LINCOLN - For the second time in 18 months, wide receiver Zavier Betts left the Nebraska football team – this time for good and just before the beginning of the 2023 season.
"He came to me and said 'hey coach, my heart's not in it,'" NU coach Matt Rhule said after a three-hour scrimmage inside Memorial Stadium. "Caught me by surprise. He’s done a lot to get to this point. I don’t know what’s going on in his life. Just wants to go do something else. He was doing great. No issues, no problems, nothing off the field. Just didn’t want to play football anymore.”
The timing, Rhule conceded, was not ideal. Two weeks in training camp. Three weeks before the Aug. 31 Minnesota game.
Rhule indicated Betts intends to remain in school. The Bellevue West graduate took 21 academic credit hours in the spring semester just to get eligible and appeared poised to play quite a bit for a Husker team low on experienced receivers.
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Betts played 2020 and 2021 at NU, amassing 526 all-purpose yards on 35 total touches, before originally leaving the program in spring 2022. At the time, Betts was burned out on football. He then entered the transfer portal after the 2022 season with the intent of playing elsewhere only to recommit to playing at Nebraska for the spring.
“I want him to go places where they have people who don’t entitle him,” Rhule said of Betts in February. “They don’t enable him. But they advocate for him. So, we’ll do that for Zavier.”
In summer interview with Husker Sports Network, Betts said he was in a better spot than he ever had been after passing the 21 credit hours and putting his trust in Rhule.
“At times it did get really difficult but I had everybody pushing me and keeping me going forward,” he said on Sports Nightly. “That was my only goal — earning their trust — so I did anything and everything they asked me to and I made sure to do it exactly how they wanted it.”
Betts’ departure likely means Nebraska will have lean even more on freshmen inside the program. Rhule said the young group has the potential to be “elite” but still need to learn how to play at the collegiate level. Rhule mentioned Malachi Coleman, Jaidyn Doss and Jaylen Lloyd as freshmen making a move.
“It takes a lot to play as a freshman,” Rhule said. “They have to make a decision to put the time in to really learn. We have guys who can make plays, we have enough guys to win with, but somebody’s going to have to step up from that young group.”
What will it take? Confidence. The team’s No. 1 receiver, Virginia transfer Billy Kemp, “has pelts on the wall, he’s made a lot of plays.” NU’s young receivers are “fast” and “explosive,” Rhule said, but need time.
“Nobody’s faster than Brice Turner,” Rhule said, mentioning one of NU’s freshmen, who ran a 10.25-second 100 meters in high school. Rhule added Jeremiah Charles, another freshman, returned to practice. “We have guys to play, who can play, they’re going to have to make sure they play with confidence.”
While Kemp practiced Saturday, Marcus Washington – still recovering from a hand injury – did not, and neither did Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda, who graduated at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Garcia-Castaneda, like Betts, left the team in 2022, only to return for this season.
“He’s a dependable guy who can make plays for us,” Rhule said. “He’s a guy that we’re counting on. He’s one of those guys, when you’re drawing up plays, you’re drawing up plays for him. He can go make this play, go make that play. I think he’s a playmaker for us.”
Rhule has no plans to move back tight end Janiran Bonner back to receiver, but redshirt freshman running back Emmett Johnson – a bright spot in camp, Rhule said – could flex to wideout.