LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -Nebraska's Marcus Mendoza was told to hang in there at wide receiver last week when he asked his coaches about the possibility of returning to running back.
A couple days later, after Quentin Castille was kicked off the team, the coaches came back to Mendoza and asked him the same question.
Mendoza was happy to oblige.
``It feels more natural,'' he said. ``Wide receiver was going well, but I just kept finding myself looking over at the running backs and wondering what could happen if I was there.''
Mendoza will find out soon. Castille's departure - coach Bo Pelini dismissed him for repeated violations of team rules - has created competition for playing time behind starter Roy Helu Jr.
Though freshman Rex Burkhead is considered a strong No. 2, Pelini said no pecking order has been established 11 days before the Sept. 5 opener against Florida Atlantic.
Helu and Mendoza are the only backs who have carried the ball in a college game.
id Tuesday that Mendoza already is making a strong push to be among the top three backs.
``We can do all kinds of things with him, Rex and Roy,'' Watson said. ``Those guys all possess that kind of ability to go out on the perimeter because they have receiver skills when it comes to getting in and out of breaks and being an explosive player.''
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Mendoza was recruited in 2007 as a running back. With Helu and Castille having established themselves as a strong 1-2 punch, the coaches last spring sold Mendoza on the idea of moving to receiver as a way to get on the field.
Mendoza performed well at his new position, and even caught a touchdown pass in the spring game.
``I think it could have worked out,'' he said.
Mendoza figures to give the 24th-ranked Cornhuskers a good-hands running back.
Mendoza ran three times for 33 yards against New Mexico State, 10 times for 58 yards against Kansas State, and he averaged 7 yards on his 15 attempts last season.
He also could be a viable option in the short passing game for first-year starting quarterback Zac Lee. Mendoza caught 20 passes for 250 yards his senior year at Spring Woods High in Houston.
Pelini said it's too early to define Mendoza's role.
``That depends on him, how he practices and if he gets better and earns a spot,'' Pelini said. ``There's a lot of competition.''
been one of the major story lines of preseason practice. Burkhead ran for 1,762 yards and 28 touchdowns and caught 42 passes for 594 yards and five touchdowns out of the backfield last season at Plano (Texas) High.
Mendoza said the competition is friendly.
``Every time I see him I point at him and say, 'You know who your No. 1 fan is?''' Mendoza said.
``'You are, Marcus,''' Burkhead always replies.
Mendoza said going against perhaps the Huskers' most celebrated 2009 recruit only makes him better.
``I'm not going in thinking I have seniority. I still have to work,'' Mendoza said. ``He's been there since the beginning of camp and he's worked his way up. He's pushing me harder. I know I have to work up. I'm not going to just get a spot.''
Mendoza also is competing with fellow sophomore Austin Jones, redshirt freshmen Lester Ward and Collins Okafor for playing time.
``To a man, all those young running backs have been working hard,'' Pelini said. ``I like the group.''
Mendoza just hopes he remains a part of that group. The last thing he wants is to become another Major Culbert, the former Husker who played running back, safety and linebacker - and never gained track at any of the positions.
Mendoza said he worried about bouncing around like that.
``It did come to me, like 'Where is my position going to be?''' Mendoza said. ``Coming back to running back, it just felt good.''

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