Nebraska's Ryker Fyfe has turned his frustration over being a walk-on into positive energy.
To the surprise of many, but certainly not Fyfe, the redshirt sophomore has passed heralded 2013 recruit Johnny Stanton on his way to the No. 2 quarterback's job behind Tommy Armstrong Jr.
It's been quite the ascent for Fyfe, whose only scholarship offer coming out of Grand Island High was from Division II Nebraska-Kearney.
"It does fuel your fire," Fyfe said. "I thought after my senior year I'd have a bunch of offers. I was like, 'I feel I'm a D1 player.' "
Fyfe accepted Nebraska's invitation to walk on and brought with him an "I'll-show-them" attitude. He hopes to be among the players awarded scholarships at the end of the week.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck said Nebraska didn't have a scholarship available for Fyfe after Armstrong verbally committed to the 2012 recruiting class. That Fyfe wasn't offered by any Division I school surprised Beck.
"I thought he was a good enough player," Beck said, "but we didn't really have enough to take two. Getting him was like getting two."
It's helped Fyfe that he has a year's more experience than Stanton, who was on the scout team last year, and that the roster isn't packed with quarterbacks. Four-year starter Taylor Martinez and backup Ron Kellogg III exhausted their eligibility. Four-star recruit Bubba Starling signed in 2011 but decided to pursue professional baseball, and Brion Carnes and walk-on Bronson Marsh transferred.
That left Fyfe the presumptive No. 3 QB last spring almost by default. Stanton led one of the nation's top teams at Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Catholic High and was ranked among the top 30 quarterback prospects. With those credentials, he was considered the front-runner to be the top backup or maybe challenge Armstrong for the starter's job.
Fyfe ramped up his underdog approach to compete with and pull even with Stanton.
"I decided I'm going to go out there and attack it," Fyfe said. "I don't have much to lose. I'm a walk-on and I only get to do this once, so I'm going to go out and do it and prove myself."
After his strong showing in the spring game, Fyfe was named co-No. 2 QB with Stanton, ahead of another big-time recruit, Zack Darlington. It became apparent early in preseason practice that Fyfe had separated himself from Stanton.
"He's a walk-on, and nothing is really given to him," Armstrong said. "He's earned everything. He's in the film room, and he's making the right decisions and he's leading the right way. He's in the same grade as I am, and we're making each other better by coming out here and competing."
Fyfe passed for 3,400 yards and 34 touchdowns his last two years of high school. He was 15-6 those two years and never advanced Grand Island past the second round of the playoffs.
That he wasn't offered a scholarship by Nebraska followed a trend. The last homegrown quarterback who arrived in Lincoln on scholarship, and who took snaps in a game, was 2001 Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch. Kellogg, an Omaha native who split time with Armstrong last year, was put on scholarship for his final season.
"I'm sure Nebraska high school football isn't as good as it is down in Texas or in California and Florida," Fyfe said, naming the home states of Armstrong, Stanton and Darlington. "You've got kids like Johnny and Zack who won state championships, and that's appealing to the coach's eye. I didn't even win in Nebraska."
Now that he's the top backup, he refuses to slip into complacency.
"I have to keep hold of it right here to end fall camp," he said, "and still keep pushing Tommy every day for No. 1."