This Father Supports a Spring Game Pledge

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Jessie Pflug, Lincoln; Cory and Madison Demmel, Papillion; Jenn Powell, Lee’s Summit, Mo.

Video: ABC Calls Jack Hoffman ‘The Comeback Kid’

By Randy York

On Sunday, a day after Jack Hoffman led an alcohol and drug-free pledge for youth inside Memorial Stadium, ABC World News Tonight shared an update on Jack, the pediatric brain cancer patient who the network dubbed The Comeback Kid for the way he leads, motivates and bounces back from the disease he fights every day. Count Cory Demmel, a 33-year-old youth pastor in Bellevue, Neb., as a proud parent who cherishes Jack’s new role in Nebraska – a vibrant, valiant champion of living life without alcohol or drugs. “I think it’s really good that we’re encouraging kids and adults to be drug and alcohol-free,” Demmel said. “It’s an ongoing problem. I know how hard it is. I’ve been working with teenagers since I was in college. Alcohol and drugs represent one of the biggest problems any state faces.”

With leaders like Demmel, who has his own incredible story to share, and Jack, who is stepping up to the plate to support another important cause, there is hope. “My dad (Brian) was in the State Penitentiary for drugs and alcohol when he was 18 years old,” Cory told me in the North end zone while holding his 3-year-old daughter, Madison, during Saturday’s back-to-back youth/adult pledges. His dad, also a pastor in Omaha, “completely turned his life around,” Demmel said, “so I grew up as a kid listening to him talk about drugs and alcohol. He should have died from drunk driving. Listening to his travels and experiences, I learned about the bad side of drugs and alcohol. When he met my mom, he changed, so I did not grow up in an alcoholic family. Fortunately, faith saved us. That’s our legacy as a family, and we do everything we can to help others.”

Demmel works with the Sheriff’s Department in Sarpy County and commits to and leads pledges to support D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education). “We reach out and do community work and see the challenges our youth are facing,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure with drugs and alcohol, and the ones who have a care group and a positive network have a lot better chance to succeed than the ones who don’t. I’ve been a huge Husker fan since I was a child and hope that someday I’ll get to see my daughter helping my grandkids take a similar alcohol and drug-free pledge. We’ve pushed a lot of positive into a tough battle. I don’t drink. I’ve never done drugs, and I don’t feel like I’ve missed out or regret anything.”

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Prince Amukamara, left, and Roy Helu Jr. share their views at Boys Town.

NFL Players Willing to Share Their Views

Cory Demmel also has connected with former Husker All-American Roy Helu Jr., and the Washington Redskins’ running back has shared a variety of his experiences in Omaha. “Roy talked about being a man of principle and a man of faith in the spotlight,” Cory said. “He talked about how he found God in college and how that really turned his life around. I wanted to put an icon and a hero in front of my students, and Roy promoted the principles that we feel are helpful for kids to become successful in life.”

in his fourth year with the New York Giants, Prince Amukamara understands why Demmel connected with Helu Jr., one of his closest friends. On Memorial Stadium’s East sideline Saturday, Prince was waiting for a chance of his own to motivate fathers and their boys about true manhood. Almost immediately after the Spring Game, Amukamara and Helu Jr. joined Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown and former Husker football captain Stan Parker in a Q&A session at Haymarket Park. Both leaders in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Brown and Parker asked the questions, and two Huskers still in the NFL, answered them. The goal was to share their views with honesty, love and hope.

“When we share our faith, we’re not passive,” Amukumara told me during the game. “Three topics I want to cover are pornography, being a newlywed and money. Roy has been a role model for me. I love his openness and his maturity. He’s truly been a brother in Christ for me and has really helped me in the way I look at life.” Helu Jr. and Amukamara share a desire to help free kids from inaccurate conventional thinking. Both believe that young men, armed with the right values, can meet any challenge they face.

 

 

 

Four Huskers Enjoy Celebrity Experience

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An appreciative family flanks Ron Kellogg III before Saturday’s Spring Game.

By Randy York

Last year, they were huddled up with Jack Hoffman on Memorial Stadium’s turf, planning the big play in their last Spring Game. Saturday, they had their own tables and sharpies and the attention of hundreds upon hundreds of Big Red football fans who waited patiently to get their autographs. “They” were Quincy Enunwa, Ciante Evans, Ron Kellogg III and Jeremiah Sirles.

“It’s always nice when you can give back to those who have given so much to us,” Sirles said. “You try to do whatever is possible. There really aren’t a lot of ways you can do something like this to show your appreciation, and this is the best way I know how to do that.”

“I like interacting with all the fans. They’ve watched and supported us for the last five years,” Kellogg said. “It’s always awesome when you can give back. You can only say you’re a celebrity once in your lifetime, and today was one of those days. It was fun.”

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Ciante Evans shares a photo op with a young fan and his red football.

“This is a wonderful experience to be here for people who have been so wonderful to us,” Evans said. “We put ourselves into the program, but so do our fans. They support you every chance they get. This is not an obligation. It’s just us. Our whole team feels the same way I do.”

“I really do think this is as fun for us as it is for our fans,” Enunwa said. “They’re always telling us how much they enjoy watching us play. We feel the same way about them. I always loved Fan Day because you realize how much people care. Hopefully, today, we returned the favor.”

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Eichorst Sees a Bright Basketball Future

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Students stormed the court after NU upset Final Four-bound Wisconsin.

Eichorst: Basketball’s Winning Formula

Shawn Eichorst Audio: Segment 1

Shawn Eichorst Audio: Segment 2

Audio: Robin Krapfl, Katelyn Wright

Audio: Bill Spangler, Aaron Wong

By Randy York

Shawn Eichorst focused his monthly Connecting on Campus column  on Nebraska women’s and men’s basketball, and he spent a good share of his monthly Talk to the Director of Athletics radio show on Thursday night to what he sees as a bright basketball future for Husker teams coached by Connie Yori and Tim Miles. The two programs shared a common denominator – dominating records in their new home at Pinnacle Bank Arena in the West Haymarket Area.

“There’s no question. Anyone who had a chance to come to a game this year, you would have quickly come to the conclusion that we have created a special situation, and that’s not one person. That’s not one team. That’s a collection of folks who have connected to doing things the right way,” Eichorst told host Greg Sharpe. “My hat’s off to everybody who’s been involved in our inaugural season at Pinnacle Bank Arena. It’s been a rewarding one and a successful one. The men and women won 31 of 34 games over there.”

As much as Eichorst credited the players and coaches, Nebraska’s second-year Director of Athletics made sure that Husker fans understood the role they played in helping both Big Red teams reach the NCAA Tournament. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been in an environment like there was for the men that last game against Wisconsin,” he said. “Talking to some of my colleagues at Wisconsin after that deal, they just raved at the environment. They kind of get everybody’s best shot at this time in the program across the country, and they just didn’t see any environment than they experienced here.”

Eichorst also praised Nebraska women’s basketball fans for helping life the Huskers up to their first postseason tournament championship in program history and their strong presence in the Lincoln NCAA Regional even though NU didn’t advance to round of Sweet 16. “Drawing almost 10,000 fans says a lot about our fan base and certainly a lot about our program,” Eichorst said. “It’s also a credit to the city of Lincoln and the state of Nebraska. We just need to continue to embrace Tim’s and Connie’s programs and what they do and be humble and hungry in the approach. I think the future’s bright for both programs.”

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Athletic-Related Announcement Tied to Train

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Union Pacific Mini-Train will be at the Haymarket Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

By Randy York

If you’re looking for something different before Saturday’s 2 p.m. experimental Offense vs. Defense Red-White Spring Game at Memorial Stadium, check out the Union Pacific Mini-Train above. Envision that miniature locomotive with several cars behind it that can carry adults and children like the train at Lincoln’s Children’s Zoo. The only difference is this train has rubber wheels instead of adhesion traction, so it can carry passengers round-and-round in the parking lot at Haymarket Park on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The train will offer free rides for fans of all ages and will be located just west of the main gate to Hawks Field.

Built in Union Pacific’s Omaha locomotive and rail car repair shops 58 years ago, the mini-train is sometimes called the Pride of the Omaha Shops. For more than half a century, the miniature train has been a big hit in parades, family days and other civic events. This weekend, the mini-train will make a stop in Lincoln that is every bit as important as the 50-some appearances it makes every year. The mini-train is so popular, it is booked up to three years in advance for special civic celebrations.

Union Pacific Announcement Scheduled Saturday

There is a strategic if not semi-compelling reason why the mini-train will be part of Nebraska’s pre-game Spring Game atmosphere. Union Pacific, in fact, will be tied to a Nebraska Athletics-related announcement on Saturday. Nebraska Public Address Announcer Patrick Combs will share the news during the first half of Saturday’s Spring Game experiment that will be telecast nationally on tape-delay at 7 p.m. Saturday on the Big Ten Network. A statewide telecast is also set for NET at 2 p.m. Sunday.

I apologize for using a train to tease a football story, but as the son of a longtime railroader, trains always have intrigued me. They’re so fascinating that Walt Disney once thought about creating a character while riding coast-to-coast on a train with his brother. Both were struggling and thinking disaster was right around the corner. Then Walt pulled out his drawing pad and created Mickey Mouse on the train. Pure genius. Down went up and suddenly, it was fun times, great conversations, and memorable folklore.

In the past, Nebraska Spring Games were about seeing which players would plow new ground in the fall. For this agricultural state, the Spring Game was a sneak peak to see what kind of crops we might harvest when September turns into October. A mini-train is one of Union Pacific Railroad’s most popular goodwill ambassadors, and I’m sure everyone will be listening intently Saturday when Combs gives people inside Memorial Stadium the insight scoop. Stay tuned.

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100th Anniversary for Big Ten Medal of Honor

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NU’s first Big Ten Medal of Honor winners: Ashley Miller and Tyler Hitchler.

100th Anniversary of the Big Ten Medal of Honor

Miller, Hitchler First Husker B1G Award Winners

Weatherholt, Barrefors 2013 Big Ten Winners

By Randy York

As Nebraska continues to assimilate and prepare for its fourth season in the Big Ten Conference, most Big Red fans remember such legendary names as John Wooden (Purdue), Jerry Lucas (Ohio State) and Tony Dungy (Minnesota). Most of us, however, probably don’t recognize such names as Mike Hopkins (Illinois), Jennifer Hsia (Indiana) and Keith Nosbusch (Wisconsin).

Wooden coached UCLA to an NCAA record 10 national basketball championships. Lucas was a three-time All-America player, two-time National Player of the Year, seven-time NBA All-Star and a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Dungy ended his career as Minnesota’s all-time leader in passing and touchdowns before going on to become the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl Championship.

Hopkins (football), Hsia (tennis) and Nosbusch (football) were not necessarily well-known athletic names beyond their own schools, but all were solid academic student-athletes who became highly successful professionals – Hopkins as a flight engineer for the International Space Station who’s been orbiting in space for months before returning back on earth last month; Hsia as an otolaryngologist at Minnesota who cares for patients with obstructive sleep apnea and sleep-disorder breathing, and Nosbusch as the current chairman and CEO of Rockwell Automation.

8,200 Student-Athletes Competing in the Big Ten

All six of those former Big Ten student-athletes were Big Ten Medal of Honor winners, and their conference has grown in stature just like their legends have grown. More than 8,200 student-athletes now compete in the Big Ten, and the conference is rightfully making a big deal of its Big Ten Medal of Honor 100th anniversary celebration. The nation’s oldest intercollegiate conference considers the Medal of Honor the most exclusive and prestigious award in collegiate athletics because of 1) its rich and unparalleled history; and 2) its emphasis on and recognition of combined academic and athletic success.

The Big Ten fits Nebraska’s longtime goal of Success in Academics, Success in Athletics and Success in Life. The Big Ten Medal of Honor winners have, in fact, made major contributions in business, education, finance, law, media, medicine, philanthropy, politics, science, sports, and yes, even writing.

Pete Gent, for instance, is a Michigan State graduate and distinguished alum. He’s the author of a semi-autobiographical novel entitled North Dallas Forty, published in 1973 and turned into a pro football-related movie in 1979. A star basketball player for MSU in the 1960s, Gent did not play college football. But he tried out with Dallas as a receiver and ended up playing five NFL seasons with the Cowboys. Count Tom Osborne as one who read Gent’s best-selling novel. Not to be outdone, former Michigan football player David Nelson authored seven books on football, including a year-by-year chronicle of how collegiate football playing rules evolved from 1876 to 1971. A former player, coach, athletic director and author, Nelson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987. He served three decades as Secretary-Editor of the NCAA’s Football Rules Committee.

Elite Company for Hitchler, Miller, Barrefors, Weatherholt

Since the Big Ten Medal of Honor is awarded to one male and one female student-athlete of each member institution each year, Nebraska has had four such honorees in its first two years in the conference. Tyler Hitchler and Ashley Miller, both Husker track and field student-athletes, received Big Ten Medals of Honor in 2012. Björn Barrefors (track and field) and Mary Weatherholt (tennis) earned 2013 Big Ten Medal of Honor awards.

Nebraska’s 2014 Student-Athlete of the Year/Big Ten Medal of Honor winners will be announced at its annual Student-Athlete Academic Banquet Sunday night at Lincoln’s Downtown Embassy Suites Hotel. Nearly three years ago, Nebraska Athletics’ senior management team decided to award the Big Ten Medal of Honor to its Student-Athlete of the Year winners on an annual basis. “We have a long history for our award, and the basic criteria is fairly similar to the Big Ten’s, so it’s only appropriate that we combine our awards to reflect the amazing 100-year history of the Big Ten’s Medal of Honor,” said Dennis Leblanc, Nebraska’s Senior Associate Athletic Director for Academics. 

The Big Ten’s innovative launch of its 100-day campaign to announce this year’s honorees celebrates the annual Medal of Honor winners from the 12 current Big Ten schools. That number will increase to 14 when Maryland and Rutgers join the conference this summer. The integrated effort to celebrate Medal of Honor winners from the past 99 years extends through June 18 and includes profiling notable winners with their inspiring stories each day through social media channels and on the official Big Ten Conference Website.

Keep up with Huskers.com and stay tuned to The N-Sider Sunday night and Monday as we announce the academic and leadership accomplishments of Nebraska student-athletes over the past year. The more you read, the more you’ll know why the Big Ten Medal of Honor is already a vital part of what we do best and why we consider this century-old award an inherent part of our overall brand.

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Armstrong, Jackson Big Hits with Young Kids

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Tommy Armstrong Jr. posed for 26 different elementary schools Tuesday.

Editor’s note: Nebraska has sold nearly 50,000 tickets to Saturday’s Red/White Spring Game. Wednesday is the deadline to order tickets and have them sent by mail. Fans also can click here to buy and print your own Spring Game tickets and avoid long lines on game day.

By Randy York

Whatever format Bo Pelini and his coaching staff come up with for Saturday’s 2 p.m. annual Nebraska Red/White Spring Game scrimmage, Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Charles Jackson will be ready to roll, eager to please and always engaged – just like they were Tuesday when the Huskers’ sophomore starting quarterback and junior defensive back gave their undivided attention to more than 200 elementary school students from Omaha, Lincoln, Bellevue, Fremont, Papillion, Hartington, Kearney, LaVista, Lawrence-Nelson, Weston and Elkhorn.

It was NFL Fuel Up to Play 60 Day at Memorial Stadium, and Armstrong and Jackson were pivotal performers who encouraged and inspired every student to make healthier choices and to commit to at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

Like Everything, It’s What You Put into It

“I remember being a young athlete and growing up and finding a way to go to events similar to this,” Jackson said. “I went to places where everybody was really motivating, and I went to places where they didn’t put their hearts in it and show respect to the people who came. If you saw us today, you know every football player out there gave these kids 100 percent of their time and ability. My goal was to put a smile on everyone’s face, and I completed my goal. Everybody worked hard and had fun today.”

Armstrong agreed. “I had a great time with these kids,” he said. “The best part of the day was making everybody happy.” Armstrong and Jackson weren’t the only Huskers going all out for grade-schoolers who had earned the right to come to Lincoln because of their diligence to eat healthy and get active. The Midwest Dairy Council rewards student efforts to focus on nutrition and partners with the National Dairy Council and the NFL while working in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture.

Nine Additional Football Players Volunteered

With that background, nine additional Husker football players had smiling, action-ready faces to make this “reward summit” as fun as possible. Joining Armstrong and Jackson were Matt Finnin, Trey Foster, Chris Long, Kevin Maurice, Mike Moudy, Mark Pelini, Brent Qvale, Jordan Westerkamp and Austin Williams. Nebraska men’s basketball players Shavon Shields and Leslee Smith were leaders steeped in the action. Other Husker participants included Ian Ousley (wrestling), Mayme Conroy (soccer), and four members of NU’s swimming and diving team – Katie Ditter, Anna Filipcic, Jacqueline Juffer, and Julia Roller. Keeping 202 kids busy and excited was a well-planned experience. While football players engaged students in fun games on Memorial Stadium turf, other student-athletes helped kids participate in a nutrition game in both the morning and afternoon sessions. When emcee Keith McWhirter asked the participants if they had fun learning new things from Armstrong and his fellow Huskers, the kids responded with increasingly resounding cheers that rocked Nebraska’s third-floor gathering, which included healthy lunches with great views of Nebraska’s home facilities for football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and softball.

A Chicago-based emcee who works with the NFL on similar events at an international game in London, the Super Bowl and the Pro Bowl, McWhirter praised Nebraska’s passion in working with kids for four hours. “It was a pleasure to work with everyone here,” he said. “They listen, participate, get excited and cheer the people who are motivating them. This whole event is about fueling up to play 60 minutes. It’s about eating smart, being active and spreading your message in the community. I was impressed with Tommy Armstrong as the featured speaker and everyone else who volunteered.”

Six-Step, Student-Led Initiative, Reward

Omaha’s Caryn Kusleika, who oversees the event for the Midwest Dairy Council, was equally impressed. “It was a great day,” she said. “This is our main event, a reward for those who have stayed active and played 60 year-round. This is a 6-step, student-led initiative for kids helping other kids. Tommy Armstrong was so motivational and so cooperative getting his picture taken with every one of the 26 schools.”

Members of the program submitted questions in advance and Armstrong put his heart into answering each one, telling the kids that his favorite meal is grilled chicken and rice and encouraging them to heat three healthy meals a day and to stay active every day. “My mom put a football in my hand and wanted me to throw it when I was really little,” he told the kids, “so I was an active quarterback early on.”

Tommy’s Shining Moment: Gator Bowl

Asked about his favorite moment from last season, Armstrong paused, then said the Gator Bowl win over Georgia was his favorite, not because he threw a record 99-yard touchdown pass (which he didn’t mention), but because the bowl win became “the start of this season”.

What’s the hardest part of being a quarterback? “Accepting the responsibility for everything that happens,” he said.

What’s his favorite part of college? “Besides football?” he asked with a laugh. “Meeting new friends and creating a bond with teammates.”

Best advice? “Remember that the word student always comes before athlete. You can’t take a day off. School always comes first and football second. Stay healthy. Be active. Work hard. And enjoy it while it lasts. If you can do all of that, you can achieve what you believe.”

Quarterback Praises Jackson, Mitchell

Heading down Memorial Stadium’s elevator as Armstrong headed to class Tuesday, I asked my own question: Who’s been the biggest surprise on the defense this spring? “Charles Jackson,” Tommy answered immediately. “He’s really pushed himself and stepped up big in the nickel position. So has Josh Mitchell.”

Fortunately, we interviewed Jackson earlier, so he’ll be featured before Saturday’s opening kickoff at 2 p.m.

Be there!

And stay tuned.

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Pepin Remembers a Former Husker Coach

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By Randy York

Mark F. Devenney, a longtime assistant coach under Nebraska Head Track and Field Coach Gary Pepin, died recently at age 69. “Mark had been fighting through a number of health issues,” said Pepin, who will share his thoughts about Devenney in a memorial service at the temporary Newman Center at 16th and Q Streets, beginning at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 8th, on NU’s campus.

“Mark was originally from Philadelphia and a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth, but had a lot of Husker in him,” Pepin said. “He was a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and served his country in Vietnam. I ended up hiring him twice. The first time was in the early 1980s as an assistant coach. Mark did a nice job in both recruiting and coaching. He ended up moving to Alaska, where we recruited a couple of student-athletes, including one who became a captain on our team for a couple of years. He also coached in Southern California before returning to Lincoln.”

In his first stint under Pepin, Devenney volunteered his time to complement his teaching responsibilities for the Lincoln Public Schools. In his second stint, he went full speed as a coach. “He was a very effective coach and a very good recruiter,” Pepin said. “He loved coaching at Soldotna High School in Alaska, but he loved helping us out here, too.”

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Jack, C.J., Curt Commit to Spring Game Pledge

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No. 22 Jack Hoffman, No. 31 C.J. Zimmerer, and No. 1 Curt Tomasevicz.

KETV Looks Back at The Year of Jack

See Full Presentation to C.J. on ESPN

Buy Tickets Here

Elevating Maxwell

Tomasevicz Returns

Reasons to Go

Team Jack Inspires

Biggest 2013 Moment

By Randy York

Two national, even global celebrities will participate in Saturday’s, April 12th Red/White Spring Football Game at Memorial Stadium – 3-time Olympic Bobsledder and former Husker walk-on Curt Tomasevicz and Jack Hoffman, the brave little hero who will return after setting a 69-yard Nebraska Spring Game touchdown record last year. Tomasevicz will lead adults in a drug-free halftime pledge. Hoffman and C.J. Zimmerer, the former Husker fullback who led the “blocking” on Jack’s record run and was the first to hoist him into the air, will work together on the field again. They will lead the kids in their halftime drug-free pledge. Nebraska Ticket Office officials said 44,000 seats have been pre-sold for the Spring Game. Kickoff is 2 p.m. next Saturday, five hours before the game will be televised on a delayed basis on the Big Ten Network.

Tomasevicz, who won a Gold Medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics and a Bronze Medal in the 2014 Winter Olympics, received a standing ovationfrom a Nebraska basketball sellout crowd at Pinnacle Bank Arena shortly after returning from the Olympics a month ago. Hoffman’s run not only delivered 8.33 million views on YouTube, but also won ESPY Award for the “Biggest Moment” in spots in 2013.

Zimmerer may not carry the same name recognition as an Olympic Gold Medalist or an ESPY Award Winner, but he carries the same stature in Ron Brown’s mind. “C.J. was not an All-American and was not an NFL draft pick,” Brown said. “He’s none of that. But he is a guy who leads through tremendous example off the field, and all of the things he’s done and is still doing translate on the field.”

Zimmerer Battled His Own Health Issues Daily

“Any athlete around that guy or anybody else around him who looks at what he went through and sees how he’s dealt with Type 1 Diabetes in his life, has to be inspired,” Brown said. “He goes through all of that every day and then pours his gut into a whole bunch of kids and a whole bunch of other people. He’s remarkable. How could you not, if you’re an athlete around him say: ‘There’s something about that guy that’s so special. I want to have what he has, so I can be an even better athlete and a better person.’”

Brown says Zimmerer’s influence is wide-reaching. “C.J. doesn’t just inspire off-the-field activities. He inspires excellence and demands it on the field,” Brown said. “Because of the way C.J. lives off the field, plus all the things he does with Uplifting Athletes, he has the same way to hold people accountable on the field while he’s playing fullback.”

Brown: C.J. Uplifting for Everyone around Him

“You see the consistency in his life,” Brown said. “You look at a guy like that and don’t see a lot of fanfare there. He’s an unsung hero, but boy, that’s what’s first. That’s what really truly should reign and take precedence. That’s what turns the definition of success in this world upside down on its head. He’s uplifting. He inspires kids, teammates and everyone around him.” Brown knows accolades are not Zimmerer goals, but now that he’s working as an Omaha probation officer, C.J. deserves appreciation and yes, even applause, for all the right reasons. He’s helping kids in every way he can, personally, professionally and passionately.

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Free Admission Helps Huskers Honor Heroes

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Dion Booker started on NU’s last conference championship team in 1999.

Huskers Host Buckeyes This Weekend

Deployed Booker Feels Huskers’ Love

By Randy York

Nebraska’s baseball team will wear camouflage jerseys on Friday night and “camo” hats throughout the weekend. It’s the Huskers’ way to honor all active veterans and retired military personnel who will receive free admission to all three Nebraska-Ohio State baseball games this weekend. It’s Military Appreciation Weekend, and “We want to show our appreciation and honor the men and women of the military for everything they do for our country,” said Sunny Russell, president of the Nebraska Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). Russell and eight fellow SAAC members will hand out bracelets for Big Red fans Friday night. Each bracelet has a camouflage background with this message printed in red: Husker Heroes…United We Stand!

Baseball and military heroes celebrate a storied tradition together – from American Legion summertime high school baseball programs to Major League Baseball’s Tribute for Heroes campaign that promoted last year’s MLB All-Star Game in New York City. Nebraska student-athletes originated a theme of their own – RED Friday – and it stands for Remembering Everyone Deployed. Neil Dufford, Russell’s predecessor as SAAC president, came up with the idea. “Neil and several members of SAAC took the same bracelets over to the Student Union last year and passed them out to fellow students to remind us all to remember everyone who’s deployed,” Russell said. “This weekend is our way to follow up what we already have going.”

In the past, SAAC members launched RED Friday through Life Skills as a way to support troops overseas until they all come home. The idea was to stand behind those who serve with SAAC and UNL ROTC jointly promoting wearing RED on Fridays. “We want to let our servicemen and servicewomen know that we support their dedication and sacrifice and that we will not forget them and what they do for our country,” Russell said.

Dion Booker, an Army Captain and former Husker football safety, is currently serving his country in Manhattan, Kan. As a previously deployed soldier, he appreciated his alma mater’s support while overseas. A four-year NU letterwinner, Booker earned honorable mention All-Big 12 recognition from conference coaches. SAAC members embrace the following poem as a statement that describes their passion for RED Friday:

We cherish too, the Poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies

The Nebraska-Ohio State three game series begins Friday at 6:35 p.m. and continues on Saturday at 2:05 p.m. and concludes Sunday at 1:05 p.m. Free admission is available for all veterans, active or retired. They must present their government-issued military ID, VFW/Legion card, or DD14F form at Haymarket Park’s gate to receive free admission. Family members can purchase tickets by calling the Nebraska Athletic Ticket Office at 1-800-8BIGRED, or the day of the game at the Ticket Office, located on the West side of Haymarket Park. Tickets also can be purchased and printed online here. As part of Military Appreciation Weekend, during each of the three games, Nebraska Athletics will recognize all veterans who are currently serving or have served our country.

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One of NU’s All-Time Best Positive to the End

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Bob Devaney presents Chamberlin Trophy to Dana Stephenson. Omaha W-H

By Randy York

Four years ago next month, Sports Illustrated’s Bleacher Report published a document entitled “The 50 Greatest Players in Nebraska Cornhusker History”. The No. 43-ranked player in that document was Dana Stephenson, a right cornerback and safety. “Don’t let the fact that this author couldn’t find a photograph of Dana Stephenson make you skip to the next slide,” correspondent Michael Huckstep wrote. “A member of Athlon Sports’ Nebraska All-Time Team, Dana Stephenson’s name is scattered throughout the record books.” That’s still true today, and let the record show that despite a hard life that ended Stephenson’s 66 years of mostly troubled times, he remained positive to the end. “Every year since I’ve known Dana, he thought Nebraska was going to win the national championship, and he was thinking the same thing late last week before he died,” Neal McQuistan told me Tuesday. “He had a very tough life, but I was glad to see his sister make peace with him at the end and see him make peace with God. He was ready to go.”

Stephenson’s friends knew he could not change his past, and even though he spent the last two years of his life at a nursing home in Auburn, Neb., he kept his spirits up and showed some of the traits that earned him the highest achievements as a Husker player …three straight First-Team All-Big Eight  Conference honors…Nebraska’s all-time career leader in interceptions with 14, including a school-record three interceptions in his last game at Memorial Stadium that helped the Huskers upset Colorado…second-team All-America honors…co-captain with Mike Green for a team that steamrolled Georgia, 45-6, in the Sun Bowl, one year before the Huskers won their first National Championship against LSU in the Orange Bowl…the Guy Chamberlin Trophy…an opportunity to play in the Senior Bowl…an eighth-round draft choice of the Chicago Bears.

The Triumphs of Stephenson’s Life Became Tragedies

We could go on, but we should probably balance Stephenson’s incredible accomplishments with acknowledgements of his biggest failures…a marriage that dissolved… business mistakes…prison time at Leavenworth for drugs…alcohol problems…parole violations…homelessness…one failure after another, but never, ever blaming anyone but himself. Dana Stephenson was handsome, smart, funny, and a true leader before demons took control of his life. He told Omaha World-Herald Columnist Michael Kelly four years ago that he blamed only himself for his problems and was grateful for those who helped him live the last years of his life.

Tom Osborne, who has seen his share of players who succeed mightily and fail miserably, has said many times that countless people are one bad choice away from the bottom that Stephenson hit and never really recovered from. McQuistan, a Pender, Neb., native and resident who had power of attorney for Stephenson’s medical issues, wasn’t the only one who stayed true to the end. All-America Linebacker Jerry Murtaugh, who captained Nebraska’s 1970 National Championship Team a year after Stephenson completed his eligibility, went to see his former teammate the night before he died.

Murtaugh: Even When He Was Down, He Was Positive

“He was lucid and knew everything we were talking about,” Murtaugh said. “He was so appreciative we were there and wanted to walk us to the door when we left. He was a great player and a great leader when he had all his faculties. He could run, he could hit and he could motivate everyone around him. He just couldn’t beat some of his demons. Even when he was down, he was positive. He had a heart.” A former altar boy and Lincoln Pius X graduate, Stephenson told Kelly that he was irresponsible and narcissistic. He said he had great chances in life, but somehow almost always managed to make bad choices.

Paul Rogers, who kicked four field goals in that lopsided 1969 Sun Bowl win over Georgia, went with Murtaugh and Frank Stanek last week to see Stephenson. The week before, former Husker teammates Al Larson and Tom Penney went to Auburn to encourage Stephenson and to let him know they loved him despite the mistakes he made throughout his life. “There was a time when Dana shunned everybody who tried to help him,” Rogers said. “Some of us made a vow that he would not die alone. He knows he burned the candle at both ends. He had lung problems and it finally got to the point where he couldn’t get through it all.”

Friends Choose to Remember Stephenson at His Best

Murtaugh, Rogers and Stanek remember their friend’s dynamic personality and the great leadership he showed when he was healthy and drug free. They regret the reputation Stephenson developed, but will never forget the character he showed when he was right. Sadly, that is not the way Dana Stephenson will be remembered by most. But most certainly, that is the way those who knew him best choose to remember him.

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Voices from Across the Nation

Great story on Dana Stephenson. I played football, basketball and baseball with him at Pius X and never had a better teammate on the field. Dana was upbeat and positive and taking everybody with him. You could hear him laughing during games when good things happened and I don’t mean taunting. He was simply happy to be competing and seeing his team and teammates doing well. He was very motivating, fun and unique….quite a guy, and I was always happy to see him! I have coached a long time and have felt different about players who got into trouble when there wasn’t necessarily a victim per se…nobody beat up…nobody violated…nothing stolen…you get it.  I never saw Dana victimize anyone but himself. Godspeed. Joe Glenn, head football coach, University of South Dakota, Vermillion, South Dakota

I was an athletic junior high kid when Dana was a star athlete at Pius X, so he was a hero to me and most of us at that young, influential age. Getting to play American Legion baseball for him was special because he was already a great Husker. He was a fun-loving guy and made playing baseball fun, even though none of us were blessed with his athletic talent. Like most of us, he made decisions that haunted him for the rest of his life, but those of us who knew him in the early years will choose only to remember the good times, as it should be. Patrick Sullivan, Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Dana was one of several outstanding leaders and players on the 1969 Cornhuskers team. I feel guys like Dana were responsible for getting things going in the right directions for us to win a National Championship. He had a great sense of humor and was a great football player, too! Jeff Kinney, Castle Rock, Colorado

I moved to Nebraska in 1962 and I attended the first sellout against Mizzou in the streak that’s still going. I’ve lived in Arizona since 1974, but remember doing my daily jog a number of years ago in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve a couple of blocks from my home. I was wearing Husker gear and suddenly I hear a “Go Big Red!” from the yard of a resident whose home abutted the preserve. I stopped to chat, and he came out of the yard and up the trail to see me. He introduced himself, and I did the same. I knew his name from the late-1960s teams and was also aware of his interception record. During another chat, he told me how proud he was of still having that record. I will never forget taking a few steps backward when Dana showed me the red tattoo “N” on his hip. For a couple years, we would chat briefly about the Huskers and one of his laments. I liked Dana. He was always nice to me and treated this fan with respect. Randy Gray, Phoenix, Arizona

I remember Dana as a player at UNL, but more so as the friendly caring man he was at the Good Samaritan Home in Auburn. Dana returned to his faith, attending Catholic Mass each week. He was welcoming and kind to those 30+ years older than he. My 94-year-old mother never knew Dana for his sordid past, but as the kind gentleman that shared the Eucharist. Thanks for sharing his story. Daryl J. Obermeyer, Brownville, Nebraska

Thanks for the article on Dana Stephenson. He was truly a good guy, even though he had his share of troubles. He also had his share of “props” and was always placed somewhat in the limelight growing up. I was two years behind him at St. Patrick’s and Pius X in Lincoln. We played a lot of sandlot football and pickup basketball and baseball. He was always a top athlete. He and Mike Bohaty (1996 recruit who broke his neck when he ran into Ben Gregory head-on, ending his NU career) were always the sports leaders in grade school, junior high, and high school. We were all altar boys at St Patrick’s and all proud of Dana’s success. Unfortunately, much of the easy path got to his head and cost him dearly. I had not seen or talked to Dana for nearly 30 years when he was a guest on Jerry Murtaugh’s radio show some months back. I called in to the show and he immediately related back to our days at St Patrick’s. He truly was a good guy to the end. Thanks for the article. Mike Eskey, St. Simons Island, Georgia

Very good article. You caught the essence of Dan Stephenson’s life, his tragedies and his successes. He was one of my heroes in high school and college. I was two years behind him in high school and marveled at his athleticism and charisma. He was in a senior class at Pius that had three, yes three, NU football scholarship players in the  backfield. All were in the same graduating class in ’66: Dana, Mike Bohaty and Kim Wheeler. Paul Schneider, our legendary trainer, called Bohaty the best linebacker ever to play at NU. Mike’s career was ended during Spring Ball when he fractured his neck while tackling Ben Gregory. Tough deal. Kim ending up quitting the football team…Dana accomplished great things at NU from an athletic and scholastic standpoint…sadly, he threw away what could have been a great personal life. John Hyland, Lincoln, Nebraska