April 9, 2010

Refocused Paul using mistakes as motivation

The image of Niles Paul flexing his biceps following his 74-yard touchdown catch in Nebraska's Holiday Bowl win over Arizona is one that arguably best represents the progress the Huskers made last season.

When Paul did it, however, it was just as much for him as it was for his team.

After making two costly mistakes that played big roles in two of NU's four losses last year, Paul found himself the target of heavy criticism from both fans and, possibly even more so, his own competitive drive.

Since that touchdown on Dec. 30, though, the senior wide receiver has all but forgotten the low times he went through in 2009. In his mind, everything happens for a reason, and those were merely hurdles in the way of becoming the best player he could be.

"During the season, those mistakes bothered me a lot, and game to game kind of killed my whole confidence level," Paul said. "But this is a new season for me and new outlook on being a wide receiver. I know what I can do and the things that I'm capable of. As you saw in that Arizona game, that was just me putting it together and being a complete player.

"(The touchdown) felt great. That was just the feeling I had. People were on my back, and I felt like I just took them off like pads. I just eliminated all the problems and showed people what I could do."

The two main mistakes of mention came in back-to-back weeks last October.

The first was in NU's 31-10 loss to Texas Tech, where he basically gave up on a swing pass that ended up being ruled a lateral. Instead of diving on the ball, Paul let it go, and a Red Raider defender scooped it up and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown to give Tech a 14-0 lead.

The second came the next week against Iowa State. While Paul was hardly the only Husker to make a mistake in the 9-7 loss to the Cyclones, his stood out more than any other because of the fact that it was completely self inflicted.

With Nebraska trailing 10-7 late in the second quarter, Paul broke free for a long reception down the sideline. Though he wasn't touched, Paul lost control of the football while trying to avoid being tripped up and fumbled at the 2-yard line.

Iowa State ended up recovering the ball in the end zone for a touchback.

By the end of that two-game stretch, Paul's confidence was about as low as it had ever been. Nebraska receivers coach Ted Gilmore was constantly trying to convince him to let the errors go and move on, but Paul couldn't forget them that easily.

Instead, he used them as motivation.

"Sometimes I think about not being so hard on myself, but it wouldn't make me the player that I am," Paul said. "After those mistakes, I bounced back and finished the season real strong. I saw all of that as just me progressing as a player. Those mistakes will probably never happen again. There was some weird stuff that happened on both occasions, but those will never happen again. That was just me learning as a player."

Paul's coaches have certainly taken notice of his development both mentally and physically since the start of the off-season, as he's had as good of a spring as any player on the roster.

For someone so determined to achieve perfection, Paul has definitely taken some big steps backwards. The fact that he's grown so much as a player over the past three years in spite of them is a credit to his resiliency and relentless work ethic.

With the way he's responded thus far, plays like that Holiday Bowl touchdown could become a common occurrence this season - without the 15-yard excessive celebration, of course.

"Niles is very detailed," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. "He's very professional about his work is the best way to put it. As the season wore on last year, he became a bigger role and really started delivering plays. I think with that he saw what the possibilities were if he continued to push himself and develop, and he's done that.

"He's very unselfish. He's one of the hardest workers on our side of the ball and the team. He exemplifies what you want in work ethic."

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