraska’s offense stands to gain if Niles Paul and Brandon Kinnie compete as hard against opponents as they do against each other.
Whether it’s table tennis, 10-yard sprints or pushing blocking sleds across the field, the two receivers relish their opportunities to one-up the other guy.
“BK and I will go at it,” Paul said. “If I won, I’m going to let him know I won. If he won, he’s going to let me know he won.”
The senior from Omaha added: “I won the bulk of them.”
Paul has established himself as the leader of the receiving corps after catching 40 passes for 796 yards and four touchdowns last season. Kinnie, a junior from Kansas City, Mo., has taken note of those numbers and is shooting for them.
“I’m ready to show I can be a playmaker as well as Niles and that I can be respected just as much,” said Kinnie, who made 14 of his 15 catches in the final seven games last season and is still looking for his first touchdown.
Paul, among three Big 12 receivers on the preseason watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, considers it a compliment that Kinnie wants to be like him.
The two spent a lot of time together in the offseason. They made a competition out of almost anything they did. One day, on a lark, they had a contest to see who could push a blocking sled across the practice field the fastest.
Who won depends on who you ask. Their competitiveness carried over to conditioning drills and the weight room, where they made impressive gains.
Both are listed at 220 pounds, but they reported to preseason practice closer to 230.
With another 230-pounder, Mike McNeill, set to play more at slot receiver than his usual tight end spot, the Huskers should be plenty physical on the perimeter.
“There are some real men out there,” offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said.
Paul and Kinnie embrace the tough stuff, so much so that Paul brought boxing gloves to the locker room one day this summer.
Surprisingly, Paul and Kinnie didn’t square off. Instead, Paul boxed tailbacks Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead, and Kinnie took on tailback Austin Jones.
There were no knockdowns, and bouts were stopped before things got out of hand, but the mock fights were symbolic of the style Paul and Kinnie want to play.
Paul said he models himself after the receivers who punished defensive backs in the triple-option heyday of the mid 1990s. That’s when a young Paul started taking notice of Nebraska football, back when his uncle, Ahman Green, was winning national titles as the centerpiece of a punishing offense.
Of course, the 2010 offense involves more pass-catching, but Paul said he and his teammates can learn something from the receivers of yesteryear.
“We watched film of them, and I see receivers coming down crashing hard, I mean, destroying safeties,” Paul said. “I want to do that. You watch the films, and it came to the point where safeties were scared to come down on them.”
Paul’s and Kinnie’s tenacity, borne of their personal rivalry, has caught the attention of Nebraska All-Big 12 cornerback Prince Amukamara.
“It’s going to be hard to get off their blocks,” Amukamara said. “It always seems like they’re holding. I guess they’re doing everything right. No flags are thrown. Hopefully, they’ll intimidate some corners out there.”