LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Michael Rose-Ivey was so hyped to play a football game for the first time in 620 days that he prematurely sprinted out to his linebacker spot as the field cleared after the opening kickoff against South Alabama.
There Rose-Ivey was, a solitary figure on the Nebraska side of the ball, while his teammates were still on the sideline huddling with defensive coordinator Mark Banker to get the first play call and final instructions.
''Where's everybody at?'' a laughing Rose-Ivey said, recalling what he thought as he stood alone waiting Saturday night.
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Banker said, ''Everybody's yelling for him. I told them, `Just let him go. He's a little excited.' "
More than just a little, no doubt.
Before the 48-9 victory over South Alabama, Rose-Ivey hadn't played since the Gator Bowl at the end of the 2013 season. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on Aug. 8, 2014, and missed all of last season. He should have returned for last week's opener against BYU, but he was suspended along with four other players for violating team rules.
There was no easing into the South Alabama game for Rose-Ivey because two other starting linebackers, Josh Banderas and Dedrick Young, were out with injuries. Rose-Ivey took Banderas' spot at middle linebacker when the Huskers were in their base 4-3 alignment and was on the outside when they were in their nickel package.
Rose-Ivey, who set a school freshman record for tackles in 2013, finished with a team-leading 10 stops against the Jaguars.
''I felt like I was in a lot better shape than I thought I'd be,'' he said. ''It was just fun to be out there, back with those guys. I've still got some rust, a little bit, as far as managing my wind. Before the game I think I was a little too jacked up for the game. But I guess that comes with not being able to play for almost two years now.''
Rose-Ivey made a couple big plays. On a blitz he hurried and hit Cody Clements, forcing an incompletion on a third-and-long, and he burst through a gap to bring down Tyreis Thomas for a 2-yard loss.
Because of the injuries to Banderas and Young, the Huskers had first-time starting linebackers in Chris Weber and Marcus Newby. That made Rose-Ivey's presence especially important against an offense that plays at a fast tempo.
''Backers have to talk quite a bit,'' safety Nate Gerry said. ''Mike's a good vocal leader, and he leads by example, too. When he makes plays, people follow.''
Banker said he was happy for Rose-Ivey because he could sense how sorely he missed being on the field.
''He overcame a lot medically, and then he overcame some things emotionally,'' Banker said. ''He had a ton of academics to do, and he did a great job of that. He stayed the course, and then getting him back, he's one of the team leaders and just also a good football player. It was a huge shot in the arm.''
Rose-Ivey said the game was a good start for him and that the wait was worth it after he spent months rehabilitating his right knee, rebuilding his strength and dealing with problems of his own making. He didn't elaborate.
''I let my teammates down in a moment of weakness, not doing the right things, which I addressed with them last fall when the incident happened,'' he said.
Rose-Ivey said he appreciated coach Mike Riley, the assistant coaches and the strength staff for supporting him.
''Everyone has a story. Everyone has struggles,'' Rose-Ivey said. ''It was tough. That's all I can say. It just feels good to be back out there.''