The N-Sider’s Five Favorite Bo Pelini Quotes

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

Video: Bo Pelini Press Conference

Video: Tommy Armstrong Presser

Huskers Hit Road for First Time in 2014

Nebraska Game Notes for Fresno State

By Randy York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cotton, Lewis Vie to be ‘King of Knockdowns’

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

By Randy York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vonden Bosch Set a Physical Tone for Garrison

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

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

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

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Jake Proud to Be NU’s First Cotton Captain

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

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

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

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Football Legends Share a Basketball Memory

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By Randy York

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

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

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

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Lightly Recruited but Heavily Developed at Nebraska

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

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

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

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Honored with Osborne, Rooting for Tenopir

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

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

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

Counting His Blessings and Proud of His Coach

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

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

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Husker Hero Helps Launch 2014 Nominations

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Humble Husker Hero Wants to Inspire Others

By Randy York

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

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

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Reluctant Hero Encourages Nominations for 2014

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

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Works for the Company that Supplied Lettermen’s Wall

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

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Thursday Radio Show Focuses on NU Soccer

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By Randy York

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

Husker Soccer in Final Season at Current Home

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

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

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

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Junior Graduate Kevin Williams Interviewed

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

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Sullivan Scholarship Honors Johnny Stanton

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

By Randy York

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

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

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

Pre-Med Major Finds the Time to Help Others

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

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

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Johnny Stanton IV values his relationships with Cornhusker teammates.

Husker Legend Sullivan Was a Big Part of the Team

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

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

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The N-Sider’s Five Favorite Bo Pelini Quotes

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

Video: Jordan’s Behind-the-Back Catch

Video: Jordan Describes a Masterpiece

Video: Pelini’s Weekly Press Conference

Video: Abdullah after Opening with Win

Video: Q&A with QB Tommy Armstrong

By Randy York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Westerkamp Easily Has ‘Play of the Day’ Again

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Video: Jordan Westerkamp’s Behind-the-Back Catch

Video: Westerkamp Describes another Masterpiece

By Randy York

Life, especially in football, can be stranger than fiction.  While driving to Memorial Stadium Saturday morning, I had my radio tuned into something I can never get enough of – the Huskers Sports Network.  The conversation was about Jordan Westerkamp and how he was once interviewed and never once asked about The Catch … you know the one I mean … the Hail Mary Catch that took the air out of Northwestern and sent the Wildcats home on an airplane before they could catch their own breath.

The humor in the Westerkamp discussion had a point: Who would ever ask Jordan what his most memorable catch was when most of the country already knows?  Well, guess what?  That little discussion had an ironic twist to it Saturday.  Mike Babcock and I were talking in the press box when we watched Westerkamp pull another football rabbit out of a hat with a behind-the-back catch that simply defies imagination.

We looked at each and instantly, almost in unison, called it an unbelievable catch.

Not just any catch, a spectacular one. While officials were seeking to confirm what their eyes were telling them, I mentioned the radio discussion to Mike.

We agreed the odds would be prohibitive to make another catch that could fit into the same elite category. 

Saturday’s Catch More Remarkable than Hail Mary

“I think that’s a more remarkable catch than the Hail Mary, don’t you?” I asked Babcock.

“I think it is,” Mike said.

“I’ve never seen a catch like that ever, have you?” I asked Babcock.

“No, I never have either,” he said.

We both shook our heads, knowing that Westerkamp’s eyes locked in on the Hail Mary last year while his soft hands finished the work in a perfectly timed jump in Memorial Stadium’s South end zone.

This time, we couldn’t believe what we’d just seen … a behind-the-back butt catch that required even softer hands and incredible equilibrium.

In his press conference, Bo Pelini joined the crowd, saying he’s never seen anything like Westerkamp’s catch Saturday.  Defensive coordinator John Papuchis called it “the greatest catch I’ve ever seen in my life.”

ESPN’s Saturday night/Sunday morning college football analyst team joined the chorus, labeling Westerkamp’s catch/balancing act as “easily the play of the day” in college football.

And yes, such accolades came his way less than one year after Westerkamp’s “once in a lifetime” Hail Mary catch.  The 16-yard perfectly juggled reception, we also should point out, was just one of seven catches in a 125-yard day for the Illinois native.

Within minutes of the astonishing catch, Mike and I were shown how Westerkamp reached behind his back to use his behind to trap the ball and secure it at the same time.

Hail Varsity magazine publisher Aaron Babcock froze the photo he’d just shot and shared it via social media in the same amount of time it takes to visit the rest room.

In other words, Hail Varsity, the magazine, had something in the same elite category with Hail Mary, Westerkamp’s middle name for the past year.

Maybe someone will come up with a new name for next Saturday morning’s pregame drive time.  Since the kickoff against McNeese State will be nearly four hours before the season-opening kick against Florida Atlantic, Matt Davison has plenty of time to come up with a gem.  In the meantime, I’m going to butt out of this one.

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HOF Husker’s Grandson Seeks His Own Path

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Charles Bryant walked on at Nebraska before receiving a scholarship in 1952.

Season Opener Special for Florida Atlantic Player

Charles Bryant was Two-Sport Husker Letterman

By Randy York

One of the greatest things about college football are the stories with inherent twists and turns that reflect imagery and irony you never otherwise would think possible.  Take Brandin Bryant, a two-year defensive line starter for Florida Atlantic University, Nebraska’s season-opening opponent at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Memorial Stadium.  Brandin is the grandson of the late Nebraska football Hall-of-Fame inductee Charles Bryant, who was a true trailblazer as an All-Big Seven Conference guard on a 1954 Husker team that lost to Duke in the Orange Bowl.  Bryant and Jon McWilliams were the first two black athletes to letter at Nebraska in the modern era. That is not a misprint.  It’s a fact.  Those two Husker teammates were the first black lettermen at Nebraska in 40 years, dating all the way back to Clint Ross in 1913.  No wonder Brandin Bryant grew up in North Omaha hoping one day to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.

Brandin wanted to walk on and give Nebraska his best shot, just like his grandfather did in 1951 before earning a scholarship from NU Head Coach Bill Glassford.  The ‘54 Husker team defeated Iowa State, Oregon State, Colorado, Missouri, Kansas and Hawaii.  Bryant was one of three All-Big Seven players on the Huskers’ first-ever Orange Bowl team, joining fellow Nebraska natives Don Glantz, a tackle from Central City, Neb., and Bob Smith, a fullback from Grand Island.  Having attended several Omaha Black Sports Hall-of-Fame banquets, I know the pedestal upon which Charles Bryant stood before his death 10 years ago and even today as his grandson prepares to compete against the program he grew up worshiping. 

Chuck King, a sportswriter in Boca Raton, Fla., wrote an interesting story on Brandin Bryant, describing how he once attended football games and football camps at Nebraska, and how he yearned to be a preferred walk-on candidate.  When that didn’t happen, he went to Fort Scott Community College before he ended up playing at Florida Atlantic for Carl Pelini.  In his first two seasons at FAU, Brandin has played in every game.  The first Nebraskan ever to play for Florida Atlantic recorded six sacks last year. King said Bryant, a redshirt junior, is a “darkhorse All-America candidate” in the eyes of his defensive coordinator, Roc Bellantoni.

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Bryant Also Lettered Three Years in Wrestling

Whoever said irony is the form of paradox has to admit that paradox can be good and great at the same time.  It’s good that Brandin Bryant found a Division I college football home, and it’s great that his first game coming off a season-ending injury will be against the program that inducted his grandfather into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame 27 years ago. 

Generally regarded as the first African-American player in modern Husker history 63 years ago, Bryant didn’t just play football at Nebraska.  He also lettered three years in wrestling (1953, ’54 and ’55).  In 1962, Bryant became the first black to earn a head coaching job in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area when he took over the Thomas Jefferson High School wrestling program.  He ended up teaching 23 years in the Omaha Public Schools system, and was hired as an assistant principal at Omaha Benson in 1973.  He moved to Omaha Bryan High School in 1977 and served as athletic director.

Brandin Bryant has estimated that 100 family members and friends have tickets to Saturday’s game and even though almost all of them are Husker fans, he has asked them to wear blue to support the visiting team.  To him, this is one of those rare exceptions to a loyalty rule, and when you think about his grandfather as a career educator, you can’t help but harken back to your own high school English days and a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.  Charles Bryant was a pathfinder for Nebraska, and I’m sure his grandson – win or lose on Saturday – is seeking his own path so he can leave his own trail. 

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Historic Capstone: Legacy Statue Back Home

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By Randy York

Thursday morning was a meaningful moment for Nebraska football, its rich history and everything it stands for, including the Blackshirts, who earned their reputation as a swarming, brother-to-brother defense that diagnosed, tracked down, and then attacked offensive opponents with a hard-hitting, single-minded purpose.  The Husker Legacy Statue returned home, moving back to the place where it belongs – outside the East Memorial Stadium entrance that has greeted Nebraska fans since 1923 and has included the Legacy Statue anchor since 1997, the final season of Tom Osborne’s legendary coaching career.  The two-ton statue, encased in bronze, originally was placed near the street loop off Vine Street that leads to the stadium. From 1997 to 2011, it stood in that familiar place until East side expansion triggered a temporary move to Memorial Stadium’s northwest corner.

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Artist Fred Hoppe sculpted the statue as a tribute to Nebraska tradition, depicting six Husker defensive players tackling a Kansas State player.  Hoppe modeled the statue after a 1995 Richard Voges photograph for the Nebraska Athletic Department.  Hoppe said the statue “represents the whole attitude of Nebraska football” while “emphasizing the teamwork and dedication that Nebraska football symbolizes.”  Welcome back, Legacy Statue, and here’s hoping you also become a symbol for our special 125th anniversary season.

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