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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
Send a comment to firstname.lastname@example.org (Include city, state)
Follow Randy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RandyYorkNsider