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Blaine Gabbert has already been acquainted with Nebraska fans. First, when he went to Lincoln on an unofficial visit that led to his commitment to the Huskers in May of 2007. Then for five months when the Nebraska faithful had him pegged as the heir apparent at quarterback. And finally again when he backed out of that commitment and gave his pledge to Nebraska's Big 12 North rival.
"I got a few weird phone calls, but other than that not much," Gabbert said. "What can you do? They're anonymous phone calls. You can't really focus on that stuff."
Gabbert may have more "stuff" not to focus on this week. His team, the Missouri Tigers, face his almost-team, the Cornhuskers, in Lincoln on Saturday night. Gabbert has already had his redshirt burned this year and has seen action in two of the Tigers' four games. While he is technically the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart, if Missouri has a big lead in the second half, Gabbert is in line to get some snaps each week. And if that happens, what would the reaction from the Husker faithful be this time around?
"I really don't know," says the understated freshman from Ballwin, MO. "Probably not a pleasant one."
Gabbert is quiet all subjects. He's not yet the polished public interview that some of his more experienced teammates are. Or perhaps he just doesn't really want to discuss the matter. But some of those teammates have an idea what Gabbert might want to be ready for.
"He was committed to those guys right?" asked linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. "He might hear some boos. But the last time we went up there the fans were pretty nice. Hopefully they don't treat him too bad."
"He's gonna hear a lot of crap, but Blaine, I bet he wants to play more than anybody in this game to show that he made the right decision," said sophomore tailback Derrick Washington. "If I was in his shoes, I would love it right now. I would love it."
"Not only the 90,000 screaming fans, the Sea of Red and everything else, but probably the booing that would go on if he stepped on the field," speculates Chase Daniel, whose performance could have the biggest impact on whether or not Gabbert sees action. "If he does step on the field, I'm sure he's going to be shaking, he's going to be scared, just like I was. Even though I was a sophomore, it was the sixth or seventh game I'd started, it's hard to go into a place like that when you have 85-9000 screaming fans."
The advice Gabbert tries to heed? Just block it out.
"I'm just looking at it as just another game that's on the Big 12 schedule. It will be fun going up there and the crowd will be pretty crazy, knowing the rivalry," he said. "You just kind of focus on them because they're in the Big 12 North and however they do kind of says how we place in the division. I don't really pay attention to them anymore than any other team."
Gabbert is not the only Tiger freshman who was once a Husker. Reserve left tackle Dan Hoch was a verbal pledge to the Huskers for more than a year. When the coaching staff was let go, Hoch, too, began looking around. The freshman from Harlan, IA is almost assured to see action this weekend. He even got some snaps with the first-team offensive line in Missouri's last game, a 42-21 win over Buffalo. Hoch does not expect to be singled out by the Memorial Stadium crowd. Left tackles aren't often the target of the fans' ire. He knows Gabbert is much more likely to hear the wrath.
"The booing could happen. Obviously we both were committed there for a long amount of time. We both said our words to them," Hoch said. "It's a hard situation to put yourself in. What you do is you try not to focus on it at all. You've just got to go out there and play. If it happens, it happens. Hopefully you're focused enough into the game that you don't even hear the boos and you just hear about it after the game."
Perhaps the best news for Gabbert is this: If he steps on the field and takes a snap, it means Missouri has the game well in hand. Eventually, he is likely to go into Lincoln as a starter. The attention on him in 2010 may be much greater. For now, all involved are looking at this as a very minor subplot.
"I'm sure the Nebraska fans aren't too happy with that," Daniel said. "But it's life, it's the recruiting process. Verbal commitments mean nothing these days."
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