Brown Sees Huskers through Historic Lens

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Bob Brown was Nebraska’s first African-American to be named All-American.

By Randy York

If you’re a Nebraska football fan who purchased one of the 430 tickets to attend Saturday night’s Husker Huddle prior to NU’s nationally televised game at Fresno State, you will be rewarded for your loyalty and entertained in a uniquely historical way.  The event’s featured speaker is none other than Bob (Boomer) Brown, a member of both the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame.  Talk about bringing history to a two-hour pregame huddle that will include a buffet and the ever-popular dueling piano performers.  A unanimous first-team 1963 All-American, Brown was a true trailblazer.  He not only played when the Huskers’ 335 consecutive home game sellout streak started in 1962, he helped lead Nebraska’s revival the day Bob Devaney arrived in Lincoln. 

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Bob Brown is a member of the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame.

Brown: Nebraska Treated Others like Nebraskans

I have no idea what Bob Brown will share in his pregame talk, but I know how much value he provided five years ago while sharing his memories of being a student-athlete at Nebraska in the early 1960s.  “More than 50 years ago, we didn’t just turn out muscle heads. Nebraska turned out fine young men who challenged themselves intellectually as well as athletically,” Brown told me.  As the No. 2 overall pick in the first round of the 1964 NFL draft, Brown played 10 seasons and was named first-team All-NFL seven times.  A native of Cleveland, he’s equally proud of becoming the first African-American to earn All-America football honors as a Husker.

“We had great experiences at Nebraska,” Brown said. “There weren’t many black guys going to Nebraska in those days, but all the people in Nebraska treated us like we were Nebraskans – the same way they treat all the other out-of-state players who decide to come to Lincoln.”  When Devaney left Wyoming for Nebraska, “he turned the whole program and the whole state around with a new way of thinking,” Brown told me. “Of course, I knew Coach (Tom) Osborne before he ever became a great coach.  He may have been the youngest coach on that staff, but he was the common thread that ran through it. Those coaches were open and nice and always left you with a warm feeling.”

After Growing Up on Big Ten Soil, He Chose NU

Perhaps Brown will share with Husker fans his own unique twist of playing in the Big Eight Conference, even though he was recruited from Ohio, home of some of the Big Ten’s most fertile recruiting soil.  Interestingly, Brown will never forget the second game he played under Devaney, a 25-13 win at Michigan, Devaney’s home state.  “We didn’t take a very big travel squad, and Michigan must have dressed 150 people that day,” Brown recalled.  “We were doing our jumping jacks when they came out of their tunnel in Ann Arbor, and the crowd roared. It sounded like thunder, but we were the ones who had the real Thunder that day,” Brown said, referring to Bill “Thunder” Thornton, Nebraska’s first modern-day black football captain.

The historic footnote is obvious.  “It’s a fact, and it’s still a belief that we all share – winning at Michigan on that late September Saturday in 1962 marked the start of Bob Devaney and the beginning of Nebraska football really taking off,” Brown said.  For me, that observation begs for another historic footnote.  Before 1962, Nebraska had experienced seven consecutive non-winning seasons, so Brown indeed was a catalyst for Nebraska’s renaissance.  Somehow, in my opinion, Husker fans should always remember what life was like before Bob Devaney arrived.

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There is No One like Nebraska’s Givens Price

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At an Uplifting Athletes Road Race, Jack Hoffman runs with Givens Price.

By Randy York

We all despise that overused five-word expression friends and family seem to use all the time … you had to be there.  So please pardon me when I tell you that you had to be there Monday morning to hear Givens Price address the entire Nebraska Athletic Department staff with a speech he wrote himself, communicated clearly, and ended with six words that will never go out of style in Lincoln or anywhere else in this state – There is No Place Like Nebraska!  I’m leveraging Givens’ use of that expression and offering up this official Husker athletic blog space for an addendum.  It ties the collective mindset of Price’s audience to the impact he had on the third floor of Memorial Stadium Monday morning: There is No One like Nebraska’s Given Price.  I apologize for saying it, but you had to be there to know how Price’s carefully selected words resonated with everyone in the room.

Peg Slagle, who coordinates 120 workers that support 101 full-scale suites inside Memorial Stadium, was the first to stand up and applaud Givens’ speech.  Within seconds, every athletic department employee joined a standing ovation to thank a student-athlete whose main goal was to thank everyone in the room.  Win-win doesn’t begin to describe the essence of a person providing the message for an audience that  could not have been more appreciative.  “Givens hit the ball out of the park, and that ball is still flying,” Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst told Dennis Leblanc and Keith Zimmer, who made a joint recommendation that Price be a keynote speaker at the annual departmental kickoff meeting.

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Barney Cotton, right, helped present Givens Price his first varsity letter.

Committed to Nebraska at 15, Launched Career at 16

Leblanc, Nebraska’s longtime senior associate athletic director for academics, and Zimmer, NU’s longtime associate athletic director for life skills, thought Price was the “perfectly unique choice” to speak because the 6-foot-4, 310-pound junior offensive guard from Houston committed to Nebraska when he was only 15 years old.  He began his freshman season at NU when he was 16 and has been influenced by everything that he’s needed to develop academically, athletically, and personally.  An accounting/management major, Price turned down scholarships from Baylor and Rice to accept the Huskers’ offer. He has relished Nebraska’s overall support system in every phase and facet of his growth. 

“We often hear the phrase ‘There is NO place like Nebraska,’” Price told his audience while representing 600-plus student-athletes who benefit from overall staff support.  “When I came on my first recruiting visit, that phrase was everywhere I looked.  In my opinion, so many things separate Nebraska from other places … the people, the commitment to the student-athlete, the pride the staff displays in every job that supports us, the student-athletes, the teamwork, and the willingness to help and serve every student-athlete here.”

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Givens Price (78) competes at right tackle with fellow junior Zac Sterup.

Primary Goal: Mature in All Aspects, Become a Man

When he arrived in Lincoln, Price admitted he was nervous, anxious, even scared.  “Because I was so much younger than normal, the challenges I was facing – both academically and athletically – were greater than any obstacle I’d ever seen in my life,” he told his audience.  “I knew immediately that I needed to mature in all aspects of my life, so I could become a man.  I’ve been a Husker since the summer of 2011.  I could not be more pleased with the choice I made and where I am today because so many of you in this room have helped me.

“My message to all of you is very simple,” Price said.  “Thank you … thank you for what each and every one of you do each and every day.  You may not think or believe it, but all of you matter and display an important role in how we, as student-athletes, feel about our overall college experience.  There are so many things that I appreciate about all of you.  You are kind, hardworking, respectful, outgoing, committed, and patient.  So many of you have dedicated the better part of your life to serving us.  Now that our new academic year is underway and our new athletic seasons have begun, please know that we are watching you and we are modeling you by your consistent, everyday actions.  You are helping us get to where we want to be as a well-balanced student-athlete.  On behalf of all 600-plus student-athletes here, thank you for what all of you do for us.  It was true when I made my first visit here, and it’s still true now … there really is no place like Nebraska.”

Price may or may not start Saturday night when Nebraska plays at Fresno State, but he will play.  Because he had never played football until he was a freshman in high school, Price is still learning and trying to soak up every bit of competitive wisdom he can from teammates, coaches, and peers.  He’s into nutrition and devoted to strength and conditioning and embraces the balance between student and athlete. His mother, Edithmary Price, is proud to have her son learning and maturing at Nebraska, where he makes sure he volunteers his time with Husker Heroes, Husker Hotline, Uplifting Athletes, and Make-a-Wish.  He enjoys reaching out to visit local area hospitals.  An Academic All-Big Ten Conference honoree in 2012 and 2013 after redshirting in 2011, Price is making daily strides in all aspects of his life and continues to be a pivotal part of Nebraska’s offensive line.

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Husker junior Givens Price talks with a Lincoln businessman at a Career Fair.

Husker Swimmer: Price is a Major Role Model

Kelly Dunn, a senior member of the Husker women’s swimming and diving team, is from Chicago.  She’s also been a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree and won a student-athlete Hero Leadership Award. Price was one of the first people she met when they arrived as freshmen in the same year.  “We became fast friends and went on to have several classes together in the last three years,” Dunn told me Thursday.  “The thing that sets Givens apart from a lot of people you meet in college is that he’s not fazed by the temporary things.  I’ve always admired him for his constant ability to persevere through hard times with the knowledge that his time at Nebraska is about so much more than athletics.

“Is he dedicated to the team?” Dunn said.  “Absolutely!  He’s one of the most dedicated people I know.  But what’s really remarkable to me is that he came here at such a young age.  Even when we were freshmen together and he was just 16, he always understood that hard work and responsibility are two of the most important qualities you can maintain in all aspects of your life.  That’s a lesson that many people learn late in life and a lesson that some never learn at all.  Givens understood that when he was only 16.  As a friend and getting to watch him grow into the respectable, hard-working man he is today, I can’t wait to see him continue his journey as he strives to reach his full potential.  He’s one of a kind.  There’s no one more deserving than he is.”

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Taylor Knows Why Fresno is a Tough Place

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By Randy York

If any Nebraska player or a coach wants to know why Fresno State is leading the nation with 13 consecutive college football wins at home, they can ask Steve Taylor on the team plane Friday why it’s such a tough place to play.  “Fresno is a dangerous team, and I’m a little nervous about that,” Taylor told me Tuesday.  “They would love nothing more than knocking off the Nebraska Cornhuskers on a late, very hot Saturday night in Fresno.”

Why would Taylor, whose bio indicates he came to Nebraska from San Diego, know so much about Fresno?  “Because I grew up there, and most of my family still lives there,” he said.  “I helped my mom downsize her house not too long ago.  I have a sister who still lives there, and a brother and most of my first- and second-cousins and aunts and uncles.  We go to Fresno twice a year, so I know all about what can happen there.” 

One of the fastest and most productive quarterbacks in Nebraska history, Taylor will be in the Huskers Sports Network broadcast booth instead of on the field.  But that hasn’t prevented him from becoming a designated ticket broker for his family.  “I just bought 10 more,” he said.  “They want to go because everyone in town thinks Fresno’s going to win.”

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Steve Taylor, a successful Lincoln realtor, with his wife and three daughters.

‘Everyone in Fresno Thinks They’re Going to Win’

I ask Nebraska’s All-America quarterback what the odds might be for an 0-2 team (which has lost to USC and Utah) to beat a 2-0 Husker team.  “As a native of Fresno, you can’t help but be a little leery after our performance last week,” Taylor said.  “I think we absolutely have more talent and are a better team, but I know Fresno.  Those guys and their fans are going to be sky-high for this game.  There’s a lot of pride, even though they don’t have what we’re used to having at Nebraska.  It’s a different day and age now.  Everyone in Fresno thinks they’re going to win.”

Passionate fans know the quarterbacks who have played at Fresno State, such as Trent Dilfer, who spent 14 years in the NFL.  Taylor also mentioned David Carr and Derek Carr as Fresno State quarterbacks advancing to the NFL.   “What our fans don’t know about Fresno is how hot it gets in that stadium,” he said.  “It’s a sauna.  I talked to my sister, and she says the temperature’s going to be 105, even with a late kickoff.  I didn’t need her to tell me how hot it’s going to be.   I lived in Fresno when it got up to 119 degrees.  That’s one reason why they like to play people at home.  The whole city (which has about 180,000 more residents than Lincoln) gets pumped up.”

Taylor went unbeaten as a starting quarterback in his last two Lincoln High School seasons in Fresno – from two Raisin Bowls to his freshman and sophomore seasons at Edison High School in Fresno.  He then moved to San Diego, where he was best known for breaking Marcus Allen’s high school total offense records.  Taylor received scholarships from the best schools in the Pac-10, including USC and UCLA.  He chose Nebraska, where he started in three and played in four bowl games – two Fiesta Bowls, one Sugar and one Orange – against Michigan, Florida State, LSU and Miami, respectively.

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Taylor Has Relatives Who Are Gifted Athletically

Working alongside Greg Sharpe, Matt Davison, Lane Grindle and Matt Coatney, Taylor co-hosts the Husker Game Day Show with Sharpe and co-hosts the Big Red Reaction postgame coverage with Coatney.  If anyone should ask Taylor how deep his roots are, he can tell you how the children of his sisters and brothers have left their own indelible marks in athletics, including a nephew, DeShawn Stevenson, who went straight from Washington Union High School to the first round of the NBA draft and played on a world championship Dallas Maverick team.

Athletes that have emerged from both his mom’s side and his dad’s side of the family are into competing at very high levels, and they’re all eager to see a nationally prominent Nebraska program make the trip to Steve Taylor’s hometown.  Because Nebraska isn’t flying to Fresno until later Friday and flying back to Lincoln immediately after the game, Taylor won’t see his family long.  “I was back in Fresno and closed and purchased my third and final home for my mom in April,” he said.  “She raised four kids as a single mom and has been retired for 20 years.  We plan to come back to Fresno this year for Christmas.”

Somehow, I think Steve Taylor believes his alma mater will prevail in the Central California late night heat.  But it might not be easy to pin the first defeat on a Fresno State team that hasn’t lost at home in three seasons.  Some might want to plan a Saturday afternoon nap into your schedule so you can get as pumped up as Taylor expects the home team to be.

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The N-Sider’s Five Favorite Bo Pelini Quotes

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Husker defensive end Randy Gregory (44) is expected to return to action.

Video: Bo Pelini Press Conference

Video: Tommy Armstrong Presser

Huskers Hit Road for First Time in 2014

Nebraska Game Notes for Fresno State

By Randy York

By now, you know The N-Sider drill: Watch Bo Pelini’s third weekly press conference and select my Five Favorite Bo Pelini Quotes to equip those who don’t have time to be a Husker sponge, but want to stay aligned with our seventh-year head coach in every possible way. As always, we start in reverse order:

5) On Bo’s timetable published one week ago in this exact same position related to junior defensive end Randy Gregory:  “He ran yesterday.  He looked great, and he looked great today.  I expect him to practice, probably tomorrow.  I’d say Wednesday at the very latest, but he’ll be ready to go this weekend.”  For some, that’s worth a few cartwheels.  For others, that’s what Bo predicted last week – Gregory being ready to put the pads back on so he can dig his cleats into Bulldog Stadium’s turf in Fresno, Calif., Saturday night.  Third-year coach Tim DeRuyter has won back-to-back Mountain West Conference Championships and led Fresno to a 12-0 record at home.  Randy Gregory isn’t exactly Willie Harper or Grant Wistrom yet, but his presence would be similarly welcomed with his return. The Huskers need Gregory back in the lineup.  A first-team All-Big Ten choice and Nebraska’s 2013 Team Defensive MVP, Gregory was limited to a few snaps in the season opener before he was sidelined with a minor knee injury.  He had a procedure on the knee on Aug. 31 and the Fresno State game has been his targeted return.  In his sophomore season, the 6-foot-6 defensive end led the Big Ten with 10.5 sacks for 69 yards in losses.  Last Saturday, Gregory was one of the last to return to the locker room because fans kept asking for post-game photos.  An All-America candidate across college football’s prime media outlets, Gregory is accommodating off the field and a true destructive force on it.  He alters offensive schemes and is a migraine headache for any offensive coordinator. 

4) On something important that gets buried in Coach Bo’s candor about last Saturday’s defensive and offensive breakdowns: “Going forward, like I told our football team, I don’t feel any different as far as what this football team is capable of today as I did a week ago.”  That’s a very important statement that comes straight from the heart, the mind and the soul of a head coach who pointed the finger at himself when Nebraska’s sequel to the best offensive explosion in modern Big Ten Conference history one week morphed into a game that wasn’t decided until the last 20 seconds the next week.  No wonder Bo said “thank God for Ameer Abdullah” whose rather miraculous catch-and-run touchdown enabled the Huskers to escape with a 31-24 win.

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Ameer Abdullah (8) accelerates on his way to his decisive touchdown run.

3) On Nebraska Heisman Trophy candidate Ameer Abdullah deserving more and better opportunities touching the football from this day forward: “We have to make sure to get the ball in his hands.  I mean, he’s our best football player.  We better make sure we get the ball in his hands.”  ESPN SportsCenter’s top play of the day for two consecutive Saturdays has been a Husker.  Jordan Westerkamp’s behind-the-back catch was first, and Abdullah’s magic carpet ride to the South end zone was second.  Yes, McNeese State was crowding the box, daring the Huskers to throw the football.  “We had multiple opportunities in the passing game, and we didn’t take advantage of it,” Pelini said.  “There are other ways to get Ameer the ball, and we should get him the ball.”

2) On something that connected with Bo Monday and elevated his trust:  “We can talk about what’s necessary – the type of mindset, the type of preparation, the type of discipline, and the type of focus you have to have to play great, which we didn’t have on Saturday.  That starts right here.  There’s one thing to talk about it, and there’s another to feel it, and believe me, on Saturday, they felt it.”  This quote has a direct connect with quote 4 when Bo purified his heart and cleansed his mind about Nebraska’s team getting off-track.  Bottom line, Bo spent an hour earlier Monday at a Nebraska Athletics’ kickoff meeting for staff and coaches.  Best-selling author Jon Gordon addressed the group for the last 12 minutes and included an anecdote about what Mike Krzyzewski did for basketball’s Team USA to understand why it’s so important to play for your country.  “Obviously, that isn’t our situation,” Pelini said, “but he brought up that, at one point, they got to talk to some West Point people who lost family members and died for their country.”  It was an important strategic point for Pelini, who related the story to compare the difference between talking about something and actually feeling it.  However the team huddled up and whatever players and coaches said to each other behind closed doors must have cleared the air.  That’s why Pelini wasn’t asking: “Can you feel it?”  He went to great depths to communicate that he definitely feels it; the coaching staff feels it; and the players feel it, too.

1) On maintaining his faith in sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., who had his share of struggles, even though the blame should not all fall on his shoulders: “Trust me, when I tell you the problems in that passing game went well beyond that quarterback position.  Our lack of detail in some of the other positions put our quarterback in bad positions.”  Let the record show that Tommy Armstrong Jr. rushed 11 times for 131 net yards and scored a touchdown.  He also completed 16 of 31 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns.  A 373-yard, three-touchdown total offense day is a unique target for disappointment, but Armstrong insisted on taking a lion’s share of the blame.  “It starts with me.  I’m the quarterback,” he told the media.  “I wear this shirt loud and proud.  If I’m not playing my heart out in the game, we can’t get wins.  I didn’t have my offense prepared well, and I take blame for it because it all starts with me, and it’s something I can’t let happen.  Ameer has told us a bunch of times that you have to respect the game.  We can’t take any team lightly.  We have to prepare every week as if we’re playing the No. 1 team in the nation.”   The road to redemption begins in Fresno.  Some might remember Nebraska’s only other game against the Bulldogs in Lincoln three years ago when the Huskers won, 42-29.  Abdullah was just a freshman.  He had a 100-yard kickoff return in that game and set a Nebraska record with 211 kickoff return yards in the contest.  Abdullah, a captain and a leader, not only is in prime position to get the ball more, but ready to do whatever it takes to help his quarterback, coaches, teammates and others, including fans, to “feel” what he felt last Saturday.  Abdullah and Armstrong are counting on everyone learning a powerful lesson that can still take the Huskers to Indianapolis and, perhaps, beyond.

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Cotton, Lewis Vie to be ‘King of Knockdowns’

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Alex Lewis, left, and co-captain Jake Cotton.  Lincoln Journal Star Photo

By Randy York

John Garrison isn’t even close to crowning the hard-nosed left side of Nebraska’s offensive line with elements of glory after one lopsided season opener.  But the Husker offensive line coach does like the ultra-competitive nature emerging from the starting guard and starting tackle, both of whom are following in their fathers’ footsteps.  Meet Jake Cotton, a 6-foot-6, 305-pound senior behemoth guard from Lincoln, and Alex Lewis, a 6-foot-6, 290-pound chiseled junior tackle from Tempe, Ariz.  Like their fathers – Nebraska tight ends coach Barney Cotton and 1985 first-team All-America center Bill Lewis – the sons are so wrapped up in their physical defense-like mindset, Garrison sees nothing but improvement paving their road ahead.

“We’re keeping them grounded because they’re not perfect, but both definitely and aggressively know how to attack,” Garrison told me.  “You can’t always have a rah-rah guy in the room, so these two guys are leading by example.  They play extremely hard and motivate themselves and each other.  They both take a lot of pride in their work and really like being leaders, and I think the individual competition between the two is pushing them even harder.”

Friday was a perfect example of their friendly approach to achieving highly serious goals.  Garrison, you see, carries on a little-known tradition that was launched during Bo Pelini’s first full year as Nebraska’s head coach.  The competition is a carryover from Nebraska’s famous offensive Pipeline, which had a statistical category called pancake blocks and now carries a different description.  In striving to elevate the ultimate snapshot of an offensive lineman’s physicality, Nebraska now uses the term “knockdown” whenever a blocker knocks a defender completely off his feet.

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The B1G Game: Who’s the King of Knockdowns?

Knockdowns always have been important in the private confines of a meeting room.  Now, thanks to Garrison’s master motivational skills, the winner gets the opportunity to wear a big, wide, gaudy belt that looks like it comes straight out of a professional wrestling ring.  The belt has a gold buckle with a red N coming out of a black background.  The title at the top says it all … King of Knockdowns.

We paint the poetry of that glorified symbol for one reason.  After two linemen weighing 595 combined pounds left Nebraska’s Training Table, one picked up that belt in the hallway and deliberately put it on in front of the other, who just happens to have his name inscribed as the overall King of Knockdowns for the 2013 season.

Garrison said Cotton and Lewis have formed a tight friendship and a brotherly bond, but both are going after that knockdown award and the belt that goes with it like they were inside a ring fighting for an Outland Trophy.  “The knockdown award went to Alex last week with eight knockdowns,” Garrison said.  “Jake had six, and he wasn’t very happy about that award in someone else’s hands.  They’ll compete this week, which is good.”

It is good not only for two veteran linemen, but also for the first-year freshmen who see the physical mindset that Garrison wants to bring back to Nebraska.

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Vonden Bosch Set a Physical Tone for Garrison

“When I came here, I was on the defensive side of the ball first with Kyle Vanden Bosch (who spent 12 years playing in the NFL),” Garrison said.  “Seeing those guys and how competitive they are as juniors and seniors in practice sets a tone for everyone.  It develops discipline to live by and should carry into the classroom just like it does on the field.  Setting the tone is huge, and I think we’re getting back to that with these two guys helping lead the way.”

The dividends not only pay off now, but could continue well into the future.  I asked Garrison if the left side sweep in the line has NFL potential for both.  “Look at their bodies,” Garrison said.  “Jake and Alex are big guys and the way they move around for the size they are is pretty impressive.  They both have the most important intangibles to go with it – hard work, dedication, and passion for the game that you can’t coach.  The glue for both is their aggressiveness for the game. With two fathers who played at Nebraska and were ‘old school’ linemen, they have the right genetic makeup.  They definitely embody and embrace that aspect, and that’s what you see when they get after it.”

For the record, Barney Cotton played four years in the NFL, one in Cincinnati and three in St. Louis.  Bill Lewis played seven years in the NFL, four with the Raiders, two with the Cardinals and one with the Patriots.  Garrison said Bill Lewis is still intense, passionate and excited about his son playing at Nebraska.  Garrison said Barney, his coaching colleague, shares many of the same qualities.  “Jake and Alex are both throwback-type players like their fathers,” he said.  “They love playing and going the extra mile and going past the whistle.”

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Jake Proud to Be NU’s First Cotton Captain

Barney Cotton accepts the compliment.  “Whether it’s Bill or me, I think one thing people would say is that we played hard and tried to be physical all the time,” he said.  “That’s why I see out of Alex, and that’s what I see out of Jake.  That’s the biggest compliment you can give an offensive lineman – saying they try to compete physically and play their butts off.”

Barney said Jake helped recruit Lewis.  “That’s when their friendship started, and they remained friends when Alex had to sit out,” Barney said.  “It was a quick process during the spring, and that’s where they started to feel comfortable playing with each other.  They’re both big and tall and the same kind of lineman.  I just hope they continue to improve, continue to work hard, and continue to be good examples.”

I asked Barney what he thought of Jake being the first Cotton to be named a Nebraska team captain “I think it’s the highest honor a guy can have because your peers are the ones who vote,” he said.  “For Ameer and Jake and Kenny and Cory and Josh to have their pictures on the wall downstairs by the locker room is something they’ll always remember.  Being voted a captain is a big accomplishment, a great honor and I hope they all exert a positive influence to their teammates.”  … even when one of those teammates wears an outlandish belt buckle right after lunch to get under your skin.

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Football Legends Share a Basketball Memory

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By Randy York

Who would ever guess that two legends who will be inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame Friday night in Lincoln share a national championship basketball tournament memory?  And what an unlikely pair they were 21 years ago when former Nebraska All-America offensive lineman Russ Hochstein and University of Nebraska-Kearney All-America quarterback Justin Coleman were on the same Valentino’s all-star basketball team that won a major national invitational tournament in Las Vegas.

“I was a big, brawling center, and Justin was a tall shooting guard,” Hochstein recalled before leaving his home in Massachusetts this week to attend Friday night’s Hall-of-Fame banquet inside Memorial Stadium.  “Since we were playing college football at different levels and at different schools, who would have known that years later, we would be inducted into the same Hall-of-Fame class?  My roommate and very good friend at Nebraska was Loran Kaiser, who played in Kearney, so once in a while we’d hang out and I’d run into Justin.  It really is a small world.  We all have kids and all have lives, so it’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other.  But I’m really looking forward to seeing Justin.”

Hochstein, a 12-year NFL veteran who played on back-to-back New England Patriot Super Bowl championship teams in 2003 and 2004, remembers how fun it was to “build your own team” in AAU basketball and take turns in the starting lineup.  “We played teams from all over the country – from LA to Chicago.  It was a lot of fun to play against some of the best basketball players in the country and be from Nebraska and win a tournament like that.”

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Lightly Recruited but Heavily Developed at Nebraska

Despite his professional longevity in Tampa Bay, New England, Denver and Kansas City, Hochstein was not heavily recruited at Hartington Cedar Catholic High School.  He remembers talking to Kansas State and Iowa State, “but when you’re born and raised in Nebraska, there’s no other place you’d rather play,” Hochstein told me.  “I did what most do.  I came in, put on weight, got stronger, worked hard, learned from great coaches and waited my turn.  I ended up gaining 70 pounds from my freshman year to my senior season.  I had great strength coaches and nothing but love for Nebraska and all of the guys, coaches and staff who were around me.  They deserve as much credit as I do.”

Hochstein’s parents and brother still live in Hartington.  “I live in Massachusetts,” he said.  “I met my wife when I played for the Patriots.  I lived three years in Denver and one in Kansas City and then settled out here where I do some volunteer coaching.  We have three kids and we’re watching all three grow.  They range from five years to 10-months-old.  I’m starting a new job with an ambulance company in development, so I’m very eager to meet and talk to everyone when I get back to Lincoln.”

The Nebraska Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame is also honoring two other former Nebraska offensive linemen – All-Big Eight tackle Carl Johnson (1970-71) and All Big Eight guard Mike Mandelko (1980-82).  The other former Husker who will be inducted is linebacker Barrett Ruud, NU’s all-time leading tackler.  Like Hochstein, Ruud earned induction in his first appearance on the ballot.

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Honored with Osborne, Rooting for Tenopir

Hochstein is excited to see and meet all honorees and gets a kick out of being inducted at the same time as Coleman, who was the runner-up for the top individual award in NCAA Division II after completing 706 career passes for 11,213 yards at Nebraska-Kearney. Hochstein is equally excited to be in an induction class that will share the spotlight with Tom Osborne. Nebraska’s Hall-of-Fame coach and athletic director will receive only the third President’s Award in Nebraska Football Hall of Fame history, joining Dan Kelley and Clifford Hardin with that honor.

In addition, Hochstein has invited former Husker line coach Milt Tenopir to sit at his table.  “I’m hoping he can make it and be with us in his health situation,” Hochstein said.  “Obviously, Milt was a big reason for the success I’ve had as a player.  I give all the credit in the world to the late Dan Young and to Milt because they were very good coaches and great mentors.  Looking back at my recruiting, most of my contact was with the late Cletus Fischer, so he’s another guy I really appreciate.”

Hochstein said his decision to volunteer as a coach is based significantly on the selfless leadership he received from Tenopir, Young, Fischer and Osborne.  “Coach Tenopir put people under his wing and dealt with a lot of other things besides football,” Hochstein said.  “We were a great big family when I was at Nebraska, and I hope the guys that are there now still operate that way.  Coaches sacrifice so much of their own time to develop their players into what we become, and I will be forever grateful for that.”image

Counting His Blessings and Proud of His Coach

Well aware that Nebraska has not won a conference championship since Hochstein started and starred in 1999, he can only say that he wishes there were 14 more conference titles on the big board.  “I was so proud to be a part of a national championship and those conference championships,” Hochstein said.  “I’ve had a blessed NFL career, too.”

He’s also experienced what it feels like at the bottom when Kansas City went 2-14 in his only season with the Chiefs.  “No one can take those memories away from me,” Hochstein said.  “Now that I’m done playing football, there are things you just love to think about that you really never thought about until you were done.  I’ve stayed pretty close to Coach Tenopir over the years.  I think he’s in Husker Nation’s thoughts and prayers.  I know he’s fighting and battling his butt off, just like he taught us to do.  He’s in good spirits, he’s fighting hard, and we all wish him nothing but the very best.”

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Husker Hero Helps Launch 2014 Nominations

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Humble Husker Hero Wants to Inspire Others

By Randy York

He’s a year older, a year wiser, and a professional in his chosen field.  In mid-July, he finally met the man whose life he saved, and even though this 19-year-old is as humble as ever, Caleb Amundson is more than willing to smile and wave to 90,000-plus fans Saturday when he’s introduced prior to the second half of Nebraska’s non-conference football game against McNeese State.  Caleb, you might remember, was Nebraska’s 2013 honoree for the annual Nebraska-Iowa Hy-Vee Heroes Game inside Memorial Stadium. 

A May graduate of North Central Kansas Technical College in Beloit, Kan., Amundson will be recognized Saturday as the Red Cross helps launch the annual call for 2014 nominations that will be posted Saturday on Hy-Vee.com.  “It’s pretty cool.  I’m glad they called me to come back,” Caleb said by phone Wednesday after completing another day as a heavy equipment operator in Endicott, Neb., located six miles from Fairbury, his hometown.  “If I can inspire people to nominate their own hero, I’m happy because I’m as excited as everyone else to find out who that’s going to be.”

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Reluctant Hero Encourages Nominations for 2014

Nancy and Chris Amundson, Caleb’s parents, and his 12-year-old brother, Chance, will join him in the northwest corner of Memorial Stadium Saturday to heighten awareness of the formal nomination process that begins Saturday.  The 2014 Heroes Game will be played on Friday, November 28, in Iowa City.  Even though Caleb was a reluctant hero, the Kansas Red Cross recognized Caleb as one of 10 Good Samaritan Hero Award winners last December in Salina, Kan.  Seven months later, Caleb finally met the paralyzed boater whose safety belt he unbuckled and pulled to safety after diving into the water at Harlan County Lake near Republican City, Neb.

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Works for the Company that Supplied Lettermen’s Wall

“There are a lot of heroes out there, doing things just like what I did,” Caleb told me after another satisfying day operating a bulldozer.  “I’m working full time for the Endicott Clay Products Company, and there’s nothing better.”  When I tell Caleb the company for which he now works supplied the bricks for Nebraska’s all-time football lettermen’s wall that’s an integral part of the Huskers’ famed Tunnel Walk, he is not surprised.  “It’s a great company, and I’m glad to be a part of it,” he said.  Caleb is equally excited to return home and be part of two more familiar commitments – 1) he remains a volunteer for the Fairbury Rural Fire Department; and 2) as a former starter on the Fairbury High School football team, he has accepted the opportunity to be a volunteer coach.  “Caleb loves being back home,” his mom said, “and everyone who knows him also knows that he would have been just fine if he and the man he saved would have been the only ones who knew about his heroic act.”   

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Thursday Radio Show Focuses on NU Soccer

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By Randy York

Thursday night’s Talk to the Director of Athletics Radio Show will focus on one of Nebraska’s most successful programs, which last fall ended one of the Big Ten Conference’s most successful winning streaks of all time.  NU’s soccer team not only terminated a 15-year Penn State run of consecutive conference championships, but also went on to win the Big Ten Postseason Tournament Championship.  On Friday, the 3-1 Huskers, who lost five seniors to graduation, return home to host No. 20 Oklahoma at 5:30 p.m. CT.  On Sunday, the Huskers will entertain North Dakota in a 1 p.m. match at the Nebraska Soccer Field.

Husker Soccer in Final Season at Current Home

On Thursday’s opening segment in the 7 to 8 p.m. radio show, Shawn Eichorst will discuss Nebraska’s new technology inside and around Memorial Stadium, plus the launch of new seasons in football, volleyball, soccer, and cross country.  He also will share his thoughts on five new coaches beginning their first seasons at Nebraska.  Eichorst invited Nebraska Soccer Coach John Walker (pictured above) to be part of his monthly program.  In his 22nd season at the helm of the program, Walker has coached 11 NCAA qualifiers and nine conference championship teams, including six that advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 and two that made the Elite Eight.

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Captains Conroy (11) and Areman (4) Radio Guests

Mayme Conroy and Samantha Areman – two of four 2014 Husker soccer captains – are special guests on Thursday’s Talk to the Director of Athletics Show.  Areman is a 5-foot-5 defender from Norris High School in Firth, Neb., and Conroy is a 5-9 forward from Skutt High School in Omaha.  A marketing major, Areman has been a two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, a Hero Leadership Award winner and a member of the Tom Osborne Citizenship Team.  A child, youth and family studies major, Conroy has earned Academic All-Big Ten honors as well as second-team All-Big Ten honors, athletically.  She also was named to the first-ever Osborne Citizenship Team.  The Huskers are in their 10th and final season at the Nebraska Soccer Field before moving into the Nebraska Soccer and Tennis Complex next season.  Since moving to campus in 2005, NU has compiled a 65-25-12 record and has nine home games remaining this fall.

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Junior Graduate Kevin Williams Interviewed

In a follow-up to his monthly Connecting on Campus column, Eichorst asked Greg Sharpe to interview Kevin Williams (pictured above), a junior defensive lineman from Holland, Ohio, on Thursday night’s radio show.  Williams earned his bachelor’s degree as a management major last month, and is one of four Nebraska football players competing this fall with their college diplomas in hand.  The other three are safety Corey Cooper from Maywood, Ill., offensive guard Jake Cotton from Lincoln, and linebacker Zaire Anderson from Philadelphia.  Zach Hedval, a senior still rings specialist from Santee, Calif., is another recent graduate still competing as a member of NU’s men’s gymnastics team.

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Sullivan Scholarship Honors Johnny Stanton

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George and Genie Sullivan present a scholarship to Johnny Stanton IV.

By Randy York

Twenty-one minutes before Nebraska kicked off its 125th anniversary football season, a redshirt freshman quarterback from Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., stood with his parents, John III and Lori, and his sister, Katie, in the northeast corner of Memorial Stadium. Patrick Combs then announced that Johnny Stanton IV was the seventh annual recipient of the George Sullivan Endowed Scholarship award. 

The scholarship honors Sullivan, Nebraska’s head athletic trainer from 1977 to 1995.  Sullivan’s four-plus decades of service to Nebraska student-athletes is one of the longest tenured positions in the history of NU Athletics.  The Sullivan Scholarship is considered a major award for well-balanced student-athletes who succeed both on and off the field.  Consider, for instance, that Todd Peterson was the first Husker Sullivan Scholarship recipient in 2008, followed by Adi Kunalic in ’09 and Sean Fisher for the next three consecutive years.  A year ago, Jake Long earned the Sullivan Scholarship.  By now, every serious Husker football fan knows the criteria upon which this award is based – varsity players with a strong commitment to community while demonstrating effective leadership skills, a high degree of integrity and a commitment to excellence in all endeavors.

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A pre-med major, Johnny Stanton finds the time to visit Lincoln hospitals.

Pre-Med Major Finds the Time to Help Others

Stanton is a nutrition science/pre-medicine major with a 3.5+ grade-point average after his first year on campus.  The talented, dual-threat quarterback competes for playing time and donates his own time.  A member of both the Tom Osborne and Brook Berringer Citizenship Teams, Stanton also is a two-time Nebraska Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll award winner.  Even though he had scholarship offers from the likes of Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin, he did not take any other visits after committing to Nebraska in the summer of 2012.

Johnny honors Nebraska football in a classic yet competitive way.  He has volunteered his time to Uplifting Athletes and Big Brothers/Big Sisters, plus Husker Heroes, Husker Hotline, School is Cool Week, the People’s City Mission, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  When opportunities arise to visit local schools, hospitals, and recreational/care centers, Stanton does whatever he can to help.

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Johnny Stanton IV values his relationships with Cornhusker teammates.

Husker Legend Sullivan Was a Big Part of the Team

George Sullivan, a Husker legend in every sense of the word, attended Nebraska football staff meetings every morning at 7 o’clock.  “George’s  input was always very valuable,” Tom Osborne said.  “We trusted him just like a coach.  He did a great job.”

I saw “Sully” in the Nebraska Athletic Medicine Office before he and wife Genie headed to the hot northwest corner of the stadium to make Saturday’s pregame scholarship presentation.  Sully now uses two canes instead of one to gobble up first downs on Nebraska’s fabled turf.  “We’re honoring another great one,” Sully said of Stanton, “so I need to be out there.”

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The N-Sider’s Five Favorite Bo Pelini Quotes

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Bo Pelini Monday talked about Gregory, Abdullah, Armstrong and much mor

Video: Jordan’s Behind-the-Back Catch

Video: Jordan Describes a Masterpiece

Video: Pelini’s Weekly Press Conference

Video: Abdullah after Opening with Win

Video: Q&A with QB Tommy Armstrong

By Randy York

For Coach Bo Pelini’s second weekly press conference of the season, The N-Sider continues its 2014 format of Five Favorite Bo Quotes for those who live in the fast lane and don’t have time to be a Husker sponge. We start again from No. 5 and work our way up:

5) On the status of junior defensive end Randy Gregory: “I would say he’s doubtful for this week, but probable for the Fresno game.” You have to have been outside the country not to know Big Red fans’ No. 1 question since the first quarter of the season opener.  What happened to Gregory was similar to what happened to Husker fullback Andy Janovich a couple weeks ago – an old injury flared up and needed fixed.  Bo isn’t a doctor, but he trusts an MRI that shows scar tissue in Gregory’s left knee, which required a “cleanup” scope procedure on Sunday.  Rest easy, Husker fans.  Gregory feels good, but trainers and coaches are not about to rush him back into the lineup until he’s 100 percent.  When your sights are set on a 14-game or 15-game season, you treat precious cargo with extra special care.

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Load-the-box defenses must respect Tommy Armstrong going over the top.

4) On Nebraska’s down-the-field approach to counteract defenses that load the box to stop the running game: I thought we had a good handle on our approach this past Saturday, and I thought Tim (Beck) had a good feel for when to take the shots.”  A big amen to that because the nature of defense almost requires having a quarterback that’s an integral part of the running game.  Bo calls it counting numbers, giving an offense an “extra guy” every now and then to beat the defense over the top.  Beck picks the times he thinks Nebraska can beat the defense over the top.  Bo implicitly trusts his offensive coordinator’s feel for the game and his sense of timing “to take the shots”.  Beck’s ability to create new plays with Tommy Armstrong at the controls should continue to build.  Bo calls Beck an “outstanding offensive mind” because he understands the game and diagnoses defenses both in the running game and in the passing game and then marries the two so “they work together,” according to Bo.

3) On whether junior defensive back Byerson Cockrell was a steal in recruiting:  “When I went down there (to Louisiana) and met him, boy, I think he’s a steal.  I like BC…I think he’s going to be a great player and he’s going to keep getting better.”  Nebraska’s head coach credits former Husker secondary coach Terry Joseph for bringing Cockrell to his attention.  Cockrell’s biggest strengths, according to Bo, are his instincts and his ability to understand what the offense is trying to do and what Nebraska’s defense can do to counteract the offensive strategy.  Bo points out how Cockrell can play multiple spots, a truly rare modern-day advantage.  Pelini said he would not hesitate to line up Cockrell at nickel, safety or corner and let him play each or all of those positions as the year goes on.  “He can handle that all mentally and that is unusual for a first-year guy,” Pelini said.  “He’s a tremendous kid and a great young man.”

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Ameer Abdullah’s career-high 232-yard rushing day earned a Big Ten award.

2) On how coaches will manage Ameer Abdullah during his senior season as a Heisman Trophy candidate: Ameer is a guy who, if you aren’t careful, will wear himself out during the week because he practices so hard and wants to run so much.  He would take every snap if we let him.”  Let the record show that Bo thinks his staff managed Abdullah well in the season opener because he was on the field when he needed to be there and on the sidelines when he needed to be there.  “We got him his work,” Pelini said.  “It’s a feel thing.”  Bo trusts running backs coach Ron Brown and strength and conditioning coach James Dobson to know when and how the “catapult system” should work.  As hard as it is for Abdullah to rest, the goal is to make sure he’s great on Saturdays.  The staff often has to handle Imani Cross the same way.  “You’ve got to be careful that you don’t give them too much,” Pelini said.  “Give them enough that they know the game plan.  Those guys have been around the block.  They know what’s necessary.”

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Jordan Westerkamp has invented a new skill: hand to “no eye” coordination.

1) On how many times he’s watched Jordan Westerkamp’s latest phenomenal catch: “Just once. I saw it on Sports Center the other night when I was flipping through the channels…that was enough for me.”  Contrary to what some fans might think, football coaches are almost quarantined from August through November.  They have enough trouble catching dinner, let alone catching what we do in our constant channel flipping to find what BTN or ESPN are saying about the Huskers.  ”Unusual to say the least, just for somebody to have the…to even think to throw your hands back there to catch a football,” Pelini said, trying to find the right words.  “Like I said, I haven’t been around that one.  I’ve seen a lot, but I haven’t seen that one before.”

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