By Randy York
When Bob Devaney asked Tom Osborne to become part of his first coaching staff in Lincoln in 1962, one legend later coaxed another into taking on the responsibility to serve as Nebraska’s first-ever academic counselor. What a strategic fit it was for Osborne to help student-athletes focus on academics, athletics and lifelong goals. The structure he established kept Husker players driven athletically, dedicated academically, and devoted to create a vision for the rest of their lives.
The four captains on Osborne’s first national championship football team in 1994 reflect the overall leadership skills that carried the Huskers to a 13-0 season capped by a 24-17 come-from-behind win over Miami in the Orange Bowl. Those four captains are among 100-plus players, coaches and staff members who will return this weekend to celebrate the 20th anniversary of an accomplishment they compressed into two inspiring words … Unfinished Business. It’s a carryover from the missed 45-yard field goal attempt that sailed wide left in the final second of Nebraska’s 18-16 national championship loss to Florida State on the same field a year earlier.
Nebraska’s four 1994 captains in Lincoln this weekend include:
Terry Connealy: Growing up on a ranch near Hyannis, Neb., Connealy was the youngest of seven children and helped raise Angus cattle. Even though he played eight-man prep football, Osborne offered a scholarship. Connealy became a first-team All- Big Eight Conference defensive tackle as a junior and twice was named a first-team GTE Academic All-American. “Nebraska kids are the heart-and-soul of the program,” said Connealy, depicted above, pointing skyward on a popular painting that emerged from an iconic photo from the 1995 Orange Bowl. “We were physical, had a power running game and outworked people. Kids who grew up dreaming of playing here set the stage for the work ethic that spills over to others. It’s what Nebraska football is all about.” Connealy now serves as senior vice president-National Mortgage Development for Mutual of Omaha Bank.
Osborne on Connealy: “Terry was a good all-around athlete in high school. He was a good football player, a good basketball player and he did some good things in track and field. He came from a good family and had a great work ethic growing up near Hyannis, where he played eight-man football. He was a guy who developed a lot after he got here and played with a different level of athlete than he’d been playing against. He was very dedicated in the weight room, in our off-season program and spring ball served him well because he had good size, good tools, a good attitude and became a very good football player. He’s also done very well in the business world and is certainly someone who everyone respects in what he does today.”
Ed Stewart: When sophomore safety Mike Minter suffered a season-ending knee injury in a 31-0 season-opening win over West Virginia in the Kickoff Classic, the Huskers relied on Stewart, a senior co-captain, pictured above with Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini. Stewart became a consensus All-America linebacker and was the coaches’ and the media’s choice for 1994 Big Eight Conference Defensive Player of the Year. A product of Chicago’s Mt. Carmel High School, Stewart finished his Husker career with three more tackles than 1993 Butkus Award winner Trev Alberts. Stewart went on to become a professional speaker, consultant and athletic administrator. A member of the Big 12 Conference senior management team, Stewart continues to serve as the Big 12’s assistant commissioner for football.
Osborne on Stewart: “Ed played in a very different setting than Terry did. He was a great player we recruited from a very competitive Catholic league in Chicago, so he was competing against some of the best almost every year in high school. Ed’s another one who has gone on to do very well in athletic administration. He was at the University of Missouri and then the Big Eight Office and then the Big 12 Office, and he has been well respected by everybody. I thought a lot of Ed. We knew he was going to be a great player, and we needed him. We had a good offense in 1994, but I think our defense that year was definitely our strong suit. There were times they had to carry the load, and they were able to do it with strong leadership.”
Zach Wiegert: Nebraska three-time first-team All-Big Eight offensive tackle Zach Wiegert received more votes for the Huskers’ All-Century Team than any other player at any one position. A native of Fremont, Neb., Wiegert, pictured above, was the 1994 Outland Trophy-winning anchor who majored in economics and admired engineers for their ability to solve problems. After 12 years playing in the NFL, Wiegert became an investment partner who has been involved in developing the Nebraska Innovation Campus and the downtown Lincoln retail-apartment-parking facility, now called the Larson Building. He also was a prime force for building a courtyard hotel in the Haymarket area. A “big picture guy”, Wiegert has earned his reputation as a savvy business owner.
Osborne on Wiegert: “Zach came to Nebraska from Fremont (Neb.) Bergan, which isn’t exactly the biggest school in the world. He had good coaching there and came from an athletic family. In fact, his grandfather was one of my coaches at Hastings College. Wayne Weber was our offensive line coach there, and I think he had a significant influence in Zach’s life. Zach didn’t play much early on, but really came around in the next year or two. He buckled down and became a good student and was a great athlete. His action on the field pretty well documents that. He played a long time in the NFL and when he came back here, he’s played a large role in the business world. The Omaha development company where he works has fingerprints all over major projects in Omaha and Lincoln. Zach has done very well.”
Rob Zatechka: “Nebraska’s 1994 Pipeline included Outland Trophy winner Wiegert next to All-America guard Brenden Stai, plus future Outland winner Aaron Graham at center, along with Joel Wilks at guard and Rob Zatechka (No. 56 above) at the other tackle. While Wiegert, Stai and Graham all earned first-team All- Big Eight honors, Zatechka was another peak performer, becoming a four-time academic All-Big Eight selection who graduated with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average in biological sciences. A three-time CoSIDA Academic All-American, Zatechka also was Nebraska’s Male Student-Athlete of the Year and earned a prestigious NCAA Top Eight Award. He spent four seasons playing for the New York Giants before becoming an anesthesiologist in West Omaha.”
Osborne on Zatechka: “Rob came from Lincoln East High School. I watched a lot of film on him, and you could look at just about everybody around the country, and there weren’t many better than Rob Zatechka. Rob’s brother Jon also played for us in the offensive line in 1994 through ‘97. Rob was remarkable. To my knowledge, he never had a B, and he’s a guy who was in pre-medicine and really didn’t have to study very much. I don’t know if there really is such a thing as a photographic memory, but Rob had tremendous recall. He must have studied a fair amount, but things came so easily for him. I don’t think he put near the amount time other student-athletes did, yet he just kind of breezed right through. He spent four years in the NFL, and then went on to graduate from Med School. All four of the captains on this team did very well for themselves in their lives after football.”
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