football practice

Nebraska's Ben Stille saw his first game action Saturday against Rutgers. The redshirt freshman recorded two tackles, including one for loss.

ERIC GREGORY, Lincoln Journal Star

LINCOLN -- The story played out like it has so many times before on the Memorial Stadium turf. This time, it was Ben Stille's turn.

The redshirt freshman from Ashland-Greenwood High School got his first official snaps as a Husker Saturday, and he played well. Now, he hopes that experience pays off as he moves forward through this season.

"It was definitely a dream come true for me, growing up in the state, seeing the guys out there all throughout my childhood," Stille said Monday. "So after I got the butterflies out it was just a fun time playing ball out there."

Stille spent much of his time lining up at outside linebacker, the latest position on NU's defense to be hit by injury, playing behind starter Sedrick King.

The 6-foot-5, 255 pounder finished with three tackles, including two solo stops, and a tackle for loss.

And he did it as a guy who played for a hyphenated high school. Doesn't get much more Nebraska than that.

"That doesn't happen every day for kids from Nebraska," Stille said.

Stille set the edge when Nebraska stoned Rutgers on a fourth-and-1 with two minutes left in the second quarter, and called that play a highlight for him two days later.

"Watching Stille, he's gotten so much better over last year, it’s awesome to see his growth," NU nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg, another Nebraska guy (Gretna), said. "He's so big and now he's getting so much more physical and so much more ready to play winning football."

Stille said coaches told him Wednesday that he would play if he picked up the game plan quickly enough. By Thursday, when the defensive coaching staff revealed their rotations for the game, Stille knew he would see some time.

"We're looking at practice and we're looking at his work and we're saying, 'Who's not playing enough?' And we look at Ben and we say, 'This guy's got to play more,'" Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. "He knows what to do, he's tough and rugged, he plays hard and cares a great deal, and gave us an opportunity. Hopefully it will be a theme that continues. We've entered Big Ten play now and a guy like Ben can play a role for sure."

Stille made the trip to Oregon, but didn't play. He did room with defensive end Freedom Akinmoladun, and did all he could to learn from the junior.

"He's been just a huge mentor through the whole process, especially in spring ball and in the fall when I was playing end," Stille said. "He helped me a ton. I was in his ear the whole time trying to get any information I could."

Position changes have been the norm for Stille since he arrived in Lincoln. He was recruited as both a tight end and defensive end out of high school, but chose defense. He began his career as a defensive end in Mark Banker's 4-3 alignment before relearning the position in Diaco's 3-4 and then making the switch to linebacker.

The transition, Stille said, has stayed smooth.

"Honestly it wasn't a big deal at all. I was down in a three-point stance almost the whole game (against Rutgers), so it wasn't a huge deal," Stille said.

Now that he has a game under his belt, don't expect Stille to change his approach.

"I was studying film on the other guys like crazy, and I'll just continue to do the same," Stille said. "Hopefully I'll be able to grow from the last game."

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