NORMAN, Okla. — The two biggest plays of Omar Manning’s Nebraska career to date felt like a long time coming.
When he signed his national letter of intent in December 2019, coach Scott Frost said he’d never coached anybody that looked like the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder and that Manning could change the Husker offense.
Instead, the much-talked-about former junior college transfer wide receiver appeared in only one game in 2020 and was targeted one time.
On Saturday against No. 3 Oklahoma, Husker fans started to see what Frost was talking about with Manning.
The Texas native hauled in his first career touchdown in the fourth quarter to get NU within 23-16 and also picked up 31 yards on a critical third-down conversion that kept the Huskers’ opening drive alive and eventually resulted in a field goal.
“It felt good. That was my first (Division I), collegiate touchdown,” Manning said. “It was special. A special moment.”
The junior missed last week’s game against Buffalo and watched from the sideline with a boot on his left foot.
“I’m still playing through it, but during the football season, you’re not really going to be at 100% all year. If I can go, I’m going,” Manning said. “No question about it in my mind.”
Manning first signed with TCU out of high school, but redshirted and left after a year and ended up at Kilgore (Texas) Junior College. He put up big numbers there for two years, but had yet to make his mark at Nebraska.
“Everybody has their own journey and for me as a player, it taught me a lot last year, sitting out, that’s something I wish never would have happened,” Manning said. “But now I’m more appreciative of it. Moments like this, I cherish them.”
Frost and offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said this offseason that the key to Manning’s growth is that he was consistently available during spring ball, during summer workouts and into camp. He dealt with one injury in the preseason and now has played in three of Nebraska’s four games.
When he’s in the game, it doesn’t appear NU is limited in what it calls or how it operates offensively.
“(Understanding) the system is night and day (different),” Manning said. “Coming from juco, we had an intricate offense, but nothing like this. In the spring, I took some steps and then fall camp. But this season, it’s night and day. It’s nothing they can call that I don’t know, and that feels good. I can just go out there and play full speed.”
The results: 10 catches on 10 targets for 132 yards and a touchdown.
“Every catch is big in my eyes, especially in a game like this against the No. 3 team in the nation,” Manning said. “Every catch is important. Every block. Every play. I treat it all the same.”
He knows the challenge now is to continue to build.
“It’s top priority. I try to miss no games, but injuries happen. It’s football, but to me, it’s top priority to make sure I go in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and try get in the training room to ice, heat, stretch and just get my body right.”
Manning's continued production is going to be key for Nebraska going forward. He returned Saturday along with receiver Zavier Betts and tight ends Austin Allen and Travis Vokolek, all of whom have missed time with injuries. They could get Oliver Martin back at some point, too.
The quartet that was back in action against OU on Saturday combined for 12 catches, 194 yards and Manning's touchdown.
"We look different with those guys out there," Frost said.