August 10, 2011

Dennard using leadership to block out the hype

In what could the most important season of his football career, senior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard hasn't let all the preseason praise or huge expectations change his mindset one bit.

Luckily for him, he learned exactly how to handle this situation last year.

By watching how eventual first-round NFL draft pick Prince Amukamara was able block out all the pressure and put on a terrific senior season, Dennard knows what to expect for himself this year both on and off the field.

"That's what I learned from Prince," Dennard said. "He said just go out there and have fun. Don't worry about what they have you rated and all that. I try to keep my mind off that, because that's not me. I'm not all into the news trying to look at myself on the Internet trying to see where I'm rated. I'm just going out there focused on one thing, and that's to get better."

Dennard said he still talks with Amukamara almost daily, and the current New York Giant is always willing to offer up advice for Dennard as he prepares to take over as Nebraska's next shutdown corner.

After being named to the preseason watch lists for several distinguished awards, including Bednarik and Thorpe awards and the Nagurski Trophy, Dennard knows expectations are at an all-time high for him this season.

With the help of his good friend and former teammate as well as his unwavering confidence in his own ability, though, the Rochelle, Ga., native has no worries about trying to live up to all the hype.

"I don't see it as pressure at all," Dennard said. "Just go out there and play your game and just compete and have fun. There's no pressure. It's not like they don't expect me to do a lot of good things, but if you go out there and have fun and perform like you're supposed to perform, you're going to go out there and make plays. Just go out there and focus on the process."

One of the ways Dennard is staying focused on the process is by filling Amukamara's role as the leader of the cornerback unit. With so many young corners working their way up behind him, Dennard has made it a point to be the same kind of mentor for his teammates as Amukamara was for him.

"I'm trying to do that with every cornerback," Dennard said. "Ciante Evans, Josh Mitchell, Andrew Green, Antonio Bell - I'm trying to do that with everybody. I'm a senior now. I'm a leader, so I have to step in that role and take charge."

Evans, who is expected by many to be Nebraska's next star cornerback when all is said and done, said the leadership provided by Prince last season and now Dennard this year has been invaluable in his development.

The torch appears to have been passed down just fine for the Husker cornerbacks this season, and from the sounds of things, it will be for the next few years to come.

"I've been saying that since I first got here, Alfonzo and Prince really helped me out a lot," Evans said. "If you just watch those guys, it's like 'Wow, how do they do some of the stuff they do?' That's how you learn. You don't ask questions, you just sit back and let them teach you."

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