Of the 253 players selected in last month's NFL draft, none has more incentive to stay out of trouble than Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.
Once projected as a first-round pick, Dennard, the Big Ten's defensive back of the year in 2011, tumbled all the way to the seventh round, where the New England Patriots selected him. Although on-field performance factored in the drop, Dennard paid dearly for an off-field incident five days before the draft. He was arrested in the early morning hours of April 21 for third-degree felony assault of a police officer after he allegedly punched an officer outside of a bar in Lincoln.
Dennard has every reason to remain on the straight and narrow. But if he needed one more ...
"That isn't who he is, that's never been who he is, and that's not going to be who he is in the future," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "And I put my reputation, and I put everything I stand for as a football coach behind that young man.
"He is a tremendous young man, and one who you want not only representing you as a football player, but the type of kid you want in your community, the type of kid you want representing your organization," Pelini continued.
"For four years, I didn't have a problem with that young man in any way. He did things exactly how we asked him to do them here, and the way we handle our kids, we don't make it easy on the kids in our program. We hold them to high standards every single day."
Some very bold words from the Huskers coach. Pelini and his colleagues are often judged by the actions of their players in college, but coaches don't often publicly put their reputation on the back of a player who has since left their campus. Pelini is showing a lot of faith in Dennard, who had no major off-field problems before the arrest.
Dennard has to be pleased to have such strong support from Pelini. The cornerback also should know he's not just representing himself and his family, but his head coach. That's more than enough motivation to keep him in line, plus the fact he's playing for Bill Belichick.
Pelini still comes across to many as volatile, although his public image seems to be softening a bit. But in my visits to Lincoln, I've noticed that he's very popular with his players. This is one reason why.