Iowa vs. Nebraska, 11.29

Nebraska safety Marquel Dismuke breaks up a pass intended for Iowa's tight end Sam LaPorta last season at Memorial Stadium. 

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He says the experience was "mind-blowing." 

Not always in a good way.

Nebraska safety Marquel Dismuke somehow pushed through to the end of last season despite playing the bulk of it with a neck injury. 

Tackling with a neck injury was not ideal. 

"It was mind-blowing to fight through it each and every game," Dismuke said this week. "But I did that just for me, my team and my coaching staff." 

A native of Compton, California, Dismuke ended the season tied with inside linebacker Collin Miller for third on the team in tackles with 67. That total was the most of any member of the secondary. 

He came up big in Nebraska's 42-38 win in late September at Illinois, breaking up passes on third and fourth down during the Illini's final drive. 

He recorded no fewer than six tackles in each of the Huskers' first six Big Ten games, had a couple of quieter games, then finished the season with a six-tackle performance against Iowa.

"I have a lot of respect for Marquel," said Nebraska junior Cam Taylor-Britt, who made seven of his 10 starts last season at safety but is playing cornerback now. "We both kind of played injured throughout last season. We were back there talking, trying to figure out how to do this and that with our injuries. We were lifting each other up the whole time. He's an older guy, and I was the younger guy. 

"I feel like we're on the same page now. We have a little more chemistry. But he's always lifting me up, and I'm always lifting him up. He was a strong guy last year, and I commend him on that. A lot of people can't do that." 

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Dismuke played sparingly on defense as a sophomore in 2018 — recording just five tackles (plus four on special teams) — but became a regular in the lineup last season. 

In that regard, his story is one of patience. The lone remaining face of the ballyhooed crop of recruits from Calabasas High School, he didn't become an every-down player until his fourth year in the program. In this day and age, many players jump ship instead of waiting that long to earn their chance to shine.

Although Dismuke experienced his share of ups and downs last season, he's convinced the more action a player gets on the field, the more comfortable and smarter he becomes. 

As a result, "I feel like this could be my breakout year," he said.  

Nebraska was 5-7 last season (3-6 Big Ten) following back-to-back 4-8 finishes. That should mean the team has a lot of players hungry for breakout seasons.

Perhaps that explains the fights occurring in practice that Dismuke referenced earlier this week on a Zoom session with reporters.

Bottom line, Nebraska's defense basically needs across-the-board improvement to get where it wants to go. He said the Blackshirts are trying to do a better job of tackling, running to the ball, deflecting passes and applying pressure on quarterbacks. He thinks the key is picking something every day and improving on it.

He also emphasizes the need to play as a unit. 

"I feel like we feed off each other," he said. "So if everybody brings the energy, we're all going to feed off that energy." 

During a pandemic, sometimes bringing the energy is more of a challenge than under normal circumstances.

"It's been a hard year for everybody to keep pushing, to stay poised and keep calm and keep working not knowing what's going to happen with the season," Dismuke said. "But knowing now we have a first game, and knowing it's next week, it's very exciting. 

"We're ready to get back out there and show the world what we can do."

This article originally ran on journalstar.com.

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