October Baseball = Costumes, Worthy Cause

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Step Up to the Plate vs. Pediatric Brain Cancer

Andy Hoffman’s Medical Update from Boston

By Randy York

You can say this about Nebraska: Even though the world sees us as a football state, we can connect the dots of October to baseball, a sport still considered the national past time in the hearts and minds of millions.  Thirty Major League Baseball teams recently combined to draw nearly 74 million fans through their collective turnstiles, an average attendance of more than 30,000 fans per game through an entire season of 81 home games for each franchise. 

Now consider that Nebraska’s baseball team, which sent Alex Gordon, above, to the Kansas City Royals, will be playing Tuesday at high noon at Haymarket Park.  Husker players will be wearing Halloween costumes with a trophy at stake when they show up to celebrate a fun-fest for their loyal fans and unique spirit.  Fans will vote for the costume they like best, and the winning player will be announced before the noon hour ends.  “The prize is a trophy and bragging rights for next year,” said Lonna Kliment, who coordinates marketing for Husker baseball.

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Gordon Hitting for a Worthy Cause

Tuesday at noon should help set the stage for Tuesday night’s opening game of the 2014 MLB World Series.  First pitch is 7:07 p.m. CT on Fox.  The American League Champion Kansas City Royals host the National League Champion San Francisco Giants at Kauffman Stadium, and there is a compelling way for Husker fans to support Gordon, the Royals and a worthy cause all at the same time.

Team Jack is teaming up with Kansas City and asking Husker and Royal fans everywhere to pledge a certain dollar amount for every hit that Gordon gets in the World Series.  All funds will go directly to pediatric brain research in honor of Team Jack’s and Alex’s combined effort. “Playing in the World Series is going to be the honor of a lifetime,” Gordon said.  “I’m so thankful to my coaches and teammates for this opportunity.  I’m also thankful I’ll be able to use this national platform to help find a cure for pediatric brain cancer.”

Pledges Apply for Entire World Series

The idea is to dedicate the money raised from Gordon’s hits during the series to benefit the families fighting against the disease across the country.  The best thing about the campaign is that pledges will be for the entire World Series, regardless of when the donation is placed.

What a creative way to help a great cause while watching the World Series.  Whatever you are able to contribute will help a devoted Husker dig deep to help a cause that’s important across the country and around the world. 

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19 Years Later, Berringer Inspires an Admirer

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BTN Trailer for Saturday Night’s ‘Unbeaten’ Premiere

Berringer Film Follows NU vs. NU National Telecast

By Randy York

Lincoln’s Amanda Wekesser can still tear up when she thinks about her favorite hero and trusted role model.  Her emotions are especially sensitive this week with the Big Ten Network premiere of Unbeaten: The Life of Brook Berringer.The film’s debut on BTN immediately following Saturday night’s Nebraska-Northwestern national telecast is a godsend for college football fans, not just Husker faithful.  The only issue for Amanda and, perhaps, tens of thousands of Nebraska’s most loyal fans, is their inability to watch the premiere on the same night it will mean so much to so many.

Most Big Red fans have digital video recorders, so they’re assured of seeing the film whenever it will be convenient for them to watch.  Amanda doesn’t have a DVR, so she worries about missing this powerful one-hour original documentary.  It is, in essence, more a character story than a sports story.  I learned of Amanda’s predicament when she sent me an email, fearing that she will miss a major opportunity.  She was relieved to learn that she will have two other near-term opportunities to view the feature-length film (next Monday, October 20, at 8 p.m. CT and next Wednesday, October 22, at approximately 9 p.m. CT after BTN’s Nebraska vs. Minnesota volleyball telecast)

I asked Amanda what the root of her apprehension was in missing the film on BTN and her answer triggered an intriguing aspect of what could be Brook’s greatest legacy – creating a ripple effect that’s so strong throughout the state of Nebraska, it will now make a dramatic sweep across the country, thanks to BTN’s vision, ingenuity, and artistry.  If one young girl who was so devastated by Brook Berringer’s death is now a young woman who still draws inspiration from him, how many more stories like Amanda’s are out there?  And how many new hearts can Brook touch when others watch something Nebraskans already know?

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Amanda Was 7 When Her Mom Told Her the News

Amanda was 7-years-old when Berringer died in a crash of the plane he was piloting two days before the 1995 NFL Draft.  “My family watched the Huskers play every Saturday when I was growing up.  I was an impressionable kid and Brook became my favorite player over Tommie Frazier and countless others,” Amanda told me.  “He was a Husker quarterback, a good player, and gave it his all, even when he was hurt.  He was a major factor in our ‘94 National Championship run, and I was disappointed when Brook lost the starting job for the ‘95 season.  Never once did anyone hear him complain, even though it had to have been tough on him.  To this day, no one ever seems to have a bad thing to say about Brook.”

Amanda Wekesser will never forget her mom telling her about Brook’s accident.  “I was devastated.  I couldn’t believe that my favorite Husker player was gone,” she told me, adding that even at her tender young age he was “a person I looked up to and was suddenly gone and I’d never see him again.”

In the years that followed, Amanda cried whenever she was at a Husker home game honoring the Brook Berringer Memorial Scholarship winner.  “Every year that award is presented reminds me of Brook,” she said while acknowledging that several years after his death, Amanda read the book One Final Pass: The Brook Berringer Story.  “I was surprised at how many similarities Brook and I shared – from work ethic in our respective sports to volunteering and even our knack for pranks,” Amanda told me. 

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Growing Up, She Asked: What Would Brook Do?

“To this day, if I’m going through a tough situation, faced with a tough decision, or am hurt by someone or injured, I often find myself asking ‘What would Brook do in my situation?’” Amanda said, explaining that she often makes decisions based on what she thinks he would have done in a similar circumstance.

It isn’t a tactic she always employs, but that question helped her get through a number of challenges and hardships.  Before earning her UNL Bachelor’s degree in meteorology, a math-rich field, “there were late nights when I would be up studying and think ‘this isn’t worth it anymore.  I think I’m going to quit.  Math is not my strong suit.’”  Then, in a matter of minutes, Amanda would tell herself that Brook Berringer never quit when it got hard for him, so she kept going full-speed ahead.

“I was very young when Brook was alive, but he left a deep, lasting impression on me,” Amanda said.  “He’s been a hero and a role model to me for many years, and to this day, I wear a number 18 football jersey most Saturdays.”

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Brook Provides a Compass for Navigating Life

Amanda Wekesser, a para educator and swimming coach for Lincoln-based Nebraska Aquatics, believes strongly that “the world would be a different place if we had more role models like Brook,” she said, before adding how difficult it is to put into words the full impact that Berringer has made on her life.  She even says she hopes she’s given me at least a glimpse of what Brook meant to her and what his legacy means to so many others.

A glimpse?  I put Amanda’s thoughts in that exceptional category where someone you never meet can have a profound impact on how you look at life and navigate your way through it.  Something tells me there are countless other Husker fans who see Brook’s life, leadership, legend and legacy as one comprehensive compass for their own lives.

“Everyone has a role model at one time or another,” Amanda said.  “Jack Hoffman has his role model in Rex Burkhead, his friend.  I grew up with Brook Berringer as my role model. I just never got to meet him as a friend.”  Not in this life anyway.  “We share the same beliefs,” Amanda said, “and I believe that one day I will get to meet Brook in Heaven.”

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The N-Sider’s Five Favorite Bo Pelini Quotes

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Full Text of Bo Pelini’s Monday Press Conference

Huskers Get Healthy During Their Bye Week

By Randy York

Bo Pelini, shown above during the game at Michigan State two weekends ago, said Monday that the last eight or nine days for him felt more like two months and that may explain why Nebraska’s seventh-year head football coach kept harping on the same three subjects at Monday’s press conference – technique, technique and technique.  His rather eloquent thoughts on that critically important word reminded me of someone who once said that “some people believe football is a matter of life and death, and I’m very disappointed with that attitude.  I can assure you that it is much, much more important than that.”

From my point of view, Coach Pelini’s sermon on technique was not boring in any way.  It was, in fact, a classic case of a head coach giving media and fans a view of his heart and a peek into his soul while he shared what Vince Lombardi must have been like when he finds football running parallel to life.  Pelini’s mini-lecture on technique was fascinating at its core because he talked about perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, and dedication – all qualities that apply on the football field as much as they relate to everyday life.  With that in mind, I share with loyal Husker fans my Five Favorite Bo Pelini Quotes from his first presser since that rainy night in East Lansing two months ago…I mean, nine days ago.

This week, for the first time this season, I’m listing my five favorite quotes in their real-life order instead of in reverse order because I don’t want readers to wait from here to eternity to understand what may have been weighing so heavily on Coach Bo’s mind from that slow-cooker start at Michigan State.  That was yesterday.  On deck is a series that is triggering all kinds of philosophical thoughts from Coach Pelini.  Yes, the difference between Nebraska being 2-1 or 0-3 against Northwestern is razor-thin and does not reflect the Huskers’ 18-8 overall Big Ten record over the last three years compared to the Wildcats’ 11-16 mark.  Even in the division, NU Nebraska is 11-5 and NU Northwestern is 6-11.  Stats like that tend to crawl into a head coach’s mind when his team is idle while the team he plays next is still reeling from a narrow loss at Minnesota.  Onward to my five favorite quotes:

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1) On what Bo remembered about Ron Kellogg III’s Hail Mary pass to Jordan Westerkamp, above catching that pass, and how the play enabled Nebraska to steal a win from Northwestern last year in Lincoln:  “What did I remember about the Hail Mary?” asked Pelini, repeating the question before delivering this answer: ‘I remember thinking that we shouldn’t be in this situation, but we are.  We were very fortune to come out of it with a win.’”  No one pressed Pelini, so what we have here, in my opinion, is the opportunity to fill in our own blanks and somehow, I think Nebraska fans everywhere are giving thanks for the Huskers going 2-1 against the Wildcats in the past three seasons.  All three games were decided by a total of seven points.  In 2011, the 7-1 Huskers dropped a 28-25 game to Northwestern in Lincoln.  In 2012, Ben Cotton bailed Nebraska out, catching a 7-yard touchdown pass with 2:08 remaining in a 29-28 Husker escape from Evanston.  In 2013, in the only Nebraska Hail Mary completion in 125 years of football, Westerkamp’s hands secured a football that sailed 60-plus yards to give the Huskers a 27-24 walk-off win.

2) On the biggest changes Nebraska has made in its punt return game compared to last year: “I studied it in the off-season,” Pelini said before putting a series of comments together about why the Huskers’ punt return game has been so anemic until this year.  “I believe I handcuffed the way we did things a year ago,” he said.  “At times you can be your own worst enemy, and I think I was a year ago.  It was me.  It wasn’t the guys who were coaching that unit…it was more me than anyone else.  It was philosophy.  I was way too conservative in my approach last year, and it hurt us.”  To use a Bo expression, believe me, there are many more heartfelt apologies in this fully transcribed Pelini press conference, and I encourage you to read every word.  Monday was a day of confession that stretched well beyond having the new-found luxury of freshman phenom De’Mornay Pierson-El’s trying to become the next Johnny Rodgers.

3) On if his offense has been looking to improve certain things:  “Yea,” Bo said“But believe me, it wasn’t just the offensive line in the Michigan State game…It’s a team game.  It’s about consistency.  There were big plays to be had in the game.  We didn’t execute well in a lot of areas.  I know that everyone wants to focus on the offensive line, but that’s just a small part of it.  To play great, you have to have 11 guys working every play.”  Just glad Bo made the statement for everyone who never puts on a pair of pads and for certain “experts” who rush to judgment every time something goes wrong.

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4) On how sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., above, handles success and setbacks: “Tommy, let me tell you, is a competitor.  He comes to work every day.  He’s not perfect.  He’s a work in progress, which every quarterback who plays the game at this stage in his second year as a sophomore is…you have to learn from your mistakes and not get down on yourself…you have to learn how to grow…be resilient…have a short memory…move on from a mistake.”  Bo focused on technique, but he’s also a psychologist and will inspire his players to fix their technique with a certain level of discipline that must be accompanied by an ultra-tough mindset/attitude.

5) On just exactly what “not trusting the scheme” entails, which is a great question and an even better answer from Bo, whose thoughts should be shared with parents and any kid who wants to grow up and play such a physical game:  Not recognizing a formation, or maybe not recognizing a communication,” Bo said. “Just getting out there and trying to survive rather than trusting the preparation. Sounds easier than it is. When you get out there, you put yourself on an island when you don’t necessarily need to be.  You have help.  Some of that comes with experience, and it comes with confidence. To me, preparation breeds confidence.  You have to earn the right to play on Saturday by how you prepare, not only physically, but mentally during the week. In this day and age of football, in my opinion, you can’t just go to meetings, go to practice and forget about it. There has to be some time where you have to put your PlayStation down, put your phone down, turn the TV off and go through your notes at night.  That’s how you earn it on Saturday.  It doesn’t just magically happen.  It comes from hard work and dedication.  I’m not saying our guys aren’t working hard or aren’t dedicated, but there is an extra level that you need to go to get where you’re totally prepared and you’re confident to play freely at the level you need to execute.”  I said upfront that technique isn’t boring.  For the rest of the season, I’m betting that technique will be relevant every day that Nebraska eyes a possible rematch against Michigan State in Indianapolis.  One thing seems fairly certain.  A PlayStation won’t solve what Bo Pelini wants solved.

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Huskers Writing Their Own Definition of Hero

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By Randy York

Hero can be a misunderstood word. Some reserve it for those who risk their lives to protect our country. Some use it to describe valiant actions that save lives. In simple terms for Nebraska Athletics, a hero can be anyone who volunteers their precious time to help someone else. Nebraska’s gifted 600-plus student-athletes are expected to care about the community and to share with their hearts and souls whenever possible. A great example of a touching experience and the value it creates was a recent Sunday when Nebraska’s incoming class for 2014 hosted its fifth annual Husker Heroes event that drew more than 300 special needs individuals from across the state and 900 other guests who became the first Husker Heroes group to use Memorial Stadium’s turf instead of the Huskers’ indoor practice facility.

Nebraska Life Skills Coordinators Stacey Burling, Kayla Conrad and Jordan Wilson organized an experience that hit home. “This event is important to the kids, and it’s important to our student-athletes who are beginning their first semester here,” Nebraska Life Skills Associate Athletic Director Keith Zimmer said. “Husker Heroes really does set the tone for service and leadership for our student-athletes across all sports. Even though attendance is required as a Life Skills class, everyone who gets involved the first time wants to serve again.” The N-Sider found four first-year Husker student-athletes who appreciated their initial opportunity to make a positive impact in the community. Here’s how they described their experience to me:

Trai Mosley, Freshman Defensive Back from Pflugerville, Texas

“My experience at Husker Heroes was a blessing. Just the overall feeling made me want to do it again.  Being able to interact with the families and give them a chance to have fun with a Nebraska football player was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Seeing the kids come up and ask for a picture or autograph really made me feel great.  It didn’t matter which one of us it was… those kids will forever cherish that moment, and so will we.  A lot of people never get to experience that feeling, and I was happy to be a part of it.”  N-Sider Footnote: Trai, far left in photo above, was blessed the next day as well, being selected as the Nebraska Special Team Player of the Week for his Scout Team role that helped Nebraska beat Illinois at Homecoming.  Mosley turned down scholarships from Oklahoma and Baylor, among others.

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Madi Unzicker, Freshman Catcher from Omaha

“The main thing that’s so amazing to me is that we not only get to spend time with kids that look up to us, but we get to give back to the community!  Husker Heroes is a great opportunity for kids with disabilities to feel like they can do anything they set their mind to do, no matter what holds them back!  They’re capable of anything, and it’s such a blessing for me to be able to be a part of something that means so much to someone else and that we, as student-athletes, can make such an impact!”  N-Sider Footnote: Madi, above, had a career batting average of .494 as a four-time first-team all-state player at Millard South.  The all-state team captain and Nebraska Gatorade Player of the Year “plays whatever role her team needs and does it with a smile on her face,” Nebraska Coach Rhonda Revelle said.

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Alex Moreland, Junior Hurdler from Omaha

“Husker Heroes was a lot of fun for me.  Any time you get an opportunity to give something back, it’s important.  It really did give me a different perspective on why it’s so important to help. It was kind of a surreal experience.  I had to take a step back and realize how grateful we should all be to have the opportunity to reach out to those who look up to us.  These fans are so important, so loving and so courageous.”  N-Sider Footnote: Alex, giving a “high five” above, went from Millard South to Midland University for two years before transferring to Nebraska.  At Husker Heroes, he ran into a friend from Fremont (Neb.) who has a child with special needs. “I didn’t know they were going to be here but it was so impacting for all of us,” he said.  “It was exciting being in charge of the bean bag station.   I was cheering and high-fiveing everybody who played.  It  was a great experience for everyone who was there.”

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Grace Williams, Freshman All-Arounder from Linden, Michigan

“The feeling that you get when you’re around those kids is indescribable.  I mean, just the smiles on their faces makes you want to stay the whole time.  My job was to do the captions for all the kids before the event started.  It was fun.  I got to talk to them and see what they were interested in.  I walked around to the dance station and the hula-hoop station.  I worked the assigned sessions and when my shift was over, I was free to leave, but I stayed the whole time just because I wanted to experience the entire event.  I actually changed my major to special education the week after Husker Heroes.  I had thought about it before but didn’t really know what it entailed or what I could do.  This was a great event and a career-changer for me.”  N-Sider Footnote: Grace, above, accepted Nebraska’s scholarship over national powers Georgia and Michigan.  She’s a former international elite and three-time Junior Olympic national all-around champion.  She also won the 2014 Jr. Olympic national title in bar. “When I came here, it just kind of felt like home away from home for me,” she said.   “I didn’t really get that feel from anywhere else.  I’ll have to step up in my game, but I’m going to enjoy it, and I’m glad I made the choice to come here.”

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30-Second Basketball Ad Reaches 500,000

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Connie Yori has something Tim Miles covets in a 30-second commercial.

30-Second Nebraska Ad Goes Viral

By Randy York

The power of Facebook: Kelly Mosier, director of digital media for Nebraska Athletics, converted a 30-second Connie Yori/Tim Miles television commercial promoting 2014-15 Husker women’s basketball season ticket sales into a YouTube video. Mosier then posted the masterpiece on the Huskers.com Facebook page on Wednesday, and poof, the next thing you know, 500,000 people have watched it. Let’s be honest. It didn’t hurt that the ad played three times during the Kansas City Royals’ marathon Wild Card win over the Oakland A’s on Tuesday night.

Regional exposure on TBS broadens the scope of those who watched what has to be considered a Major League Baseball instant classic.  The ad is a bit of a classic itself because you can’t help but smile when you see it.  Make no mistake. Lincoln’s Brandon Verzal, who writes, directs and produces videos for Larry the Cable Guy among other prominent national clients, connected primarily with Nebraska fans. The idea to match Miles with a promotion for Yori and her team was Verzal at his creative best.

Tight-Knit Staffs Respect, Enjoy Each Other

I’ve watched the video 10 times and laughed every time. You have to understand that the Nebraska men’s and women’s basketball staffs are co-tenants in the Hendricks Training Complex.  Both head coaches, as well as several assistants on both staffs, insist that the daily camaraderie between the two staffs is unparalleled to anything they’ve ever seen or heard. 

Miles, of course, is a comedic talent in his own right, so he was more than willing to be the one coveting something Yori had and he didn’t.  That goes with the territory of a guy whose team sells out of its first season in Pinnacle Bank Arena, loses only once on that magical court and ends up being named the National Coach of the Year the day before the NCAA Final Four begins.

Still, Yori, a former National Coach of the Year herself, is the only head basketball coach in the Hendricks Complex who happened to win a Big Ten Championship Trophy last season.  I don’t want to spoil their 30-second highlight reel of running into each other before Miles finally asks the ultimate question in an elevator.

Ad Makes Everyone Smile, Most of Us Laugh

Watch Yori’s answer once, and like everyone else, you will hit the link again and multiply the views.  Sheer genius describes how a Nebraska ad can be an overnight sensation on a national network, especially when the best social media team in college athletics gets their hands on it.  Let’s not forget the national oomph that Miles commands in social media and don’t discount this video’s popularity among women coaches everywhere at every level.  It makes everyone smile and most of us laugh.

Funny stuff. And here’s the kicker to the whole deal.  Nebraska fans shouldn’t just laugh when they watch the ad.  They should click this link and buy season tickets to support a women’s program that is on the rise, even after winning the Big Ten Championship.

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Talk to Director of Athletics Show Set Tonight

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Tonight’s Talk to the Director of Athletics Show begins with studio host Greg Sharpe interviewing Shawn Eichorst, above, in the first two segments of the 7 to 8 p.m. monthly radio broadcast on the Huskers Sports Network. 

Eichorst will share his overall view of Nebraska Athletics while looking back at the last month and ahead to a big weekend that includes Nebraska playing at No. 10 Michigan State Saturday night in a Big Ten football showdown. The No. 8 Husker volleyball team hosts No. 3 Penn State Friday night and then plays Ohio State Saturday, two hours before Nebraska’s nationally televised football game against the Spartans.

In addition, the Husker softball team will host Colorado State and UNO Sunday at Bowlin Stadium in the Husker Fall Classic, which begins at 11 a.m.  Nebraska’s soccer team plays at Michigan Thursday and at Michigan State Sunday at noon. The Husker men’s golf team, rifle team and swimming and diving team also are competing away from home this weekend.

Dave Harris, in his third season as Nebraska’s distance coach, will be live in studio in segment three for tonight’s Talk to the Director of Athletics Show.  Harris is the Huskers’ cross country coach for both women and men.  He succeeded Jay Dirksen, who retired in 2012 after 28 years as Nebraska’s distance coach and head cross country coach.  Sarah Larson, a distance runner and senior student-athlete majoring in Business Administration, also will be featured in the third segment.   

Sharpe will interview Ashley Rose, Nebraska’s newest head coach, in the show’s fourth segment.  Rose was an assistant rifle coach at Kentucky before being named NU’s head rifle coach.  The Huskers are ranked fourth nationally and return eight letter-winning shooters, including three All-Americans – Denise Martin, Rachel Martin and Lauren Phillips.

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Gregory’s Roommate Finds Fame of his Own

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Daniel Davie uses his sprinter speed after intercepting an Illinois pass.

USA Today: Marquee Guy Delivers Simplicity

SI.com: Parallel Paths of Gregory, MSU Star

AP: Gregory Keeps NU Opponents Guessing

ESPN: Two Reasons to Believe in Nebraska

World-Herald: Injury Rehab Didn’t Deter Davie

Journal-Star: Versatility Giving Teams Fits

The N-Sider’s Five Favorite Bo Pelini Quotes

By Randy York

One thing about Nebraska.  You can hide in the shadows of special teams for a while, but whenever you intercept two passes in a nationally televised game, your days of anonymity are over.  Nebraska junior cornerback Daniel Davie, who will return to his home state Saturday wearing a Nebraska uniform, handled his giant leap into the limelight like a seasoned veteran.  Perhaps that’s because he rooms with Randy Gregory, Nebraska’s marquee defensive player, who has enjoyed watching Davie get a little taste of what Gregory experiences on a daily basis since his arrival on Nebraska’s campus.  Let’s cut to the quick on the identity of a starter the media held high on its priority chart on Monday.

First, Davie lived in Michigan until he was 15.  Then he moved to Beatrice, where he ran faster than anyone else in Nebraska.  The Huskers liked seeing a prospect 40 minutes down the highway with double gold-medal speed of 10.73 in the 100-meter dash and 21.95 in the 200.  The two schools Nebraska beat out for Davie’s signature? Kansas and Ohio.  I would bet a dozen roses from Pasadena that Daniel Davie is the first-ever recruit from Nebraska who grew up a fan of a football program that wears maize and blue and a basketball program that favors green and white.  Yes, Daniel Davie loved a basketball program in East Lansing almost as much as he relished the Big House in Ann Arbor.  Strange, but true … the equivalent of a split personality who might like Oklahoma and Texas simultaneously, or Alabama-Auburn, Michigan-Ohio State, or Army-Navy.

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Cornerback Daniel Davie battles wide receiver Kenny Bell every day.

Davie: Kenny Bell Best Receiver in the Big Ten

All that matters is that Davie found a home in Lincoln, where he battles one of the nation’s best receivers every day and kicks back at night with a defensive lineman headed to the NFL, barring injury.  So Daniel, what’s it like going one-on-one against Kenny Bell every day?  “A lot of people don’t know, but he’s very physical,” Davie said.  “When you get your hands on him, he’s swiping down on you.  He’s the best receiver in the Big Ten.  He’s made me better.”  How?  “He has a lot of tricks up his sleeve,” Davie said.  “It’s very hard to cover him.”

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Sometimes, Randy Gregory looks like a steer wrestler making tackles.

Randy Gregory Can Do Anything He Wants

Enough about No. 80, who made the bell toll after catching a 63-yard pass five minutes into the second half to give Nebraska a three-touchdown cushion.  What about No. 4A, a.k.a. Randy Gregory?  “Randy can do a lot of things, man,” Davie said.  “I give him a lot of grief, and we have a lot of fun.  He can do whatever he wants to do, you know?  He’s probably our best player on defense.  He’s just a great player.”  Here’s the question: Does Gregory, a low-key guy who would never Google his own name, help a roommate solve a big problem this week? Counting family and friends, Davie is, after all, looking for 25 to 30 tickets when the 17th and 19th-ranked Huskers visit No. 10 Michigan State Saturday night for a nationally televised game on ABC.

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Spartan Stadium, Cook’s Arm Tough Challenge

Surprisingly, no one asked the question because, frankly, Davie faces bigger problems than game tickets.  Consider Connor Cook, MSU’s quarterback and a future pro who led the Spartans to a 41-28 win over the Huskers last year in Memorial Stadium.  “He has a great arm.  He fits balls in very tight windows,” Davie said.  “He gives his receivers a chance to make plays, even if they’re not wide open.  You have to be prepared.  We have to make plays.  It’s about us being sound in our technique.”

Gregory will play a big part in achieving that goal, and Davie knows how big the target is on his roommate’s back.  “Teams are going to try and do things to take him out of his game,” Davie said.  “He’s responded well to that and made plays for us.  It’s amazing for him to get double-teamed and chop-blocked and hit in the head and knee and stuff and still be able to make the plays.  That’s just pretty impressive on his part.” Impressive, perhaps, because Gregory isn’t looking for tickets, a fact that would take a load off anyone.

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Secondary Coach Warren on at 7 p.m. Tonight

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By Randy York

Charlton Warren, above, is the newest assistant on Bo Pelini’s coaching staff and will be featured on Nebraska football’s weekly radio show on the Huskers Sports Network (HSN) from 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday night.  The lineup for HSN’s monthly Talk to the Director of Athletics Show has been set for the same timeslot on Thursday night.  Nebraska head coaches Dave Harris (cross country) and Ashley Rose (rifle) are Thursday guests in the show’s third segment.  Veteran Lincoln runner Sarah Larson will be Shawn Eichorst’s fourth-segment guest.  Studio host Greg Sharpe will interview all guests on both nights.

Warren joined Nebraska’s football staff after spending nine years on the defensive staff at the Air Force Academy, where he was a standout defensive back for the Falcons in the late 1990s.  In his final two years at Air Force, Warren was the Academy’s associate head coach and defensive coordinator, and he has reinforced that reputation since his arrival at Nebraska last February.

Harris is in his second year as head cross country coach for the men’s and women’s teams.  Also the distance coach for NU’s men’s and women’s track and field teams, Harris coached previously at Emporia State University in Kansas.  Larson, a graduate of Lincoln Northeast High School, was the Huskers’ MVP runner in 2012 and named team captain in 2013.  The only three-time letterwinner on the Nebraska women’s cross country roster this fall, Larson is expected to miss the entire 2014 season with a leg injury.  A scholar-athlete honoree, Larson has earned the Hero Leadership Award twice at Nebraska and was a member of the inaugural Tom Osborne Citizenship Team.

A native of Eubank, Kentucky, Rose came to Nebraska after spending the 2013-14 season as an assistant coach at the University of Kentucky. She inherited a Nebraska program that finished fifth at the 2014 NCAA Championships. A four-year letterwinner and a team captain at Murray State, Rose’s career for the Racers includes a third-place overall finish in air rifle at the 2010 NCAA Championships.

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Keil ‘Pumped’ about Playing No. 3 Penn State

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By Randy York

Check Melanie Keil in the above photo.  The 6-foot Nebraska volleyball middle blocker from Berlin, Germany, is celebrating an emotional moment in the Huskers’ five-set loss to No. 2-ranked Texas at the Devaney Center two weekends ago.  Nebraska’s only other losses this season are to unbeaten No. 1 Stanford and unbeaten No. 5 Florida State.

After losing to three of the nation’s top five ranked teams, the bad news is that Nebraska now hosts No. 3-ranked Penn State on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Devaney Center. The good news is the Huskers are “fired up” and even “hyped up” about the challenge, Coach John Cook said Monday in his weekly presser.  The best news is that Keil, who has worked her way into Nebraska’s starting lineup, told a small group of writers Monday that the Huskers have matured and gained considerable confidence over the last month.  “We’re pumped up (about playing Penn State) because we know we can beat this team,” she said.  “We’re excited, especially after Texas.  We’re playing at a consistent level and think we’re capable of (winning) another set.”

Cook does not back down from his team’s newfound confidence and the way the Huskers are embracing the weekend challenge of hosting Penn State on Friday night and entertaining Ohio State at 5 p.m. Saturday.  “We’ve made adjustments, and things are encouraging,” Cook said.  “We’re at a much greater comfort level than we were, but this will be a whole different level than Iowa (Nebraska swept the Hawkeyes twice last week – once in Lincoln and last Saturday night in Iowa City). They (the Nittany Lions) make you perform at a higher level and they make you pay for mistakes.  This weekend will be a great challenge for us.  Penn State is a great team.  They have all the pieces, and they’ve set the bar high.”

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Keil Adapted to Coaching, Connected with Pollmiller

Cook cautions that the Big Ten, which has three of the nation’s top eight ranked teams and six of the top 18, is “a grind” and every team that competes in the nation’s strongest conference has to “take it one week at a time.”  Keil “played a lot but didn’t get coached a lot, so she played with bad habits” in Germany before selecting Nebraska over Michigan and Illinois, according to Cook.  “She’s worked really hard, connected well with (setter) Mary Pollmiller (above) and now has the opportunity to make the most of it,” he said.

At this stage, Keil will be a front-row player, but the goal is to have her play all the way around.  “Last year was hard for me to adjust,” Keil said.  “It was so much harder than I thought it would be.  Now, I’m having fun playing.  They (her teammates) trust me, and I trust them.”  Trust and culture have enabled Keil to improve dramatically.  “I just learned a whole different view of blocking,” she said.  “We never slack off in practice.  We’re always competing, always giving our best.  Now, I actually have a purpose for everything I’m doing.”

Nebraska holds a 13-9 lead in the all-time series with Penn State, but since the Huskers joined the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions have a 3-2 edge. Both Husker wins in the Big Ten era have been in five sets, and all three losses to Penn State have been in four sets. Penn State (14-1, 2-0 Big Ten) becomes the third top-three team to play Nebraska at the Devaney Center this season. Stanford handed the Nittany Lions’ their only defeat this season in a five-set showdown on Sept. 5.  Aside from the Stanford loss, Penn State has dropped just two of 44 sets in its 14 victories.

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Cook: Nebraska’s SRO Average ‘Blows Me Away’

Last year, Nebraska led the nation in attendance for the first time in more than two decades, averaging an NCAA-record 8,175 fans per match. The Huskers are on pace to surpass that mark this year, averaging 8,361 fans per contest through the first seven home matches. Nebraska’s NCAA-record consecutive sellout streak enters the weekend at 208.  Before the Husker volleyball team headed back to Lincoln from Iowa City Saturday night, Cook (above) received a text about the public address announcement that the Huskers had swept the Hawkeyes in three sets.  More than 91,000 fans at Memorial Stadium responded with gusto, and Cook is hoping for dynamic crowds this weekend.  Nebraska’s average of selling more than 300 standing room only tickets this year “just blows me away,” Cook said.

Nebraska’s head coach knows Husker fans have remained positive despite three home-court losses to the nation’s top teams this season.  At least 300 Nebraska fans also made the trip to Iowa City Saturday, giving the Huskers a major presence in a rival’s gym.  Cook connected Nebraska and Penn State as rivals Monday because both schools belong to the same conference, are part of “the same family” and compete aggressively in national recruiting and overall performance.  Since 2000, no programs have more AVCA All-Americans than Nebraska and Penn State. The Huskers lead the nation with 41 selections in the 21st Century, while Penn State is close behind at 40.

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Husker Heroes Stand Up & Cheer New Jester

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Ron Kellogg III, Homecoming Jester Cassie Irwin and Johnny Rodgers

By Randy York

Nebraska’s fifth Homecoming Jester did something Friday night the previous four did not do – added another descriptor for a motivator who took Big Red football spirit where it had never been.  Meet 5-foot-3½ Cassie Irwin, a sophomore Business Administration major from Kearney, Neb. She was voted Homecoming Jester for, drum roll, please, being a master rapper who moved the judges so dramatically that all three gave her a standing ovation, along with nearly 1,000 students who gathered at UNL’s City Union Plaza by the fountain.

The spontaneous crowning ended any huddled up judges pretending they have a secret and will only let you in on it when they compare notes and create more drama.  With all due respect to Yogi Berra, this competition was over before it was over, even though Irwin insisted on reaching her punch line after the time limit had essentially expired.

Ron Kellogg, Johnny Rodgers Liked the Energy

Let the record show that Ron Kellogg III, the stingiest judge all night, wrote down a 10 on his white board and leaped to his feet to lead the standing O for Irwin a split-second before Johnny Rodgers and yours truly followed suit.  Kellogg is the only quarterback in Nebraska’s 125-year football history to complete a game-winning Hail Mary pass.  Rodgers was the first of three Husker Heisman Trophy winners.  Both know when you need to huddle and when you don’t.  Even Irwin knew she was standing triumphantly in the winning end zone.  We’re all football fans, so here are the winning words from a savvy rapper who was wearing a Husker jersey with Rex Burkhead’s 22:

Hello my Huskers, your attention Imma steal it.

I just have one question: Can you feel it?

Grab some tissue for Illinois to wipe away their tears,

Cause we’ve been out here grindin’ for 125 years.

Again, my name is C-Irwin and I hope that you see me.

Shout out to the man upstairs, my boy Bo Pelini.

And don’t be afraid to love one another.

We all bleed the same color: it’s red motha Huska.

As the Jester winner, Irwin will be introduced at Memorial Stadium about 48 minutes before Saturday night’s kickoff against Illinois.  She will be recognized in the southeast corner of the field near the student section.  The Homecoming Royalty Court, along with winners of various competitions, will be announced after the band performs at halftime. 

Jester Started Rapping in Seventh Grade

Yes, Irwin had the support of her Gamma Phi sorority sisters who talked her into competing for the honor a second time.  “I thought I’d give it another try,” Irwin said, acknowledging that she started rapping in seventh-grade.  “I’ve always loved music and always loved poetry when I was growing up.  I decided I wanted to develop my own style and love expressing my emotions that way.”

Credit her parents for encouraging her to complement her love for dancing with something else.  “I just picked up rap on my own,” she said.  “I wanted to be really good at something, and I just found that something was rap.  Sometimes, after a long day, I’ll stay up extra late just to write one verse.  For me, it’s a way to relax when I’ve been going strong all day.”

Her parents were high school sweethearts, and they should be particularly proud to know that their daughter was at the top of her game, even though she had four tests during the week – in economics, accounting, computer application and business calculus.  She also worked diligently and contributed major time to help the Homecoming Parade go smoothly before Friday night’s Jester competition.

Kellogg Career Moving Full Speed Ahead

Rodgers and Kellogg know high energy when they see it, and both have been working extra hours themselves.  Kellogg is now a wealth accumulation specialist with Northwest Mutual in Lincoln.  He’s a Lincoln Firefighters Pee Wee football coach for seventh and eighth-graders, plus gives private quarterback lessons.  He also contributes to ESPN radio on Mondays and Froggy 98 radio on Fridays. 

In my opinion, Johnny Rodgers does more Heisman poses with fans than any other trophy winner in America.  That’s why I asked “The Jet” do one more combination pose Friday night with a creative rapper and the judge who led her standing ovation.  “She deserved it,” Johnny R said.  “She took the ball all the way home and tore us loose from our shoes.”

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