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

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

By Randy York

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

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

The Triumphs of Stephenson’s Life Became Tragedies

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

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

Murtaugh: Even When He Was Down, He Was Positive

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

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

Friends Choose to Remember Stephenson at His Best

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

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Voices from Across the Nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Huskers’ Miles Rooting for Badgers, Bo Ryan

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Tim Miles returns five starters from first NCAA Tournament Team in 16 years.

By Randy York

Since Nebraska’s first NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament experience in 15 years, Tim Miles has been on basketball’s version of a high-speed bullet train. After his longtime right-hand man accepted the head coaching position at South Dakota State, Miles’ email and text boxes are clogged with hundreds of messages. His fellow coaches’ choice as Big Ten Coach of the Year, Miles leaves early Wednesday for North Texas and his annual trek to the NCAA Final Four knowing full well which team and coach he will be rooting for – Wisconsin and Bo Ryan.

Q: Bo Ryan has the only Big Ten team in the Final Four. Why are you a fan?

A: We had three Big Ten teams in the final eight and two of those games went right to the bitter end. Wisconsin got it down. Bo Ryan is a guy that’s been a small-college coach and I think he’s a guy that has always identified with the small-college guys. I watched how Bo built things, and, in fact, when we started to go Division 1 (at North Dakota State), he was one of the programs that I studied a great deal. I hired his operations guy (Saul Phillips), who played for Bo at UW-Platteville and then was an assistant at UW-Milwaukee for two years. I hired Saul and he took over for me when I left North Dakota State. I learned a lot from Saul and we got a chance to get to know Bo better and just really got some serious attention about how well his team performs. They have a Ph.D in fundamentals. They’re well beyond the rest of us. The way they pass and catch and pivot to get other players open to get really good shots…it’s just amazing to watch them play. They definitely have a shot to win the title. Kentucky’s talent level is incredible, but Bo Ryan understands how to stop teams. He makes it very difficult for you to score on them. And he also understands the fundamentals it takes to be able handle superior length athleticism. They’ve done it that entire time, and he’s going to keep doing it. That’s what makes him special.”

Q: Let’s talk Nebraska’s NCAA experience in San Antonio. What kind of accomplishment was it and how does it influence what comes next?

A: “I think that you have to credit the guys. We’re out there, 8-and-8 and they go on this monstrous run through the Big Ten and finish fourth, play ourselves into a berth into the NCAA Tournament and that’s not easily done. I just commend our guys for really bearing down. We became such a good, strong defensive team. If you would have asked these guys ‘what your niche going to be in Big Ten play?’ I don’t think anyone would have told you it would be great, strong defense. So for them to become something that was necessary to win and that was maybe unexpected or wasn’t what they thought was the most important thing is big, and it became the most important thing. It’s a real testament to their wanting to build this program right and wanting to see Nebraska in the NCAA Tournament.”

Q: That was the first NCAA experience for Nebraska in 16 years. What did you learn that will help you get back?

A: “Anytime you earn your way into the NCAA Tournament, you feel like it’s been a special year. There’s no doubt that I think our guys feel great and understand the process that it takes to get to that point where you can make the tournament. And that’s going to be valuable down the road. You can’t really prepare them for how overwhelming the attention is. It just feels like you’re almost in a fishbowl whether it comes to the fans, or the media, or the just whole event in itself. It’s just bigger than anything we’ve been around in a long time. I thought that we were really playing great in the Big Ten Tournament and let the Ohio State game get away from us. I thought that we did some really good things, but I think you could see with the way we fouled, we were just too hyped up. I think in the future, if we can get back next year and the year after, which is our goal, I think that this experience will be worth it because we will have learned from it.”

Q: What’s it mean to be one of 15 finalists for the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year, which will be announced Friday in Texas?

A: “It’s awesome and kind of fun just to be candidate. You never even dream about it. And the fact that you’re alongside some of these guys is just so humbling because to be voted on by your peers with this group we have, when life is better than your dreams, you just kind of have to roll with it. And that’s what I’m doing.”

Q: Losing Craig Smith is more than losing a great coach. He’s one of your best friends, but at least he’s going back to your home state, right?

A: Yeah, we’re going to hire a good coach, a good recruiter. We’re going to hire a guy that improves our program, and Craig will surely be missed. First and foremost, he’s been a friend of mine for 18 years and we’ve worked together almost every stop along the way. He’s been a valuable contributor to our success. He’s the smartest coach I’ve ever met, and I really think that he’s going to get South Dakota up and rolling sometime soon. I respect him so much and I’m so happy for him as a friend. I’m sad as a coach to see him go but really happy as a friend to see him get the opprotunity to become a Division 1 coach.”

Q: Besides feeding your small-college teams two $1 special sandwiches at Hardee’s for a pre-game meal, what’s the oddest thing you’ve ever had to deal with in terms of austerity?

A: “We stayed in a Motel 6 in Miles City, Montana, that was one of those lodge places. And the cowboys kept coming in until about 4 a.m. and we didn’t get any sleep. Craig never made a hotel or motel reservation again while working for me.”

Q: In the midst of all this March Madness, you had a situation last Friday where you had to put down your family’s 16-year-old lab. How did you get through that?

A: “Charlie was our female lab, so we called her Charlie girl. One of the best stories of all time involves (Creighton Coach) Greg McDermott. Charlie would have been 2 or 3-years-old. I came home late one night when we’d lost to Wayne State on a tough game at Wayne. People had always told me: ‘Coach, when you get home, the great part about having a dog is the dog is always happy to see you, just like your baby is always happy to see you.’ Well, I walk into (daughter) Ava’s room after we lose to Wayne State. She was about a year old. I gave her a kiss on the cheek, and she grabbed my cheek. Because my cheek was cold, she woke right up at 2 a.m. I pick her up and my dog comes in with me. I put in the game tape to watch the game where Wayne State hits five 3-pointers and the crowd was clapping. And Ava was sitting up on a blanket and she started clapping because the crowd was clapping. The dog got up and walked away and went back to bedroom with my wife. So Charlie was so disgusted with our play, plus the fact that we couldn’t get Ava on board either. Your kids are there for you, and your dogs are there for you. But that doesn’t always happen for coaches. Charlie Girl was just one of those dogs who been through so many things with me through the years. To be with her in that room when we put her down was really a sad moment. And that was a tough day last Friday. 

Q: Nebraska has all five starters back next season. What’s their intensity going to be like in the off-season?

A: “They’re definitely not satisfied with the way things ended. They want to do better in the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. There’s no doubt about it that their goals are ambitious. We’re going to work our butts off. We return 90-plus percent of our offense, our rebounding and every stat that matters. We still have work to do to add to this team. We know this team overcame some obstacles in terms of us having a complete team. I look forward to the late spring recruiting period. We’re going to add some odd pieces to the puzzle and make us better and make us the type team that can go to the NCAA Tournament and win.”

Q: Who will you sit with at the Final Four?  

A: “You never know who’s going to be around me. Last NCAA game I went to, a whole bunch of Michigan fans were around me. It just kind of depends. I’ll probably go with a friend and hang out and watch the game. But usually, it’s one of those situations that I like to watch the games but I’ll watch half and go back to my hotel and watch the second game. You just have to decompress, at least I do.”

Q: I know you’re rooting for Bo Ryan? Is part of the reason tied to his father?

A: "Definitely. His father passed away this year, and he’s really dedicated this season to his father. And the team has really done that for him. They want to do that for Coach Ryan more than I think he wanted to make it. I think it just happened with the whole team. That’s what makes it so special. I just hope it happens for him and the team."

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Stadium Sunset Runaway Winner for NU Icon

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By Randy York

We asked, you voted and it is now official – a Memorial Stadium sunset will be the iconic photograph that will be printed on Husker football tickets for the September 27th Homecoming Game against Illinois to commemorate the 125th season of Nebraska football this fall. “We had seven iconic choices, and the vote was lopsided from the minute we published the photos until the voting ended a week later,” said Kelly Mosier, Nebraska Athletics’ Director of Digital Communications. Lincoln’s Doug Prange shot an aerial photograph from the renovated East Stadium side while the sun was setting behind the West Stadium. The photo became the runaway winner as the NU icon for Homecoming weekend next fall.

Prange’s shot earned 62 percent of the total vote from Nebraska fans, primarily on Facebook and through Twitter. Here’s a breakdown of the rest of the voting: 2) a photo of Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne together (14 percent); 3) a photo of Nebraska’s first football team in 1890 (9 percent); 4) a photo of NU’s five National Championship Trophies (7 percent);  5) a photo of Osborne (5 percent); and 6/7) two photos that each received 1 percent of the overall vote – one of Devaney and one of the 1923 dedication photo of Memorial Stadium.

My reaction to the fans, in effect, saluting themselves is positive. In preparing for our 91st season since Memorial Stadium was built, the home of Nebraska football has nearly tripled in size. In 1962, when Devaney arrived and a 51-year ongoing NCAA home football sellout streak began, stadium capacity was 36,501. In the next three years, Nebraska added South end zone bleachers to create a horseshoe effect while erecting a center section for the North end zone bleachers to increase capacity to 52,455. A year later, capacity reached 62,644 and by the time Devaney was ready to retire as head coach in 1972, capacity was 73,650. The Osborne Era as both a head coach and director of athletics helped boost capacity to more than 87,000 and enabled crowd averages to reach 91,000 consistently.

Through more than half a century, Nebraska has sold out 333 consecutive home football games. Big Red fans are rightfully proud of their unprecedented accomplishment. The Cornhuskers also have the most wins and highest winning percentage of any college football program over the last 50 years. Dozens of Division I schools have Hall-of-Fame coaches and multiple Heisman Trophy winners and All-Americans. But only Nebraska has sold out its stadium since 1962 when John F. Kennedy was president; Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a single NBA basketball game; the first Walmart store opened for business in Rogers, Arkansas; the Cuban Missile Crisis ended; and Johnny Carson, an NU graduate and devout Big Red fan, took over as permanent host of The Tonight Show.

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom have kept Big Red fans from filling the stadium over the past 51 years. They are indeed the one continuous link that has supported Nebraska football through every one of its first 125 seasons. They deserve to be the Homecoming icon.

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Six Reasons to Get Spring Game Tickets Now

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Tommy Armstrong Jr. has made major strides in his overall ability to lead.

Buy Your Red-White Spring Game Tickets Here

Spring Game Kickoff 2 p.m. Saturday, April 12

Video: Are You Ready for Some Football?

By Randy York

Since UNL Spring Break gives Nebraska players this week off before returning to the rigor of spring practice, it’s time to remind Big Red football fans that more than 37,000 tickets have been sold for the annual Red-White Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, at 2 p.m. If that doesn’t entice you to buy your Spring Game tickets online now, The N-Sider has six quick reasons designed to spur you on and take care of business ASAP. It’s our way to help you do what Larry the Cable Guy always does … Git’R’Done! Check out our Pick 6 and then reserve your seats to put you where the action is. Please consider:

REASON NO. 1: Get an up-close view of the continued development of Tommy Armstrong Jr., who led Nebraska to six wins in the seven games he started last season at quarterback, including the 24-19 win over SEC power Georgia in Jacksonville’s TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day. There’s a nice bonus to Reason 1 – a good chance to offer up your personal views on three other promising quarterback candidates – Johnny Stanton, Ryker Fyfe, and Zack Darlington.

REASON NO. 2: The Spring Game will be your first chance to see talented Husker scholarship players who have lived in the anonymity of a redshirt season. That group includes Adam Taylor, the highly touted 6-foot-2, 210-pound redshirt freshman running back from Katy, Texas. In his senior season in high school, Taylor rushed for 2,754 yards and 45 touchdowns to lead his team to a 16-0 record and Class 5A Division 2 state championship. In the state title victory over Cedar Hill at Cowboys Stadium, Taylor ran 30 times for 276 yards and five touchdowns. He was the state MVP and the Houston Chronicle’s Offensive Player of the Year. Among his dozens of scholarship offers were Alabama, national champion Florida State, Oklahoma, Stanford and Wisconsin. Ask last year’s Blackshirts how hard it was to tackle Taylor in practice. Ask his teammates who is ready to emerge immediately from the shadows of a redshirt season on the Scout Team. Adam Taylor may be worth a Spring Game ticket by himself.

REASON NO. 3: Maybe this should be Reason No. 1 because running backs depend on whoever is up front and the Spring Game will be a perfect time to see the new look in the offensive line after it lost five seniors to graduation. Two or three names keep popping up, but I’m not smart enough to know what offensive linemen are ahead of others. Three words, however, capture the essence of what coaches are envisioning about the rebuilding process – young but talented.

REASON NO. 4: Speaking of young but talented. What about Vincent Valentine, Maliek Collins, and Greg McMullen in the defensive line? Even Bo Pelini can’t help using superlatives when he describes where Nebraska was a year ago and where the Huskers are now in the defensive trenches. Valentine is a 6-foot-3, 320-pound defensive tackle from Edwardsville, Ill. Collins is a 6-foot-2, 300-pound sophomore defensive tackle from Center High School in Kansas City, Mo. McMullen is a 6-foot-3, 280-pound sophomore from Hoban High School in Akron, Ohio. McMullen turned down offers from Ohio State, Michigan State and Notre Dame, among others. Collins, an athlete that Pelini mentions in the same sentence with an Outland Trophy winner he once coached in the SEC, was also a successful and agile heavyweight wrestler. Valentine rejected dozens of scholarship offers, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa.

REASON NO. 5: Talk about talent, depth, and sheer athleticism. Nebraska’s linebacker corps includes so many returnees and promising newcomers, it would be a disservice to mention anyone specifically. Let the grind of daily workouts determine who ends up where. Just make sure you isolate and focus on some linebackers in the Spring Game. You will develop a whole new appreciation for the annual pursuit of wearing a Blackshirt.

REASON NO. 6: This is a teaser, not a fact. We all know what happened in the fourth quarter of the 2013 Spring Game – Jack Hoffman’s record-setting 69-yard touchdown that was seen across the country and around the world. No. 6 in our Pick 6 is a bit of mystery designed to spur all Husker fans to quit putting off the purchase of a Spring Game ticket. The coaches are one-for-one in creative thinking and high drama. Whatever surprise wrinkles they come up with in the weeks ahead is worth buying a ticket for, not to mention staying in your seat until the overall performance is over. P.S. It’s easier, faster and better to buy your tickets online. However, if you have a child who will be taking the drug-free, alcohol-free pledge at halftime, you will need to work directly with the Nebraska Ticket Office regarding a complimentary seat. All tickets in Memorial Stadium are reserved. None are general admission.

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You Betcha! We’re Celebrating Matt’s Birthday

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Matt Coatney appears calm at an NCAA Tournament venue, but he was busy.

Matt Coatney on Twitter   Coatney on Facebook

By Randy York

Where else but Nebraska can we use two signature words and a mandatory exclamation point like “You Betcha!” in a headline and countless Husker fans across the state and around the country immediately know we’re talking about Matt Coatney, the play-by-play voice of Big Red women’s basketball. Happy 49th birthday today, Matt! Glad you could experience the last milestone before nifty 50 in a place so close to Marina del Rey and with players and coaches who love you every bit as much as you love them. Saw on Twitter where you scratched getting wished “Happy Birthday” by Bo Pelini’s cat on your bucket list. Know how much that has to mean to you personally, but we’re going to dig a little deeper into why everyone even remotely connected to Nebraska Athletics wishes you the best on this special day. Should your No. 4-seeded Huskers (26-6, 12-4 Big Ten) beat No. 12 seed BYU (27-6, 24-4 West Coast Conference) Monday at 8 p.m. at Pauley Pavilion in the second round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, the Huskers will advance to their third Sweet 16 in five years.

Heady stuff, to be sure, but we want to salute you and your trusty sidekick, Jeff Griesch, on your birthday for something no one except N-Siders would know – the flawless way both of you handled your last-minute appearance on last Friday night’s Husker Sports Nightly Show, carried worldwide on Huskers.com. You both did an amazing job dissecting the Husker men’s NCAA Tournament loss to Baylor in San Antonio while previewing what Connie Yori’s team would face in its own talented Regional in Los Angeles. Talk about consummate professionals. Who could have guessed how two guys, including one only two days removed from his 49th birthday, would pinch-hit for Greg Sharpe, who was all set to host Sports Nightly from San Antonio on Friday night?

Mike Elliott, Director of Broadcast Operations for the Husker IMG Sports Network, explained how quickly things change when a team is singularly focused on winning its first NCAA Tournament game. The initial charge was win and move on. Losing and a quick flight back to Lincoln were not part of the collective mindset. About 90 minutes after the game ended, Elliott left the arena and was driving men’s play-by-play man Kent Pavelka back to the team hotel when he learned about the team returning immediately to Lincoln. Members of the travel party were quickly packing at the hotel to get on the buses leaving soon for the airport. The change altered plans for Sharpe to host Friday night’s show at a non-public location in San Antonio.

After Quick Analysis, Everything Fell into Place

Since everyone would be in the air before Sports Nightly even went on the air, the broadcast team analyzed the possible solutions. Lane Grindle and Ben McLaughlin were in Iowa City calling the baseball game, and it would be nearly impossible for them to stay connected at the Iowa baseball stadium to host Sports Nightly. Furthermore, both were unable to watch much of the men’s game, so neither would be equipped to talk with callers about what happened. That’s why Elliott reached out to Coatney. “I knew that he was set up and able to connect from court-side at Pauley Pavilion,” Elliott said, “because he tested that out during pregame of our men’s game.” There was one major catch, however. Coatney could not be court-side at Pauley Pavilion because other NCAA qualifying teams would be practicing during Sports Nightly.

Being the team players they are, Coatney and Griesch worked with the UCLA Media Relations staff to find an alternate location with reliable connectivity to get Sports Nightly on the air. At this point, coincidences helped enable a solution. The Husker broadcast tandem ran into former Nebraska Sports Information Director Bill Bennett, now retired as an assistant SID at UCLA. He was there while Coatney and Griesch quickly tore down their court-side setup. It helps that Coatney was a cryptologic linquist in the U.S. Navy because he learned long ago how to get to the bottom of things quicker than most colleagues.

UCLA found an executive conference room that was available. Coatney did a basic setup and tested the connections with Elliott in Texas. Fortunately, it all worked out. “Matt and Jeff finished setting up, rigging up a mini-radio studio in the executive conference room at Pauley Pavilion,” Elliott said, adding that there was a bonus in all the hubbub. NCAA tournament officials in Los Angeles had just ended a meeting in that same conference room, so there was leftover food for two hard-working Huskers who were rearranging all of their broadcast gear, laptops, and iPads before transitioning smoothly and professionally on air. “I emailed them all the copy necessary to do the show, and as you heard, they nailed it,” Elliott said. “Their hosting became the perfect opportunity to help our fans pass the NCAA Tournament baton from the men to the women. Their ability to talk about the men’s game was excellent. Griesch had great insight into seeding and advancing and other NCAA Tournament information that no other radio host could have had.”

Elliott: A Quick, Successful Troubleshooter

Once the return flight was moved up to Friday, the team charter was scheduled to land in Lincoln by 7:30 p.m., giving Sharpe the projected opportunity to be at the Haymarket studios in time for the 8 o’clock hour of Sports Nightly. The charter flight, however, had mechanical problems and was delayed in leaving San Antonio. The team, along with Sharpe, Pavelka and Matt Davison, did not land in Lincoln until after 9:30 p.m., a half hour after Sports Nightly was done for the night. “So much for the plan of Greg taking over for the final hour,” said Elliott, who flew commercially to San Antonio and became a one-man troubleshooter after learning the post-game travel plans had changed. “I was working two cell phones on calls and texting, and on my laptop, and on my iPad, making all the changes and coordination to pull this all off,” Elliott told me. “I’m glad Sunday is Matt’s birthday. Hopefully, he’ll take some time to catch his breath and enjoy L.A.”

At this point, Coatney is concentrating on the little things again. On his Twitter page, for instance, his goal for Monday is a simple one – “not allow ESPN cable pullers to knock us off the air by shorting out all of press row.” He wasn’t kidding. That actually happened Saturday. Marc Boehm, Nebraska’s executive associate athletic director in charge of both Husker basketball programs, was quick to the point in his Tweet after the Husker women defeated Fresno State in Saturday’s NCAA opener for the Huskers. He tweeted: “One game day away from PBA magic!”

Yes indeed. If Nebraska defeats BYU Monday night in LA on ESPN2 (the free live radio broadcast is on Huskers.com), we could be looking at a monster Lincoln Regional next weekend. The inherent beauty of something like that happening simplifies life for a guy like Mike Elliott. If anything goes wrong, it’s only a block or two to the studio for him to fix, not deep in Texas…or somewhere out on the West Coast. And for that, he would be thankful.

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Voices from Husker Nation

Thanks for the great article on the Husker Sports Network team. So much goes on behind the scenes and veteran broadcasters like Matt, Jeff, Kent, Greg, Mike and all the rest make it sound so easy. They’re real pros! Dennis Ernest, Gering, Nebraska

I cannot wait for Husker women’s basketball with Matt doing the play-by-play. I purposely do not watch the women’s game, especially the later game times because I live in the Eastern Standard Time Zone and work the next day. Instead I listen to the archive of the game on the Internet just to hear what Matt has to say. He’s the best. His personality lights up the circuitry over the web. God love you all and Go Big Red. Perry Barta, Battle Creek, Michigan

Revelle: Conference Play like a New Season

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At 2013 Big Ten home opener, Jack Hoffman (middle) threw out the first pitch.

Getting to Know Your 2014 Husker Softball Team

Huskers Host No. 16 Gophers in Big Ten Opener

Four Homers Power Nebraska Past Iowa State

Follow the Weekend Action Online Right Here

Nebraska Softball Schedule   Husker Roster

By Randy York

When you’re in your 22nd consecutive season as a softball coach at the Husker helm, time may not exactly stand still, but it slows down enough to allow Rhonda Revelle to push the pause button and reflect on the realities of why it’s such an honor to coach at a place like Nebraska. “Honestly, what really gets me going is seeing how much the players love playing at home – from listening to their own walk-up songs to what’s going on with the video productions,” Revelle said. “Watching them out here this week with HuskerVision and doing their own little thing and having no idea how it would all turn out in production is part of the experience. It’s what gets them all amped up.”

As the Huskers’ Hall-of-Fame head coach, who has won more games than any head coach in any sport in Nebraska Athletics history, Revelle tends to soak in smaller things than that. “When I walk onto the ball field, simple things get me going…smelling the grass, seeing the grounds crew working…things that aren’t so well documented like watching our workers in the yellow jackets dusting down the chair backs…I don’t think many institutions take so much pride in the fan experience to do something like that,” Revelle said.

Whether you’re coach, player or a fan, this weekend “is like the second phase of our season,” Revelle said. “In fact, it’s almost like starting the season all over again. There’s just a lot of pride when you play within your conference and begin vying for a championship, hopefully. It just takes on a different focus. Of course, we play a very strong non-conference schedule, but this is almost like a whole new ball game.”

“This” is No. 15-ranked Nebraska hosting No. 16 Minnesota three times this weekend at Bowlin Stadium – Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 1 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. “Minnesota has done a remarkable job in their program through the last few years,” Revelle said. “I respect what they’ve done. You look on paper and it almost looks like these two teams are mirror images of each other. It should be an outstanding series!”

Revelle is well aware that other sports are reaching the peaks of their respective seasons at the same time the Huskers are launching their conference schedule. “I figure basketball Friday morning and afternoon and softball Friday night,” Revelle said. “Women’s basketball plays Saturday and we play Saturday. It’s all good. We’re excited for all of our teams that are competing this weekend. At Nebraska, we’re all about TEAM and solidarity.”

Saturday’s softball game is a Pepsi Pack the House promotion that offers $1 for admission and $1.50 for Pepsi products and hot dogs.

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McDermott: From Motivator to Meteorologist

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NU Men’s Tennis Coach Kerry McDermott just missed a collapsed facility.

Huskers Host Wisconsin on Friday

Nebraska Men’s Tennis at a Glance

By Randy York

In his 30 years as the Nebraska men’s head tennis coach, Kerry McDermott has never experienced a day like last Thursday, March 13. Late that morning, he was at the Abbott Sports Complex, the Huskers’ current indoor tennis home located about six miles from their outdoor courts on the UNL campus. McDermott went inside to pick up some additional tennis balls before heading back to campus about noon. Forty-five minutes later, he received a call from a family friend in Florida.

”Are you okay?” she asked.

“What do you mean am I okay?” he answered.

“I just saw where the bubble collapsed and wanted to make sure no one was hurt,” she said.

“I’m fine, but I don’t know what you’re talking about. Our bubble facility is fine. I was just there,” McDermott said before asking the source of what he thought was an inaccurate rumor.

“I saw it on Twitter and saw pictures, too,” she said. “It collapsed.”

The inflatable dome that covers six tennis courts at the Abbott Sports Complex indeed collapsed, and fortunately, no one was inside at the time.

Deb Herman and her husband, Mitch, were right, and McDermott has been scrambling all week to forecast how the weather might affect his team’s Big Ten opener this weekend – Friday at 2 p.m. against Wisconsin, followed by a Sunday road match at noon against Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Coach, Recruiter, Trainer, Motivator, Meteorologist

McDermott wears a lot of hats as the one in charge of men’s tennis. He’s a coach, a recruiter, a trainer, a motivator, and now, more than ever, a meteorologist. “You know how fast Nebraska weather can change,” he said Wednesday. “Sometimes, I feel like I’m checking the weather all day long.”

The Big Ten rule is simple and straightforward. Outdoor play requires a temperature of at least 50 degrees and wind gusts of less than 20 miles per hour. Any temperature below 50 or winds above 20 MPH, competition must move indoors. “I’ve talked with the Wisconsin coach several times trying to find the right time on Friday,” McDermott said. “We agreed to move the competition up from 4 p.m. to 2 p.m. and we will adjust accordingly.”

The No. 60-rated Huskers (8-6 overall and 0-0 in the Big Ten) already have defeated the No. 58-rated Badgers (8-5, 0-1), 4-1, in late January in Los Angeles.

Steve Waterfield, Nebraska’s senior associate athletic director, appreciates how McDermott has multi-tasked in handling the issues. “The good news is we’re a year away from using our new facility being built on campus,” he said. “When we move into that facility, the indoor/outdoor issues can be solved in a matter of minutes. There should be very little inconvenience for everyone involved.”

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MadDogs: Texas Husker Hoops Headquarters

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The famed San Antonio River Walk is a park that’s open 365 days a year.

Follow the Journey and Let the Madness Begin

Husker Pregame Party Thursday Night in Texas

Huskers Open against Baylor Friday Morning

Official Website of the San Antonio River Walk

By Randy York

Since Tom Izzo called Nebraska a bunch of Junkyard Dogs after the Huskers upset his No. 9-ranked Michigan State Spartans in East Lansing, Tim Miles and his team have embraced that term of endearment like a red badge of courage. Who knows? Maybe Izzo’s regular-season compliment was the precursor to his congratulatory phone call after fellow conference coaches voted Miles “Big Ten Coach of the Year”. Whatever the case, any reference to Junkyard Dogs is high praise from Izzo, who has made a career of winning major coaching honors.

Junkyard Dogs Get High Praise from Izzo

Izzo called Nebraska Junkyard Dogs because “they reminded me of some of our old teams,” he said. “They took it to us; they talked it; they walked it; they played it.” Perhaps Nebrasketball fans are doing their best to follow in the footsteps of the inspiring and straightforward Miles. How else do you explain Nebraska Athletics, the Nebraska Alumni Association and the Husker Sports Network combining resources to make a place called MadDogs the official Husker Headquarters for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in San Antonio?

First, MadDogs is catchy. Secondly, “mad dog” fans could be the parallel of junkyard players who talk, walk and play with a high level of confidence. Lindsey Freeman, premium seating and events coordinator for the Huskers Athletic Fund, thinks junkyard players and mad dog fans could have a certain inherent connection to each other.

Thursday Night Broadcast Live from Texas

Freeman encourages all Husker fans to stop by MadDogs, located at 123 Losoya Street on San Antonio’s Riverwalk, from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday. Greg Sharpe, Kent Pavelka and Matt Davison will broadcast Thursday’s Huskers Sports Nightly live from MadDogs. The Cornhusker Pep Band and UNL Cheer and Dance Teams will stop by to entertain, spark the spirit and join the fun. “We’ll have plenty of giveaways and lots of spirit,” Freeman said. “We encourage everyone to wear their Husker red and join the party, and we’re hoping Big Red fans from all over are coming to San Antonio!”

Mad Dog Fans Can Motivate Junkyard Dogs

Mad dog has many positive connotations that can relate to enthusiasm, desire, excitement and even madness in a good sort of way. My conclusion: Mad dogs can spur on and help motivate Junkyard Dogs, and Freeman agrees. “It’s March Madness, and Big Red fans are meeting at MadDogs,” she said without adding, perhaps, the two most important words that will dominate most Thursday night conversations before Friday’s scheduled 11:40 a.m. tipoff…Beat Baylor!

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Freshman First Husker NCAA Diver Since 2005

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From left: Anna Filipcic, Payton Michaud, Nicole Schwery, Natasha Chikina.

By Randy York

Pressure, nerves and stress were three words that came immediately to mind Wednesday night when Anna Filipcic tried to describe her ninth-place three-meter diving performance three weeks ago in the Big Ten Swimming and Diving Championships in Minneapolis. Focused, relaxed and determined were the three words that popped out Wednesday when she described her fourth-place three-meter performance in the Last Chance Zone diving competition that helped her qualify for the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships. Filipcic edged a 2014 Big Ten champion Minnesota diver who finished fifth among the 50 divers making their own Last Chance bids to qualify for next week’s NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships at Minnesota.

"To finish in the top four proves you are elite and earns you a ticket to the Big Dance," said Nebraska Swimming Coach Pablo Morales, who also commended Husker Diving Coach Natasha Chikina. Both Husker coaches were multi-Olympic competitors in swimming and diving, so they understand what the difference can be for an 18-year-old freshman in the short span of three weeks. “Maturity,” said Chikina, a Kazakhstan native and USC All-American who competed in Olympic diving events in Atlanta and Sydney. “Anna wanted to win so badly in the Big Ten Championships that she was afraid to make mistakes. She was a little uptight and didn’t do so well.”

The best way to trump mistakes that often result from a fear of failure is to change mindset. “We’re extremely proud of how Anna battled against some of the best divers in the country to claim one of the few NCAA slots,” said Morales, a Stanford graduate who won three gold and two silver medals at the 1984 and 1992 Olympic Games. “Even as a freshman, Anna proved she can handle the pressure of elite-level competition, and we look forward to her gaining the invaluable experience of competing at the NCAA.”

Filipcic First Husker NCAA Diver Since 2005

Filipcic, a graduate of Omaha Burke, made such a dramatic comeback, she beat the Big Ten one-meter diving champion in the Zone meet to seize an opportunity both desperately wanted. In the process, she also became the first Husker diver since Canadian native Amie Buoy, who earned that same honor in 2005.

“I had some really good dives in the Big Ten, but they just weren’t at the right times,” Filipcic said in a telephone interview from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. “I ended up finishing ninth, but if I would have done better in prelims, I would have finished third. I felt the pressure in the Big Ten and felt a lot more relaxed in the zone meet.”

The overall performance of Nebraska’s three divers at the Zone Championships “represents a great breakthrough for our diving program,” Morales said. “To come out of a very deep and competitive zone with an NCAA qualifier is a tremendous accomplishment.”

Schwery Comes Close; Michaud a Role Model

Sophomore Nicole Schwery also performed incredibly well, qualifying for finals in both platform and three-meter and finished just one place shy of qualifying in a third event. “Our young divers performing so well bodes very well for the future and demonstrates that our diving program is in a great state under the leadership of Natasha,” Morales said.

“The Zone meet also was the farewell performance for Payton Michaud, one of our all-time great divers,” Morales said. “True to form, Payton competed extremely well and once again provided a great example for our young divers to follow. She has been a great influence on our program and the current success being enjoyed by both our swimmers and divers.”

Teammates Michaud and Schwery helped a self-described “overstressed” Filpcic regain her composure and show Minnesota, the only other college scholarship she considered, that the Gophers’ loss was the Huskers’ gain. “Lincoln felt just as much like home as Omaha did,” she said. “Just about everybody I met inside the program sealed the deal for me.”

Chikina: Comeback Performance Bodes Well

This week’s experience was a valuable lesson in perseverance for Filipcic. “When the first day of Big Ten didn’t go well for Anna, she started to focus and concentrate on one dive at a time,” Chikina said. “She knew she could do it. It’s easy to crack as a freshman, and I’m really proud of the way she came back. She put everything together when she had to do it. She quit being tight and really got competitive. It’s going to help her a lot in the next three years.”

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New Husker Captain Has Mary-Like Qualities

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Sophomore Maggy Lehmicke follows Mary Weatherholt as an NU captain.

NU Hosts Big Ten Opener Against Iowa

By Randy York

Meet Maggy Lehmicke (pronounced Lem-a-kee) from Kirkland, Washington. She’s the No. 1 singles player on the Nebraska women’s tennis team. Even though she’s just a sophomore, Maggy is the one and only 2014 team captain. At 10-0, she’s also unbeaten in singles competition heading into Friday’s 3 p.m. match against Iowa at the Nebraska Tennis Center and Sunday’s 4 p.m. match against Wichita State at the same Lincoln location – 7600 North 70th Street.

When you talk to Maggy, you hear the same tone, tenor, and theme as the person she succeeded as captain, and I’m not the only one who comes to that conclusion. Nebraska Head Coach Scott Jacobson sees remarkable similarities between Mary Weatherholt, the most legendary tennis player in Husker history, and Maggy Lehmicke, the new kid on the block who’s systematically trying to build an equally solid foundation for her future.

“Maggy’s learned a lot from the leadership of both Mary and Patty Veresova when they were senior captains last year,” Jacobson said. “Maggy has just stepped up and become a very similar leader in all aspects. It’s just been amazing to see, but not surprising. Maggy has always been someone who’s had tremendous work ethic on the court. She’s selfless in nature and has very similar characteristics to Mary, and that’s been great for our program.”

Sophomore Lehmicke Creating Her Own Legacy

Lehmicke is genuine, sincere and philosophically immersed in the day-to-day process of getting better. “She holds the bar pretty high for herself, just like Mary, in terms of expectations,” Jacobson said. “She’s a perfectionist by nature and doesn’t want to leave this university feeling like she didn’t do her best in every single aspect of her life, academically, athletically and personally. She’s creating her own legacy and has a burning desire to succeed in everything.”

A Journalism major with a 3.75 grade-point-average, Lehmicke ranks writing right up there with fashion design and yoga to help balance the ultra-competitive side of her life.

With Weatherholt ranking among the 10 most elite student-athletes in all of collegiate athletics, male or female last year, Lehmicke said it would have been hard not to learn from being her teammate. “She was definitely one of the most positive people I’ve ever met, and that positivity really helped her on the court,” Lehmicke said.

Huskers are Rebuilding in Next Couple Years

That framework helps Lehmicke understand how a young captain leads a young team. “I’d say this year is about rebuilding,” she said. “I feel like teams go through different phases and these next couple of years will be rebuilding, but there’s nothing to say that this group of girls will be any different than the group of girls that came here with Mary. Four girls built up that team, and a few of us just happened to show up at the right time.”

The Huskers reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history because they aimed high and achieved. “Mary was all about team,” Lehmicke said. “She had great team spirit, and she was just a big part of having that energy on the court. She was completely fearless and played without fear all the time. Every one of us is a different type of player. We’re all our own people, but there are definitely things we can take from Mary and build our own legacy.”

In many ways, Lehmicke doesn’t feel her own role has changed much. “I feel like I would have done many of the same things I’m doing now, even if I wasn’t designated captain,” she said. “Most of the things I do are because I feel obligated to do them. I don’t think too much about the title captain.”

She does think about and appreciate the diversity on the team she captains. “I didn’t just want to go to college and be on a team with just American girls,” she said. “We have girls from Sweden, Germany, India and Canada. I don’t see a huge separation. Our chemistry is genuine. Any differences we have are not big ones. There are little things we joke about as we learn each other’s languages, so we can cheer each other on in each other’s languages. I don’t look at us as a fully international team because I’ve seen those teams and I don’t like thinking of us being like that. I like to think of us as just being diverse.”

Late Bloomer Experienced Early Knee Problems  

Because she had fairly severe knee problems growing up in Washington, Lehmicke was a late bloomer who didn’t receive a bushel of scholarship offers, even though she was ranked as the No. 2 player in both the state of Washington and the Northwest Region. Her final two collegiate choices were Missouri or Nebraska. “I’m glad I came to Nebraska. Being a student-athlete here is different than most places,” she said, acknowledging that she also took official visits to Iowa and Wisconsin. “Nebraska makes an athletic scholarship a full-fledged program.” Academic standards and life skills development are built into the experience. “Because I really didn’t know what I was capable of (achieving), Nebraska was like a dream come true,” Lehmicke said.

As a captain, Lehmicke goes out of her way to understand different motivational and philosophical approaches. A member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, she enjoyed hearing former Husker and NFL tight end Jamie Williams speak to the group.  “He talked about servant leadership, and I think that’s a good way to describe what our team is all about,” she said. “We want to be leaders who serve each other. We want to do things for other people. We’re not talking about bossing people around. I feel like that’s sort of our legacy. I feel like my job as a captain is to represent that servant leadership and carry that out.”

Introspection has helped Lehmicke come to that conclusion. “I feel like I’ve changed over the years. I used to take myself too seriously,” she said. “Having one year of college tennis under my belt, I realize that I’m doing this because I love it. If I miss a forehand, it’s not the end of the world. The team environment has caused me to pay more attention to them. Everything’s about how our team does and not just how I do as an individual.”

Russian Step Dad Introduced Her to the Sport

Lehmicke’s step dad is Russian. “He’s helped me a lot,” she said. “He was my tennis coach who got me started on the court. I got a late start in tennis because I played a lot of other sports,” she said. “I started tennis the spring before I turned 12 in the same area in Washington where I grew up. My step dad didn’t own a club or anything. He just taught me how to play on middle-school courts, and he ran summer camp. He gave me and my friends lessons. I played my first tournament two months after I started and got into the finals of it.

“I was a very different person at the time,” she recalled. “The instant gratification was what got me motivated to play. After that, my stepdad coached me for a few years and then I got involved in some tennis academies with some coaches in the Seattle area. Most of those coaches are international, too. All of the people I trained with were Russian. When I started training in the academy, most of them were American. That’s where I learned that you only get out of something what you put into it. You couldn’t survive in that place without being a hard worker.”

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