Shawn Eichorst likes the way Nebraska integrates academics and athletics.
By Randy York
Less than a week after Shawn Eichorst’s academic-themed Connecting on Campus column on Huskers.com, Nebraska’s Director of Athletics shared an hour with Greg Sharpe, the voice of the Huskers. It was an engaging 60 minutes that also showcased the energy of Dave Harris, the Huskers’ second-year men’s and women’s head cross country coach, plus two of his teams’ top runners – Isabel Andrade, a senior Elementary Education major from Petaluma, Calif., and Trevor Vidlak, a senior Management major from Lincoln. Both Huskers exemplify why Harris believes student-athletes “have everything they need at Nebraska to become the best student and the best athlete they can be.” Eichorst and Sharpe covered a lot more ground during the monthly Director of Athletics show on the Husker Sports Network, and I encourage Husker fans to listen to the interviews. But if you’re short on time, here are 10 prominent points I took away from the conversations:
10 – Three Husker fall sports programs – football, volleyball and soccer – are ranked nationally, and that number grew to four today. Nebraska, the defending NCAA women’s bowling champion, received 19 of 26 first-place votes to rank No. 1 in the National Ten Pin Coaches Association preseason poll. The coaches voted Vanderbilt, runner-up to Nebraska last spring, second in the 2013-14 preseason poll.
9 – While discussing the ribbon-cuttings and grand-openings of the expanded East Stadium, the renovated Devaney Center and the Pinnacle Bank Arena, Eichorst said: “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a better support staff in almost every area.”
8 – Even though the drama went right down to hours before the new Devaney Center made its public debut, Eichorst was never nervous, and he’s eager to see the next milestone – the final phase of the Devaney Center project that will take the South ramp down and open up the entire south side to an open area that will feature even more innovative reminders of Nebraska’s remarkable history.
7 – Eichorst said the East Stadium expansion provided the “perfect scenario” to place a Bob Devaney statue in front of Memorial Stadium’s most historic gate. “There’s no question it was overdue, and I’m just glad to be part of the team that developed such a wonderful project,” Eichorst said, adding that the view is even more spectacular at night when “it stands in a silhouette all by itself. It’s really cool.”
6 – Eichorst encourages Big Red baseball fans to circle Thursday, Oct. 17 on their calendars. The Huskers will play their third consecutive game (at 6:30 p.m.) in the annual Red-White Series, following a 3:20 p.m. game on Tuesday and a 3 p.m. game on Wednesday. Eichorst also reminds Husker fans that Nebraska will host the 2014 Big Ten Conference Baseball Tournament at Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park. “We’re looking to break an attendance record, that’s for sure,” said Eichorst, who’s also a fan of the softball team, which completes its fall camp this weekend hosting two doubleheaders. The Huskers play Drake Friday night (6 p.m., 8 p.m.) and then host Creighton Sunday afternoon (1 p.m., 3 p.m.). There is no admission charge for either doubleheader.
5 – Tim Miles entertained Eichorst last Friday night like he did everyone else who watched Nebraska’s first scrimmage in Pinnacle Bank Arena (PBA) with a microphone in his hand in front of 7,500 fans. “We saw Coach Miles in his element,” Eichorst said. “He does have another career when his coaching’s done, and I hope that’s not anytime soon.”
4 – Eichorst was equally enthusiastic about the Nebraska women’s basketball team calling PBA its home. With Connie Yori guiding the Huskers to their second NCAA Sweet 16 team in four years last season, “We’re definitely an elite team now, and we’re ready to take it to the next level,” Eichorst said. “I think PBA will help us do just that, and we’re having a Big Red Tipoff for women’s basketball on Tuesday, Oct. 15 (from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.), so fans can come in, see where their seats are and check out what a great facility we’ll play in and what a great family atmosphere it’ll be. Lindsey Moore is playing in the pros now, but we’ll have pretty much everyone else back.” Nebraska has increased its women’s basketball season ticketholders by 50 percent over last year’s total and now has surpassed the 3,000-season ticket level. That number should go up once fans see the new arena and the talent returning. “You can get a season ticket for as low as $80,” Eichorst pointed out.
3 – With Nebraska hosting Illinois for Saturday’s Homecoming football game, “It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to show the parents and prospects what Lincoln and the University of Nebraska has to offer, and on game day, it doesn’t get much better than that,” Eichorst said. “I know that’s why our coaches in other sports really take advantage of the weekend. Coach (Dave) Harris said it best. You can get in parents’ living rooms. You can send photos or you can send emails. But there’s no substitute for getting your feet on the ground in Lincoln. We do know this. When you get the prospect and the parents here in Lincoln, it’s almost a lock, and it should be.”
2 – Since Eichorst makes such a bold statement, he explains his rationale. At Nebraska, “We stand for all the right things,” he said. “We integrate athletics and academics like no other school, so weekends like these are big weekends for us. Our fans play a huge role in that because parents and student-athletes are really savvy consumers out there. They go to all of the other campuses to compare. You and I have been to a lot of other campuses on football game day, and sometimes, they’re just not as well behaved as our fans in Lincoln. Recruiting is the whole package, and I think our fans understand how important they are in bringing these young people in on a recruiting trip.”
1 – Nebraska knows the importance of parents taking a visit with their kids and understands the impact of being part of an ongoing NCAA record-breaking crowd. But the real kicker is learning how much emphasis the Huskers put on their Academics and Life Skills Departments. “Those are both huge parts of the recruiting weekend,” Eichorst said. “It’s an important initiative for me to help our coaches recruit to a very high standard. We have wonderful coaches across the spectrum, but sometimes, because they’re doing their own thing, they might not know what others are doing across the board. So we’re really trying to build some systems and some think tanks, if you will, that allow our coaches to exchange and share best practices. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing. We want the best and the brightest to represent the University of Nebraska, and we’re going to step up our game in that regard.” With everything that’s happening at Nebraska and all of the benefits that new facilities can deliver, Eichorst wants Nebraska’s coaches and student-athletes to know why it’s more important than ever to remind people about who we are and what we stand for. He wants prospects and parents to understand that their children will have the best support, the best staff, the best fans and the best facilities in college athletics. Nebraska Athletics, in collaboration with Academics and Life Skills, will do everything possible to help our recruits become the best students and the best athletes they can be.
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