Curenski Gilleylen didn't fully grasp the message his coaches were trying to send until the final minutes of Nebraska's win over Baylor last season.
Though he and fellow wide receiver Menelik Holt had been demoted to scout team the entire previous week of practice, Gilleylen still assumed he would get his share of plays on game day.
Instead, he watched the entire game from the sideline.
After that, the Leander, Texas, native realized that NU's coaches weren't joking when they told him that if he didn't step up his effort and consistency in practice, he would not see the field on Saturdays.
As it turned out, he ended up spending the ensuing few weeks as a scout team receiver, and he didn't record a single catch the rest of the season.
"When it first happened, I wasn't thinking about it," Gilleylen said. "It didn't really hit me until the Baylor game when I sat out and didn't play the whole game. It was just like, 'Wow. This is really happening right now. I'm not getting in there. I'm just a spectator.' After that game, I knew it was for real and I had to change something."
Now entering his junior season, Gilleylen said he's taken an entirely different approach this off-season. Instead of doing just enough to get by in practice and then trying to step it up on game day, Gilleylen is making it a point to become a master of his craft.
"It definitely sent me a message saying that they expected a lot more out of me than I was giving and I definitely had to step my game up," he said. "It told me that they believed in me and they knew I had more in me. They wanted me to give my all on every play, and they knew I wasn't doing that on every play. That's what I've been focusing on in winter conditioning and coming into spring ball."
According to his coaches, the No. 1 issue for Gilleylen has been his consistency. While he's proven himself capable of making big time plays - like his three receptions for 35 yards or more in NU's first three games last year - he hasn't been able to put forth the same type of effort each and every day in practice.
This spring, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said Gilleylen has made some good strides in getting to the level of consistency he and receivers coach Ted Gilmore have been looking for.
"Curenski Gilleylen has flashed and shown more consistency," Watson said. "He's one of those guys who has flashed and jumped out at you."
Though he admitted there are still times when he finds himself forgetting his routes and blocking responsibilities during practice, Gilleylen estimated he was roughly 70 percent towards completely mastering the playbook and what he needs to do on every play.
"More than anything, I think it's a mental thing for me," Gilleylen said. "I think I know everything scheme-wise and what I'm supposed to do, but now I'm trying to figure out why I'm supposed to do everything. That's what's really helping me understand why I need to do the things the coaches are asking me to do."
Another reason for Gilleylen to play with some urgency this year is the fact that the fourth wide receiver in the Huskers' offense isn't quite what it used to be when he first came to Lincoln in 2007.
With Nebraska slowly focusing more on the run and the addition of senior Mike McNeill to the mix at receiver this spring, the competition at the position has gotten a bit tight with everyone vying for essentially three receiver spots.
That's why Gilleylen is determined to become a more consistent and driven player this season. In his mind, there's no way he's watching another entire game from the sideline.
"That's definitely increasing the competition, because you know that once you have a relationship with the quarterback, he's going to trust you to get to the ball," Gilleylen said. "But now that he has all these other guys to throw the ball to, there's a lot more places he can go with the ball. You just have to try and make the plays on the ball when the quarterback gets it to you so you can build that relationship with him."
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