Ninth-year running back Ameer Abdullah is a stalwart for the Raiders on third down and special teams. He doubles as a locker-room leader.
The 30-year-old former Nebraska standout spoke with the Review-Journal about his career and interests outside of football:
RJ: Youngest of nine, right? What was that dynamic like for you growing up?
Abdullah: I never won a fight. I’ve never been right. Never had anything new. Everything’s always been hand-me-downs. It’s probably the best place being in the family, rounding up the group. You’ve got a lot of people who’ve experienced a lot of life to teach you a lot things. Especially having six sisters. It was really special because women sometimes can be difficult to understand in this world. I’ve had great examples with my sisters who helped me understand what it means to take care of a woman and also be there for them. It was really special and good for me.
RJ: Growing up in SEC country in Alabama, how did that form your passion for football?
Abdullah: It ain’t much else besides football for the most part. That’s what we know. That’s what we do. I take pride in Alabama putting out some of the most NFL players. It’s one of the smallest states population-wise, so I take great pride in that. Being in a state where college football is glorified, it kept me step-by-step micro-focused on what was most important. Not having a pro team around and not having some of those major markets around kept me focused on the next step all the time.
RJ: But Alabama, Auburn and some of those programs, they didn’t want you to play running back, did they?
Abdullah: None of those schools actually ever officially offered me. I was definitely overlooked. I was kind of a diamond in the rough. Coach Bo Pelini came and found me from the University of Nebraska and he loved my game. Every SEC school overlooked me. They had a lot of interest. They would come to games. I would score four touchdowns but it wasn’t enough. A lot of it came down to what they thought I would be limited to being in my size. As you can see, a lot of that stuff didn’t really matter.
RJ: You enrolled at Nebraska as it was transitioning into the Big Ten from the Big 12. What was that like?
Abdullah: It was different. I had never really seen real snow. I was really homesick my first two years, but going to a program that was set on running the football really taught me a lot more about offensive structure because blocking schemes are the skeleton of an offense. … That probably was the best thing for me and then going to a school where they had established backs there already I had to learn behind — like Rex Burkhead — really helped me mature as a young player.
RJ: You were draft eligible after a strong junior season but came back to get your degree. Why was that important for you?
Abdullah: I didn’t want to keep that door open and circle back to it later. Because you may not be that same energetic person at the time. I may not meet school the same way when I was young and ambitious to learn. When you get older, you get a little bit more entitled sometimes because you feel like you know everything. I wanted to make sure I finished what I started in the moment that I started it.
RJ: Since we’re speaking about the Big Ten, thoughts on the conference?
Abdullah: I don’t even know what it is anymore. Geographically, it makes no sense. But I think it’s good academically for one. I would love for Notre Dame to jump in there, too. But (the conference) is going to be really, really competitive coming up here soon. Nebraska just signed the No. 1 quarterback in the country, Dylan Raiola. I’ve known Dylan since he was 8 years old.
Abdullah: Yeah, his father went to Nebraska, Dominic Raiola. He was the strength coach when I was with the Detroit Lions and Dylan would be in there all the time working out after school. It’s funny, he was dedicated then to really understanding the game. He loved being around the game. To see him grow into the No. 1 quarterback in the country, it’s like “Dang, man.”
RJ: How excited were you when you saw he committed?
Abdullah: Really excited because I know what kind of momentum that can build for a program when you sign someone of that caliber. Other players want to play with them. If he has success early, that can only turn the tide for the Huskers, which I’ve been hoping for. Since I’ve left, there haven’t been many ranked seasons. We’re definitely a team that makes college football better.
RJ: You’ve studied jiu-jitsu. What was that like?
Abdullah: It’s really more so about being a warrior in a garden as opposed to a garden at war. It’s better to have skills and not need them than need the skills and not have them. Along with a lot of the self-defense training that you can learn from martial arts comes a lot of spiritual balance. A lot of patience. A lot of discipline. That’s something I really take pride in.
RJ: What do you feel like has been the key to your longevity?
Abdullah: For one, remembering that I’m playing a child’s game. Keeping it fun. What I mean by that is not making it ever too much about the work. Making it more so about the opportunity to get that I’m doing it as opposed to I have to do something. And then really just taking care of my body, taking care of my spirituality. Once you find a smooth routine, the years go by, the days go by fast. I’m in year nine now with a lot of football ahead of me.