December 22, 2009

Holt, Gilleylen learned from scout team demotion

Menelik Holt's senior season wasn't supposed to go like it did.

It was supposed to see him emerge as Nebraska's No. 1 receiver and help a potent passing attack guide the Huskers to a Big 12 Conference title and their first BCS bowl game since 2001.

As it turned out, that scenario couldn't have been further from reality.

Not only has the San Diego native been essentially a non-factor in Nebraska's offense this season, he and teammate Curenski Gilleylen suffered one of the most embarrassing setbacks when they were both demoted to the scout team for two weeks late in the year.

There's certainly a lot both players would like to change about how their season went down, but with a chance to end it on the high note of a Holiday Bowl victory over Arizona still within reach, Holt and Gilleylen are keeping a positive attitude in spite of everything.

"It was tough," Holt said about his mid-season demotion, which receivers coach Ted Gilmore said was done to send a message to his receivers. "I kind of just took it in stride. Since I've been here I've been up and down the depth chart, so it wasn't really anything new to me. I think I took the starting job for granted the first couple of games because no one had been demoted like that before. I don't know if I thought it wouldn't happen to me or what, but it's definitely something I wish I had back.

"It is a business. If you're not getting the job done, they're going to find someone who can. I think that's probably what happened."

Coming into the season, Holt was projected by many to be the leading candidate to replace departing seniors Nate Swift and Todd Peterson. Though he started the year with three catches for 48 yards - including a 28-yard touchdown - in NU's win over Florida Atlantic, Holt's production steadily decreased with each week.

He finished the season with just 15 receptions for 175 yards and a touchdown, and had only five catches after the second week of the season. After being demoted to the scout team the week leading up to the Baylor game on Oct. 31, Holt did not have a catch the rest of the season.

Even so, Holt said the only numbers he truly carries about are in the Huskers' win column. Having a chance to end his collegiate career on a 10-win team after playing on a 5-7 squad just two years ago would go a long way in helping him forget about the low points of this season.

"It'd feel good to get some catches and stuff like that (in the Holiday Bowl), but it'd feel even better to win so I can celebrate," Holt said. "As long as we win and everybody goes out with a W and a 10th win for this program, I'm going to feel good about the season."

Only a sophomore, Gilleylen's situation is a bit different in that he can take the lessons learned this year and improve himself as a player over the next two years. However, he's still had to rebound mentally from his late-season setback.

Prior to his demotion, the Leander, Texas, native was quickly establishing himself as one of Nebraska's top big-play threats. In his first seven games before being sent down to scout team, Gilleylen started two games and had 16 receptions for 299 yards, including at least one catch of 35 yards or more in the first four games of the year.

Like Holt, Gilleylen said he's taken the season's events in stride and is determined to become a better player because of them.

"Definitely the middle part of the season was pretty rough, but it was really a character-building kind of thing," Gilleylen said. "I think I've come out of it a better person. I know what I have to do and what they're expecting from me, so that's what I have to do.

"I've gotten to see a different side of how they saw me and how I needed to change. I'm happy they did it now that I'm on the other side of it. I'm just glad that I can see what I did wrong and that I'm able to fix it."

It was a decision that caught many outside of the program off guard, but both players said they wouldn't change being demoted to the scout team. In some ways, especially for reasons outside of what happens on game day, it just might have been one of the best things that could have happened to them.

"I don't know if there's anything I would change, because I know it all happened for a reason," Holt said. "I wish I could have made some more plays. I wish I could've held on to the ball against Virginia Tech. There's a lot of stuff I wish I could've done that didn't happen. But no one goes out there and tries to make mistakes or tries to fumble. I wish I could've made more plays. We'd only have one loss right now if we could've performed a little better and scored some touchdowns.

"But I don't want to take anything back. I'm a senior and I'm leaving possibly with a 10th win, and a few years ago there were seniors who were leaving with five. So I think we're in a good place right now."

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