First-time letterwinner Sam Cotton is joined by dad Barney and Mitch Krenk.
By Randy York
Sunday’s first annual N-Club Letterwinner Induction Ceremony in Nebraska’s West Stadium Club was a rousing success for 56 first-time letterwinners in football, volleyball, soccer and cross country. Nearly 200 people attended the event, including former Husker letterwinners, coaches and sport administrators, but few experienced the depth and breadth of such an honor like the Cotton family. For the patriarch and his three sons, getting an “N” is now a clean sweep in terms of family tradition. Barney Cotton, Nebraska’s Associate Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator/Tight Ends/Offensive Line Coach, earned three varsity letters as a Husker offensive/defensive lineman in 1976-77-78. Son Ben earned four letters as a tight end in 2009-10-11-12 and younger brother Jake is positioned to match that total next fall after lettering in 2011-12-13 as an offensive guard. Sunday, Sam Cotton, the third and youngest son of Barney and Christine Cotton, earned his first Nebraska letter as a tight end.
It is indeed rare for three sons to follow in their father’s footsteps, but no more singularly inspiring than any other Husker student-athlete who sensed tradition and organizational zeal on Sunday. “Earning a varsity letter is an important goal for every student-athlete we recruit and for every student-athlete who walks on,” said Keith Zimmer, Nebraska’s Associate Athletic Director for Life Skills and N-Club. “Shawn Eichorst has made the N-Club a priority, and we’re excited about supporting former letterwinners and helping them reconnect with the University.”
Sunday’s honored letterwinners had their pictures taken with a former Husker letterwinner, plus a current coach or sport administrator in their respective sports. Barney Cotton has the distinction to be both a former letterwinner and a current coach and had some fun Sunday, admitting that his letter jacket no longer fit, so he could not accommodate the camera. Mitch Krenk, former president of the N-Club, joined Cotton in photos with football letterwinners.
Rodgers, Delano Present Leblanc with Letter Jacket
Former volleyball All-American Brooke Delano joined Johnny Rodgers, Nebraska’s first Heisman Trophy winner in 1972, in making a special presentation to Dennis Leblanc on Sunday. Leblanc, Nebraska’s Senior Associate Athletic Director who has worked 30 years for the Athletic Department, was named an honorary member of the N-Club and received a letter jacket from Rodgers and Delano, two Huskers who appreciate his leadership and persistence in helping them earn their college degrees.
“Johnny the Jet” went straight to pro football after his last season as a Husker and didn’t return to UNL to get his degree until decades later. School didn’t come easy for Delano, who appreciated the warmth and genuine interest that Leblanc showed while inspiring her to finish her degree. “Dennis encouraged me and believed in me, and that’s why I call myself a letterwinner graduate,” Delano said.
“Dennis is a worker and provides unconditional support to all student-athletes,” Rodgers added. “He’s spent 30 years of service that’s led to 3,000 letterwinner graduates. Giving Dennis an honorary letter jacket is a no-brainer. I was so honored to be asked to present his award. I’m very proud to be a letterwinner, but even more proud to have earned degrees in two majors (English and Broadcasting/Advertising).”
Charlie Greene: The ‘N’ is Powerful in Many Ways
Charlie Greene, an Olympic gold and bronze medalist in Mexico City in 1968, was Sunday’s featured speaker. “The ‘N’ is so powerful,” Greene told the letterwinners. “The ‘N’ stands for integrity, team, pride, and championship effort. You’ve all left it on the field and on the court in your respective sports. Now finish it off and get your name on the black granite in the Hall of Distinction. To do so, you must be a letterwinner and a college graduate.”
Zimmer said Nebraska preaches that relationships are the bond that holds Nebraska student-athletes together. “To this day, Charlie Greene puts that ‘N’ right up there on the same level as his Olympic medals,” Zimmer said. “For him, the N means life, relationships, support and a shared honor among men and women devoted to the same cause. When Charlie’s health went down dramatically a few years ago, his wife (Linda) will tell you that current letterwinners kept him alive, and he helped them understand the true meaning of that N.”
Anna Caniglia (soccer), Fran ten Bensel (cross country) and Lindsay Peterson (volleyball) joined Krenk in welcoming first-time letterwinners and then honoring them in a ceremonial photo.
Wong-Orantes Speaks for Volleyball, Price for Football
Two current first-time Husker letterwinners also shared their thoughts at the presentation.
“Nebraska is family, and today is about that family,” said Justine Wong-Orantes, a sophomore libero from Cypress, Calif., and first-time volleyball letterwinner. “I speak for all new peers who are thrilled and humbled to become a part of the letterwinner family.”
Givens Price, a junior offensive lineman from Houston and first-time letterwinner, said football’s daily grind includes early mornings, demanding classes, tutoring, meetings, weights, practice and more meetings. “It defines us and separates us…the N separates us,” he said. “I beam with pride whenever I wear Nebraska on my chest, and my smile is wider today because I’m being inducted into this elite group. I will never take the N lightly.”
Zimmer wrapped up the inaugural presentation that will continue for other sports throughout the year. “Moving forward, wear your jacket with great pride,” he said. “It represents the accountability in all that you strive for in academics, athletics and life. You’ve already heard a couple sayings that ring loud and true today – There is No Place like Nebraska and Once a Husker, Always a Husker.”
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