Jake Long (41) makes a big play in NU’s great escape at Michigan State.
By Randy York
Bo Pelini’s Saturday announcement that seven Husker walk-ons have been awarded scholarships is more proof that walk-ons remain an important part of Nebraska football. Their collective achievement makes a strong statement for a head coach who increasingly understands the cultural and performance-based influence that walk-ons have on work ethic, team spirit and continuous improvement. Years of service can vary, and playing time is a major factor. One of the seven new scholarship recipients, for instance, is a sophomore fullback who started two games as a true freshman. Another is a senior tight end who will press for significantly more playing time after spending his career in the shadows of Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed.
Andy Janovich, a 6-1, 225-pound sophomore fullback from Gretna, Neb., with an undeclared major, lived his dream infinitely quicker than he could imagine on his way to becoming the first true freshman walk-on to start a Husker game since 2008. Jake Long, a 6-4, 240-pound senior tight end from Elkhorn, Neb., majoring in biological sciences, is another walk-on who moves up the depth chart with the departures of Cotton and Reed.
Time to Shine for Jake, Spencer’s Twin Brother
Long has a 3.857 cumulative grade-point-average in pursuit of medical school, and now’s his time to shine on the field after gaining multiple academic honors, including a 2013 Big Ten Scholar Award, Academic All-District acclaim and two-time Academic All-Big Ten status. He’s played in all 27 Nebraska games over the past two seasons and started two games last fall against Wisconsin and Penn State.
Former Husker Academic All-American Jeff Jamrog, Nebraska’s assistant athletic director for football, envisions Jake Long joining twin brother Spencer as a potential Academic All-American. “Jake’s been on our travel team almost since he’s been here,” Jamrog said. “He’s a great leader, a great young man and excellent in the classroom. Jake and Spencer have both been role models since they arrived on campus.”
Janovich made a meteoric rise a year ago without being part of Nebraska’s summer bridge program for incoming freshmen. “Andy did the same conditioning program on his own at home in Gretna,” Jamrog pointed out. “He came here in tip-top shape, played in the fourth game and in every other game after that.”
Janovich Reminiscent of Makovicka Brothers
A powerful blocker, Janovich played a key role in helping Nebraska lead the Big Ten in both rushing and total offense. NU running backs coach Ron Brown says Janovich’s relentless energy is reminiscent of the Makovicka brothers. “I can see why he went 99-0 in his last two years as a high school wrestler,” Brown said. “He never stops competing.”
Brown calls Janovich the most athletic fullback he’s seen in two decades. “He’s really athletic and very powerful,” Brown said. “He’s an unusual athlete at fullback because he can run, he’s fast, he can catch the ball, he can block and he’s smart. He picks things up and just has a tenacious spirit about him.”
Janovich originally committed to the University of Nebraska-Kearney before changing his mind and deciding to walk on at Nebraska. The second youngest of nine children, Janovich turned down a scholarship offer to wrestle for the Huskers. An uncle, Jerry Murtaugh, was also a standout wrestler and became Nebraska’s second leading tackler of all-time. Murtaugh was an All-America linebacker on the Huskers’ first national championship team in 1970.
Equal Opportunity for In-Staters, Out-of-Staters
When it comes to walk-on players, there is no place like Nebraska, and the beauty of that is in equal opportunity for all. Joining Janovich and Long on the scholarship roll are fellow Nebraska natives Ron Kellogg lll, a 6-1, 220-pound senior quarterback from Omaha majoring in ethnic studies and sociology; and Brodrick Nickens, a 6-5, 305-pound senior defensive tackle from Alliance, Neb., majoring in communication studies.
Three of the new recipients represent three additional states that compete in three major conferences. Mark Pelini is a 6-0, 295-pound junior offensive lineman from Youngstown, Ohio, majoring in history and mathematics. Wil Richards is a 5-11, 190-pound senior safety from Lee’s Summit, Mo., majoring in business administration.
Colby Starkebaum is a 6-1, 210-pound senior linebacker from Sterling, Colo., majoring in agronomy. Colby follows in the footsteps of his dad, John Starkebaum, who lettered as a Husker linebacker in 1972, ’73 and ’74. Colby grew up knowing that walk-ons are a big part of the heart and soul of Nebraska football. He understands why walk-ons bring the passion and drive of competitive practices every day, and he has always grasped the concept of walk-ons helping to set the tone for Saturdays. All seven walk-ons have met the standards. They have earned their scholarships the old-fashioned way. Like coaches and players through the years, Nebraska fans appreciate what it takes to go from walk-on to scholarship status, and may all seven honorees inspire the walk-ons who follow them and exemplify the traits that differentiate Nebraska from others.
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