Jack Has a Mild Setback, Watches Rex in KC

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Rex Burkhead has helped motivate Jack Hoffman for three years.

Video: Jack Supports Rex after Tough Diagnosis

By Randy York

Jack Hoffman’s family experienced a mild setback Wednesday with some disappointing news in Boston, but the family had an uplifting experience Thursday night.  The Hoffman family watched the Kansas City Chiefs outlast the Cincinnati Bengals, 41-39, at Arrrowhead Stadium.  Jack wore a Bengals’ jersey to honor No. 33, Rex Burkhead, his friend, role model and inspiring buddy.  Burkhead rushed for 21 yards on five carries, including one run for nine yards.  Andy Hoffman, Jack’s dad, said the experience was a special treat for Jack the day after a tough diagnosis in Boston. 

Oh Wednesday, the family was “humbly reminded that when your child has an inoperable brain tumor, anything can happen at any point in time,” Andy wrote on Jack’s CaringBridge website.  “Despite Jack’s tumor being declared stable and in remission last October, we learned today that is no longer the case.  While we left Boston in April with the knowledge that there was a spot of concern, we remained optimistic that it was nothing.”

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In July, Jack helped Uplifting Athletes raise $30,000 for pediatric brain cancer.

Tumor Has Grown; Surgery Now an Option

For the Hoffmans, Wednesday was a full day of appointments that included an MRI and discussions with a neuro-surgeon and neuro-oncologist.  “Doctors informed us that Jack’s brain tumor has grown since the April MRI,” Andy said, adding that the tumor reoccurrence will require some type of therapy.  Resection is possible and “surgery is now an option,” Andy said.  “Other options include a third neurosurgery and/or a second round of chemotherapy.”

Among the chemotherapy options to consider is a clinical trial in Boston and a therapy which would target a specific genetic mutation.  “Jack’s tumor was tested for this after his 2011 surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital,” Andy said.  “Like other cancer treatments, this poses a secondary cancer risk and has side effects.  Plus, it would involve extensive travel, so we’re checking on availability of the same trial in Denver.” 

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Jack and buddy Rex Burkhead were invited to visit the White House.

Doctors Will Make a Recommendation Thursday

On Thursday, Jack’s team of doctors will analyze the options and make a final recommendation.  “Regardless, it will include a second round of chemotherapy,” Andy said before thanking Jack’s worldwide prayer supporters.

“Jack is doing great,” Andy emphasized.  “This is a mild setback and everyone remains optimistic for Jack, including and especially his mom and dad.  We love you all and can’t thank you enough for your support.”

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Ameer, Royals Featured on Tonight’s Radio

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Shawn Eichorst’s Connecting on Campus Column

Ameer’s Heartfelt Speech a True National Hit

By Randy York

One of the greatest things about August is following baseball in its stretch drive at the same time the college football world is counting down the days to kick off the season.  Wednesday night’s Talk to the Director of Athletics Show will appeal to both fan bases with Shawn Eichorst connecting with Husker fans in the first two segments to set up a third segment featuring Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska’s Heisman Trophy candidate, and a fourth segment featuring Steve Physioc, the baseball voice of the Kansas City Royals. 

Wednesday’s 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. (CT) show on the Huskers Sports Network also will focus on basketball because Nebraska junior guards Benny Parker and Shavon Shields will share the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch Saturday night at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium.  They were selected to honor Nebraska’s first NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament qualifying team since 1998.  It will be Nebraska’s second Husker Night at the K following last year’s inaugural event that featured Nebraska Baseball Coach Darin Erstad throwing out the first pitch.  The Huskers last year set a “college night” record attendance at Kauffman Stadium.

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Parker, Shields Attended Kansas City High Schools

Parker, the Defensive MVP on Nebraska’s 2014 NCAA qualifying team, is from Kansas City’s Sumner Academy High School.  Shields, an honorable-mention All-Big Ten player in voting from both coaches and media, is from Northwest High School in suburban Olathe, Kan.  “It will be another inspiring night connecting our university with the Royals and Alex Gordon, the Nebraska All-American who has made the American League All-Star Team the past two seasons,” Eichorst said in his column while acknowledging Gordon’s fifth-inning single that became his 1,000th career hit in Tuesday night’s lopsided road win in Arizona.  Gordon’s second hit last night enabled him to become the 10th player in Royals’ franchise history to reach that milestone.

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Nebraska fans already have purchased 4,500 discounted tickets through the Royals, and twice that number of Husker fans are expected to attend Saturday night’s game. “My family and I are looking forward to attending the game and spending time with Alex during batting practice,” Eichorst said in his Connecting on Campus column.

In his third season with the Royals, Physioc serves as the voice on the Royals Radio Network.  He is also the play-by-play broadcaster for 55 regular-season televised games on FOX Sports Kansas City.  Husker Night tickets are still available through this  website: www.royals.com/huskers.

Twin Recommendations: Column and Radio Show

The N-Sider recommends that all Husker fans read Eichorst’s latest column which identifies the depth, breadth and roots of Nebraska’s overall coaching staff.  The column includes his comments on the five latest coaching additions – head rifle coach Ashley Rose-MacAllister, men’s and women’s basketball assistants Jim Molinari and Amy Stephens, football assistant Charlton Warren and wrestling assistant Jordan Burroughs, who is the face of a sport that he helped to revive, nationally and internationally.

The N-Sider also recommends tuning into tonight’s Talk to the Director of Athletics Show, which will move to the first Thursday of each month beginning in September.  It will be interesting to hear Ameer share his thoughts about how and why he decided to approach his Essence of the Student-Athlete keynote address the way he did at the Big Ten Conference Media Day last week in Chicago.

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One of NU’s Toughest-Ever Impresses Chiefs

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Barney Cotton sees a potential long career for Ricky Henry in the NFL.

Ricky Henry Getting His Shot in Kansas City

Spencer Long Projected Future Starter in D.C.

By Randy York

Ricky Henry is the classic definition of an under-the-radar player.  But Barney Cotton, Nebraska’s associate head coach and running game coordinator, was not surprised Tuesday to learn that the former Husker lineman – who has spent the past year on the disabled list – has worked his way into the first-team mix at right and left offensive guard with the Kansas City Chiefs.  “Ricky is probably the toughest guy I have ever coached,” said Cotton, who coaches Nebraska’s tight ends and assists John Garrison in mentoring the Huskers’ offensive line.

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Cotton Explains How Tough Ricky Henry Really Was

How tough was Ricky Henry?  “He played his whole last year here with a shoulder that was completely loose and needed 13 staples to put it back in,” Cotton said.  “We tried to take Ricky out, but he would want to beat you up on the sideline and tell you he wasn’t coming out no matter what.  He really is one of the toughest guys you will ever see.”  Henry, 27, is 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds.  An un-drafted free agent in 2011, he spent time with the Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints before the Chiefs claimed him off waivers last August.  Unfortunately, a ruptured bicep put Henry on the sidelines for the past year.

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Henry, Suh Waged Many Memorable ‘Wars’

Because Cotton played four seasons in the NFL, he has a good idea of what it takes to play at that level.  “I’ve always thought Ricky would succeed in the pros,” Cotton said.  “He’s so raw, and he’s just going to get better and better.  The longer he can stay in the league, the better he’s going to get.”

On the second day of Nebraska’s own fall camp, Cotton couldn’t help but smile when he was asked what made Ricky Henry so tough inside and out.  “Whenever it went live between Ricky Henry and Ndamukong Suh, it was a war,” Cotton recalled.  “They really went hard when they went against each other.  Ndamukong’s a great player, but Ricky had his share of victories against Suh and that really helped Ricky become a better player.  There’s no doubt that Ricky’s toughness is what got him through that daily situation.”

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Spencer Long Making Strides in Washington

There was more good news about another former Husker offensive lineman Tuesday.  ESPN.com published a Redskins Rookie Report on Spencer Long, Nebraska’s All-Big Ten and   Academic All-American offensive guard.  Washington’s third-round draft selection has reinforced his reputation as a technician and has been projected to “make the roster as a backup guard” and “should challenge for a starting job at some point – either later this season or next summer,” John Keim wrote for ESPN.com. 

“I was just so happy that Spencer got drafted as high as he did because that’s where he was supposed to be drafted before he got hurt last year,” Cotton pointed out while acknowledging Long’s Pro Day performance that “showed everyone he was well…we were thinking he had a chance to be a late second-round or early third-round guy, and that’s where he deservedly went.”

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Long: A Combination of Intellect and Power

Asked about the differences between Henry and Long, Cotton obliged.  “Spencer was a real tough football player, but he also really schooled himself into becoming a great technician as well, and a very smart football player.  He’s already been accepted to med school and that will be put on hold.  He’s a unique combination of an intellectual guy that was a great technician but also had an awful lot of toughness himself.”

When Cotton thinks about Henry’s and Long’s career getting on a twin launching pad, he can’t help but connect both to former Husker Matt Slauson, who’s beginning his second season with the Chicago Bears after playing his first 51 NFL games in a New York Jets uniform.

Cotton insists that Slauson, Henry and Long “just have that body type” that will help them extend their professional careers.  “I can see those guys playing 10 years in the NFL,” Cotton said.  “The big thing is you have to stay healthy. When you’re 6-foot-4 and have that really thick body with big bones, it gives all of them that chance to be long-term guys, especially playing inside. I hope it works out for all of them.”

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Ameer’s Heartfelt Speech a True National Hit

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Video: Ameer Abdullah Kickoff Luncheon Speech

USA Today’s Myerberg: Ameer Packs a Wallop

Yahoo Sports’ Forde: Ameer Living His Dream

Shatel: Ameer the Essence of Student-Athlete

Christopherson: Ameer Toast of the Ballroom

By Randy York

Ameer Abdullah scored one of the most meaningful touchdowns of a career Tuesday with his mind, his heart and his soul instead of his strength, his legs and his power.  Nebraska’s All-America running back and 2014 Heisman Trophy candidate wore a white sports coat and his Superman glasses for a serious discussion with 1,700 people who gathered to hear his thoughts about the essence of a student-athlete.  Even though Abdulla acknowledged being nervous in front of a packed crowd at the Chicago Hilton, his speech was a true national hit.  Why?  Because his commentary provided perspective for all 14 Big Ten schools represented, as well as every other NCAA school.  The focus was on the growth that all college football players can achieve if they apply the same standards of thinking that Ameer selected as his measurements for lifetime success.

Everyone in the hotel ballroom heard something they might not have expected – a high-profile performer embracing and explaining why he’s so sold on Nebraska’s unrelenting mission to put the word student ahead of the word athlete every day and in every way humanly possible.  I suggest that first, you watch the video that gives the essence of Ameer’s core spirit and academic/athletic soul.  After you’ve done that, check out two prominent national takes on that issue from one of America’s largest newspapers and one of the nation’s most prominent websites.  After that, check out the Omaha World-Herald’s and the Lincoln Journal Star’s compelling coverage of a regional event with national implications.

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As a primer, here are some highlights from the media:

USA Today’s Paul Myerberg:  In pads and out, he stands within range of fulfilling this potential.  After acing a summer course, Abdullah said he’s “on the hoof” of earning Academic All-American accolades; he’d be the 315th student-athlete in Nebraska history to earn the honor, the most of any school in the country.  With another banner performance in 2014, Abdullah would also become the first player in program history to notch three 1,000-yard seasons.  It’s this balance that makes Abdullah a Heisman Trophy contender, the potential antidote to trophy controversy – the thinking man’s option, perhaps, backed by yardage, touchdowns, grades and the built-in name recognition inherent to the Nebraska brand.

Yahoo Sports’ Pat Forde: This year’s speaker was Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah.  If the idea is to showcase the league’s best and brightest, then the Big Ten chose wisely.  The ninth of nine children born into a Muslim home in the Birmingham, Ala., suburb of Homewood, Ameer also will be the ninth Abdullah to graduate from college.  Several of his siblings have advanced degrees as well.  There are two lawyers, a CNN producer, a branch manager of a bank and several business people among the Abdullah’s three boys and six girls.  And athletes, too – Ameer considers himself the fourth-best athlete among his siblings.  “I’m the failure of the family,” he said with a laugh.  The “failure” is on track to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in history in December, and when his playing days are over he may pursue a law degree of his own.

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Omaha World-Herald’s Tom Shatel: In Abdullah’s case, it’s all the right stuff: heart, guts and older-than-his-years perspective.  The man represented.  Take his outfit. Classy white sport coat, dark pants, light blue shirt and dark blue tie.  He was dressed to kill.  And then he did.  But which direction would he go?  If you knew something about Abdullah’s background, you wondered.  Would he talk about growing up one of nine kids, all college educated?  Would he talk about growing up in a Muslim family, and hearing the taunts of other kids after Sept. 11, 2001 – as he told media members earlier in the day?  Neither.  His theme was “The Essence of the Student-Athlete,” and I believe I saw Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany beam when Abdullah said that.

Lincoln Journal-Star’s Brian Christopherson:  He got emotional near the end of speech as he recounted his experience on a recent trip back home to Alabama.  He learned that one of his childhood friends, who also had received an athletic scholarship, had become hooked on drugs and was no longer in school. And another was sentenced to 25 years in prison.  “I remember thinking to myself, ‘How can this happen to these guys?’ These aren’t people who I read about or see on TV.  These are my best friends, guys who I knew from elementary school to high school, and all these things were happening to them,” Abdullah said.  “That’s when reality set in.  If it can happen to them, it can happen to any student-athlete in this room today.  It only takes one bad decision to derail all of our hopes and dreams.”

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Ameer Chosen from 1,000 Big Ten Candidates

One of the Big Ten’s best traditions is the annual student-athlete speech for universities   and fans in Chicago.  “The conference chooses one football player to represent more than 1,000 from the league,” Forde pointed out.  Myerberg, a college football writer for USA Today’s nearly 1.7 million subscribers, concluded his national piece in a way that uniquely supports Ameer’s keynote speech. 

"We have a saying in Nebraska: We don’t rise to the occasion; we fall back on our training," Abdullah told Myerberg and other national reporters.  "So I feel like if I train myself to get ready for that moment, when it comes it’s going to be much more rewarding – much more appropriate."  Small wonder why Myerberg calls Abdullah “the linchpin of the Cornhuskers’ Rose Bowl hopes” and “yet another balancing act” for: 1) Ameer’s emerging national status; 2) the promise that lies ahead for his final season in Lincoln; and 3) how he soon will be writing his legacy in real time.

"I know it sounds stupid, but a lot of people envision it but they don’t believe that they can go out and be an Academic All-American, be one of the top backs in the country and be a shining example for the Big Ten," Ameer said.  "It means a lot.  You never know what kind of history you’re writing.  You never know who’s going to tell your story.  Just the fact that my story is maybe a story that may be told … in the future."

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Ameer’s Home State Has a Suggestion for NCAA

One thing is certain about Ameer Abdullah’s national presence.  Even though it was a Big Ten event, his home state of Alabama elevated his name in a major headline on the Alabama Today website.  “The next time NCAA resident Mark Emmert is cornered by reporters and asked whether or not athletes at big-time, Division I colleges should be paid, he might want to ask Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah to stand in for him,” Nick Birdsong wrote on al.com. 

“If his talk at today’s Big Ten Football Kickoff Luncheon is evidence enough, the Homewood product might do a better job of articulating the value of a college education for a high-profile athlete,” Birdsong wrote.

Yes, Ameer painted a fresh portrait to help everyone dig their cleats into an ongoing national debate.  “The true essence of a student-athlete,” he said, “is someone who has the desire to educate themselves athletically, academically and personally.”

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Pelini Wasn’t the Only Enthusiastic Head Coach  

Even though I didn’t attend the luncheon, members of Nebraska’s Department of Athletics couldn’t help noticing a head coach who stood up and gave Ameer Abdullah an energetic hug before he stepped off the stage – Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, a coach for whom Bo Pelini has great respect.  Like Bo, Fitzgerald knows a stunning touchdown run when he sees one, and Tuesday – during and after lunch with the conference and the nation – Abdullah did nothing but reinforce what Fitzgerald has said since his own program became the historic catalyst to create the first players’ union in college sports history.

We end this blog with an American fact, which also happens to be my favorite Ameer quote from his speech.  “You see, nothing, NOTHING, is guaranteed,” he said.  “But if you continually strive to educate ourselves, athletically, academically and personally, then maybe, MAYBE, one day we can reach our FULL potential.”

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A Solid Opinion, a Memory, Two Role Models

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Riding the Rails: The N-Sider’s Top Ten Pics

Coaches Get a History Lesson on Train Trip

By Randy York

Union Pacific Railroad’s recent Big Red Express Whistle-Stop Tour to Columbus, Grand Island, Kearney and North Platte was more than Husker coaches meeting and talking to Big Red fans.  In fact, former Husker players reached those sites ahead of time to help warm up the crowds before they heard from Bo Pelini, Tim Miles, Connie Yori and the rest of Nebraska’s overall superb coaching staffs.  In sorting through the photos I took and the conversations I had with those players, three are definitely worth sharing – 1) a solid opinion from a legendary fullback about whether college football players should be compensated; 2) a memory from a former defensive lineman about the peaks and valleys of playing college football and how one can come right after the other; and 3) how two brothers inspired a walk-on from a small town to dream the same dream.

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Corey Schlesinger: College Players ARE Getting Paid

Cory Schlesinger, flanked above by Nebraska Associate Athletic Directors Keith Zimmer and Dennis Leblanc, is a Columbus native whose two hard-charging touchdowns flattened Miami, 24-17, in an Orange Bowl that enabled Tom Osborne to win his first national championship as a head coach in 1994.  Schlesinger minces no words when asked for his opinion on whether college football players should be paid.  “I don’t think they should be paid at all,” said Schlesinger, who played 12 seasons in the National Football League as a fullback.  “I do not agree with the idea.  In fact, I am absolutely 100 percent against it.”  Why?  “Think about how much kids without a college scholarship are paying for college and how many loans they have to take out to pay for their education,” Schlesinger told me.  “Then ask the scholarship kids who aren’t paying a penny how much debt they will have when they leave and you’ll get your answer – they ARE getting paid and they’re getting paid well.”

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Dan Pensick Aware of College Football’s Highs, Lows

Dan Pensick, above, holding two young fans who wanted their pictures taken with a former Husker football player, was inspiring while warming up his hometown of Columbus.  The father of 2013 Husker starting center Cole Pensick, Dan reminisced about playing on the first Tom Osborne-coached team that upset No. 1 Oklahoma and Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims in 1978.  “I talked about winning the biggest game of my college career one week (17-14 over the Sooners) and then losing to Missouri (35-31) the next week, making it the worst week of my life,” Pensick said.  “The biggest response I got from the fans was the way I remembered the last time Billy Sims fumbled in that game.  Everybody in Oklahoma claimed it was his fault they lost, but we hit him so darned hard, he couldn’t help but fumble.  I don’t remember who hit Sims on that last one.  I just remember that Jim Pillen recovered it.  I had two fumble recoveries myself in that game and caused two more fumbles.  It was definitely one of the most rugged games I’ve ever played in, and fortunately, we came out on top.”

Monte Kratzenstein’s Heroes: Clete and Jim Pillen

Monte Kratzenstein, above with Herbie Husker, is a tight end from tiny Brady, Neb. He walked on and lettered in 1987, ‘88 and ’89 for the Huskers.  “My two biggest heroes growing up were Clete and Jim Pillen (from Columbus).  I didn’t know them, but I grew up in a small town, and I just idolized them and what they were able to accomplish.  A lot of walk-on stuff is near and dear to my heart.  I listened to all the games on the radio, and I just think meeting and hearing these coaches is a unique deal that drew a good crowd.  You don’t see something like this very often.  It was nice.  When you put a character like Coach (Tim) Miles in the group, he seems to bring out the best in everyone.  He’s just one of those guys that’s fun to be around, and you can tell it just watching and listening to him.  It was a good kickoff right in the middle of the summer.  Loved the pep rally idea and think in some of these towns, you’re going to draw even bigger crowds on Fridays than you would on Saturdays.  It was cool.  I hope this concept continues.”

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McCartney’s Energy Connects with Nebraska

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Paul McCartney struck a chord with Big Red fans at PBA. World-Herald Photos

Watch Paul McCartney Lead Husker Power Cheer

McCartney Concert: World-Herald Photo Gallery

By Randy York

Now that pop music’s most enduring songwriter has performed back-to-back engagements in Lincoln Monday night and in Kansas City on Wednesday night, I have a very small news flash.  Both packed house audiences at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln and at the Sprint Center in Kansas City were totally engaged with Paul McCartney, and the reviews of both concerts left no doubt about how a 72-year-old Beatle can still deliver the most unforgettable rock ‘n’ roll show on planet earth.  The only apparent difference between the two venues was how McCartney could connect his creative energy with the hometown teams.

In Lincoln, Sir Paul wasted no time delivering a Go Big Red shout out, two songs into his 39-song, nearly three-hour concert.  Shortly thereafter, McCartney led the PBA audience in a Husker Power chant.  He started it with a British-sounding version of Husker.  The crowd – which included Nebraska Basketball Coaches Tim Miles and Connie Yori – roared back with a resounding Power.  Even though reviewers of both concerts put McCartney’s performance among the “best ever” in Lincoln and KC, there was one noticeable difference.  My friends who attended the Kansas City concert said McCartney tried two or three times to get a Kansas City Chief chant going, but to no avail.  Whenever the NFL franchise was mentioned, there was polite applause, but no enthusiastic follow-through.  Both crowds, however, simply couldn’t get enough of McCartney’s incredible energy.

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Miles, Yori, Leblanc Join Boehm at PBA

“I couldn’t believe Paul McCartney went almost three hours straight without a break and without so much as a drink of water,” said Nebraska Executive Associate Athletic Director Marc Boehm, who attended the concert and sat with Miles, Yori and Dennis Leblanc, Nebraska’s Senior Associate Athletic Director for Academics.  “Our little group had a great time listening to a band that’s been around forever and a singer who performs as great as ever.  We sang along with certain songs that took us back to another time.  I swear I could close my eyes and see different decades in my mind.”

Boehm laughs describing how the spirited Miles watches a legend in concert.  “As you can imagine, Tim was as engaged in the concert as anybody,” Boehm said.  “He rarely looked anywhere else but where the action was.  He was totally locked in.  Connie and Dennis loved the show, too.  They know how important it is for students to be able to walk across campus and a couple blocks later, be inside a venue like Pinnacle Bank Arena.  It’s a huge recruiting advantage not just for our basketball teams, but for Nebraska’s entire student population.  There was almost every age group inside the arena Monday night, and everyone was thoroughly entertained.”

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No wonder Sir Paul resorted to the ultimate punchline coming out of his first encore.  The solo Beatle stepped up to the microphone, surveyed the audience, and delivered a line Husker fans never get tired of hearing.  “There is no place like Nebraska,” he said.

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From Down-and-Out to Motivational Speaker

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Ricky Simmons shares his life lessons with campers at Lincoln North Star.

Video: Watch Ricky Simmons Share His Story

Power of Redemption: A Big Osborne Legacy

By Randy York

Ricky Simmons just left my office with a smile, a friendly pat on the back and his traditional goodbye line: “It’s time to go out and spend another day in paradise,” he said, heading for a quick exit down the hallway.  The second leading receiver on Nebraska’s fabled 1983 Scoring Explosion team was in Tom Osborne’s TeamMates office a half hour earlier with the same assurance – that he was drug-free and living every day in a precious way.

It’s been more than five years since Osborne, Simmons’ former head coach, inspired a cocaine addict to serve his time in prison and use the road to redemption to help others from going down that same wicked path.  And that’s precisely what Simmons has done – transformed his down-and-out experience into a platform of motivational speaking.

Tuesday night, Lincoln’s KLKN-TV featured Simmons sharing his story with attendees at a football development camp at Lincoln North Star High School.  Simmons’ late parents were devout Christians, his dad a junior high school principal and his mom an elementary remedial reading teacher.  He told campers straight out how he traded in his NFL football career to become a full-time drug addict.  Somehow, football got in the way of his using, and then after football, it got in the way of his life.

Prison and Osborne taught Simmons to look at life from a more positive perspective.  He speaks at high schools, churches, group-homes and youth organizations.  Tuesday, he was on a football field again because someone who believed in him helped him change.  “I owe my second life to Coach Osborne,” he said.  “That’s why I visit him every week for a few minutes … just to let him know that I’m still on the right track.”

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All-Star Game Has Its Own ‘Husker Hangout’

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Tony Watson Husker Bio        Watson MLB Bio

Alex Gordon Husker Bio         Gordon MLB Bio

By Randy York

A former working colleague of mine has been in Minneapolis since last Friday, helping the company that designed Target Field stage a number of events in advance of tonight’s Major League All-Star Game.  In a central Minneapolis business and entertainment district, located just a block from the stadium that will honor two former Huskers tonight, my friend stumbled onto what he calls a sign of the times – a Nebraska football banner hanging above and right next to two signs advertising Lyon’s Pub, a sports eatery on Sixth Street.  My friend just couldn’t resist.  A UMKC graduate with ties to two former Big 12 Conference schools, White enters Lyon’s Pub and finds another interesting sight that he calls “above the bar”.  It’s a Minnesotans for Nebraska banner, welcoming Husker fans from near and afar.

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Familiar Place for UNL Alumni, NU Department of Athletics

“Found you a hangout in downtown Minneapolis, buddy…good food and good fun,” Bob White emailed me.  The director of international marketing for a Kansas City-based company, White changed careers from telecommunications to sponsorships and stadiums 18 years ago.  With a grasp of design research, brand development, and social media, White knows an interesting setup when he sees one. Just as he couldn’t resist walking into the place and experiencing it, I couldn’t resist calling Lyon’s Pub, which welcomed about 60 Husker fans, plus Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst before a recent Twins-White Sox game.  Eichorst was there for a “Meet and Greet” with donors and Big Red fans supporting former Husker and current Twins’ pitcher Brian Duensing.

“We get Husker fans and transplanted Husker fans in here all the time,” Ray Rodgers told me on the phone this morning, explaining that Lyon’s Pub has been a staple restaurant for three decades of Minnesota Twins and Vikings games.  “I’ve been the general manager for 25 years,” said Ray, whose brother Chris is the owner.  “We’ve worked with the Nebraska Alumni Association for a long time, so we have more than two Husker banners up around this place.  You better believe it was a big deal around here when Nebraska joined the Big Ten Conference.  This is a central location.  A year ago, we were the Husker hangout for the Big Ten Baseball Tournament.”

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Kansas City Royals Photo

Alex Gordon Will Be Introduced But Will Not Play

The Lyon’s Pub crowd will be rooting for both all-star teams tonight because each roster has a Husker player who achieved a spot in the mid-summer classic.  A wrist injury will prevent Kansas City Royal left-fielder Alex Gordon from playing in his second straight All-Star Game for the American League.

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Photo: Peter Diana, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pirates’ First Left-Handed All-Star Reliever in History

Former Husker and now Pittsburgh Pirate relief pitcher Tony Watson will represent the National League after compiling a 5-1 record and a 1.42 ERA in 44 1/3 innings during the first half of the season.  Yesterday, Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said Watson, an Iowa native, is “the best lefty reliever in the game.”  That’s debatable, but this is certain – Watson is the first left-handed relief pitcher to make the All-Star Game in the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Don’t worry.  I checked online.  The Pirates joined the National League in 1887.  So, just like Gordon, Watson deserves applause even if he doesn’t play.

Husker Nation is equally proud of both All-Stars who have worked relentlessly hard to get where they are tonight … on the world stage.

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On the Road to the Final Four in Memorabilia

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Vote Here: Take Elite Eight to Memoribilia’s Final Four

By Randy York

So what we have here in Nebraska is a mid-July Elite Eight on the Road to the Final Four in Big Red memorabilia … a fan vote Monday and Tuesday between a belt-buckle collection vs. a tunnel mural and a Husker Shrine with footballs vs. a program from Tom Osborne’s first game as a head coach.  On Wednesday and Thursday, the voting pits a 1923 season ticket letter vs. a program from a 1924 Husker game, plus an impressive collection of memorabilia vs. an I.M. Hipp jersey that was torn off one of Nebraska’s most fabled walk-ons in the 1979 Orange Bowl.

Only in Nebraska will you find 138,000 Twitter accounts and more than 543,000 Facebook fans having instant access to cast a vote between #HuskerBuckles vs #TunnelMurals and a #HuskerFootballShrine vs #1stProgram.  Only in Nebraska would two Modern Era memorabilia collectors go head-to-head, followed by two Osborne Era accumulators who have memorabilia from a quarter century of success that allowed Osborne to average more than 10 wins and fewer than two losses per game over 25 consecutive years.

Only in Nebraska can fans celebrate 125 Seasons of Husker Football with their favorite pieces of memorabilia in a unique contest that sends the Grand Prize winner and another to corporate sideline seats in Memorial Stadium for an 8 p.m. Homecoming Game against Illinois on Sept. 27th, plus a two-night stay a few blocks away at the Downtown Holiday Inn and a Misty’s gift card.

Each Era Will Be Represented in Final Four

Following Final Four survivors in the Modern and Osborne Eras in the first two days of voting will be head-to-head voting Wednesday and Thursday to determine the Devaney and Old School Eras that will solidify each era a spot in the Final Four of Husker memorabilia.  So congratulations to all Elite Eight qualifiers – Brett Johnson and Colby Quaif (Modern Era), Myles Frohling and James Herrold (Osborne Era), Doyle Lyon and Scott Butterfield (Old School Era) and Chad Johns and Amanda Badget (Devaney Era). 

Johnson has collected belt buckles from his father since 1983.  Quaif’s mural features his dad and his two oldest sons as fans and his step-dad who played for the Huskers in 1956.  Frohling’s shrine includes game balls from the 1979 and 1994 Orange Bowls, including autographs from both Tom Osborne and Bobby Bowden, plus an Osborne-autographed game ball from the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.  Herrold’s program signifies Osborne’s transition from Devaney’s offensive coordinator to his own perch among college football’s elite coaches.

Lyon acquired his 1923 ticket letter via eBay from a seller who had no idea of its historical significance because it represented Nebraska’s first season inside Memorial Stadium.  Butterfield’s 1924 program came from Nebraska’s Homecoming Game against Colgate.  John’s impressive collection of memorabilia includes pop bottles, glasses, 1966 faculty tickets and a model of Memorial Stadium made from LEGOs.  I.M. Hipp’s jersey has a cache all its own.  Isaiah Moses Walter Hipp became one of the nation’s hippest names when Nebraska was the only school in the country to respond to and accept the talented South Carolina-based running back’s request to walk on.  Badget submitted the jersey owned by her husband.

In addition to social media voting, fans can vote via emails submitted through gobigred@huskers.com. 

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NU Great Fit for Academically Strong Big Ten

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Distinguished Scholars Emily Wong and Eric Schryver focused on academics.

62 Huskers Named Distinguished Scholars

Wong Worthy of NCAA Top Ten Award

Schryver NCAA Postgraduate Scholar

By Randy York

The Big Ten Conference is proud to say that since its inception, the pursuit and attainment of academic excellence has been a priority for every member institution. The Big Ten leads all conferences with nearly 1,600 Academic All-Americans, adding 40 in the last academic year that includes seven Husker student-athletes who elevated Nebraska’s nation-leading overall total to 314 Academic All-Americans.

Despite the Huskers’ domination of that key academic category, Nebraska ranked third in the Big Ten Wednesday when the conference announced its Distinguished Scholar Award Recipients, who maintained a minimum GPA of 3.7 or higher for the previous academic year.

“The Big Ten is a great fit for Nebraska,” said Dennis Leblanc, NU’s Senior Associate Athletic Director for Academics.  “Boyd Epley (former Husker student-athlete who became the first strength and conditioning coach in NCAA history) used to say ‘If you want to be the best, you have to run with the best’ and being in the Big Ten, we’re playing to our strengths – having more Academic All-Americans and more Top Ten Award winners than anybody else.”

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Faculty Athletic Rep Jo Potuto presents Wong with NU’s top individual award.

Wong a Strong Candidate to Be Top Ten Winner

Four 2013-14 Husker Academic All-Americans made the Distinguished Scholar list, including track-and-field student-athletes Levi Gipson, Anne Martin and Cody Rush.  The fourth Academic All-American among the 62 Distinguished Scholars has impeccable credentials that could enable gymnast Emily Wong to become Nebraska’s next Top Ten Award winner.  “She definitely has all the elite qualifications to earn that award,” said Leblanc, who finds it intriguing that Nebraska is now a member of a conference that administers nearly $200 million annually in direct financial aid to nearly 9,500 student-athletes for more than 11,000 participation opportunities on 350 teams in 42 different sports.

In terms of Distinguished Scholar Awards, Ohio State had 88 student-athletes honored Wednesday.  Penn State was second with 74 and Nebraska third with 62, followed by Minnesota (61), Michigan State (59), Northwestern (57), Michigan (56), Indiana (49), Wisconsin (46), Illinois (45), Iowa (44) and Purdue (43).  The conference understandably does not distinguish those Distinguished Scholar categories, but given Nebraska’s competitive nature, we find those numbers interesting, especially when you consider the depth and breadth of the vast majority of Big Ten schools.

Ohio State, for instance, has 900 student-athletes and 36 athletic programs.  Penn State has 800 student-athletes and 31 varsity sports.  Nebraska has 600 student-athletes and 24 athletic programs, 12 fewer than the Buckeyes and seven fewer than the Nittany Lions.  With 50 percent more student-athletes than Nebraska, Ohio State earned 30 percent more Distinguished Scholars than the Huskers.

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John Welk and Anne Martin earned awards at the NCAA Championships.

Welk, Martin Sweep Four NCAA Elite 89 Awards

Leblanc finds a relatively new academic measurement interesting as it commemorates its fifth season – NCAA Elite 89 Award winners, presented annually at each national championship event to the male and female student-athletes who own the greatest cumulative GPAs while competing at the highest athletic level in their respective sports.

John Welk and Anne Martin, joint qualifiers for the NCAA Track and Field Outdoor Championships the last two seasons, have swept that award, increasing Nebraska’s total to six such honors.  That ties the Huskers with Baylor for fourth place nationally, trailing only Alabama and Stanford, each with 13, and North Carolina with eight.  Ohio State and Penn State each have five, one fewer than Big Ten-leading Nebraska.

“When the Elite 89 Award is presented at a basketball Final Four, there are only 60 candidates eligible to win it,” Leblanc pointed out.  “To earn that award in track and field, you have to be the best among numbers that reach into the hundreds.”

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Dennis Leblanc thinks the Big Ten Conference is a “great fit” for Nebraska.

Leblanc Honed His Skills Working for Pepin

Nebraska’s track-and-field program was honored with 21 Big Ten Distinguished Scholars in the past academic year to represent more than one-third of the Huskers’ overall total.  Thirty-one years ago, Leblanc worked as a director of operations for Pepin-coached teams.  “He recruited solid athletes who were also solid academically,” Leblanc said of Pepin. 

Pepin’s teams won more conference championships than any other program in Big Eight or Big 12 Conference history.  “It’s worked well,” Leblanc said, acknowledging that the Big Ten sponsors more official sports than all conferences with the exception of the Ivy League.

Striking that pivotal balance between academics and athletics is integral to the Big Ten’s identity, and Nebraska feels like it fits right in with its own mission that has been successful for decades – putting the emphasis on the student before the athlete across the board. 

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