NU Packed With Burgeoning Leaders

Several Huskers Captained Junior National Teams Over the Summer

By Lincoln Arneal • Photos by Jimmy Rash

For Bekka Allick, the call came during math class.

On the other end was Jamie Morrison, the head coach for the U18 national team, asking the then-Waverly senior if she would serve as captain for the upcoming world championships.

Bekka Allick, a freshman from Waverly, captained the U.S. U18 national team.

“I got really emotional,” Allick said. “I was like, ‘I got to pull myself together because I got to go to class.'”

Allick said she hadn’t thought about serving as captain before the call and instead was focused on being a good teammate.

“I didn’t think the girls saw me like that,” Allick said after her first week of fall practices for Nebraska. “I just thought they saw me as a regular teammate. So for all of them to agree that they wanted me to be captain, it felt, I don’t know, I felt really honored.”

Allick is one of several Huskers named captains of junior national teams recently. This summer at a pair of Pan Am Cup tournaments, sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez was named captain of the U21 team, while freshman middle blocker Maggie Mendelson was tabbed the leader of the U19 group. In addition, sophomore setter Kennedi Orr was the captain of the U.S. team at the U18 World Championships in 2019. Add onto that list Husker legend Jordan Larson, the U.S. women’s team captain at the Tokyo Olympics last year.

Each of those teams achieved a high level of success. The U.S. won its first-ever gold medals at the Olympics and the U18 Worlds in 2019. They also captured the gold at both Pan Am Cups and took home the bronze at the 2021 U18 Worlds.

For Mendelson, she found out she was selected team leader after the team switched hotels between tryouts and the tournament. She said the team filled out surveys and she ended up with the title of “Team Mom,” which surprised her because she’s usually the youngest on the team.

Her responsibilities included ensuring everyone was on time for team events, trying to help with conflicts and making decisions about practice times. She also consulted with a leadership team to help make decisions.

Sophomore Lexi Rodriguez captained the U.S. U21 national team.
Sophomore Lexi Rodriguez captained the U.S. U21 national team.

Mendelson said she learned that understanding people’s needs and listening to them is an important part of being a leader.

“That’s gonna be really helpful moving forward, especially at the college level,” she said. “Everybody here is just so awesome that I might never be the best one, but it’s always good to listen and be heard.”

Rodriguez said she learned more about her leadership style this summer and how she likes to figure out what motivates each player. She said she was shocked that the honor usually goes to a setter or attacker. Rodrigeuz said she didn’t have many preexisting relationships with her teammates.

“It was just such a big stage. It wasn’t my normal Nebraska team that knows me very well. It was complete strangers,” she said. “So to have that recognition was pretty cool.”

After earning first-team All-American honors and being named Big Ten defensive player of the year, NU coach John Cook already had challenged Rodriguez to grow more assertive on the court this season.

“We’ve talked to her about being a leader at some point, but (being named Team USA captain) really facilitated and sped up that conversation,” Cook said.

Allick, who also played for the U21 Pan Am Cup team, was Rodriguez’s roommate and saw firsthand her positive influence. Allick said leaders are often either peacemakers or peacekeepers, and Rodriguez fell into the latter.

“I think she absolutely crushed it because she spoke up when she needed to, and I think it kept the team level-headed,” Allick said.

When told the lengthy list of Huskers who were national team captains, Allick said she got goosebumps. After enjoying her first taste of team leadership, she said her ultimate goal is to be captain of the Huskers for at least one year.

“That just speaks volumes on the kind of girls that coach (Cook) recruits because he doesn’t just look at skill,” Allick said. “The Big Ten has a strong conference because we all have athletes, but Nebraska separates itself because he recruits leaders. He recruits strong women and peaceful people. He just recruits solid people and then just transforms them into incredible volleyball players.”

2023 Class Continues to Build

Huskers Reel in Recruits as Signing Day Beckons

By Mike Malloy

Omarion Miller
6-2, 190, receiver
Vivian, Louisiana
North Caddo High
Ratings: 247 Composite: 0.9373 (4 stars)
As of early August, Miller is the Huskers’ highest-rated recruit at No. 100 nationally, according to 247Sports. Miller, who passed up Arkansas, LSU, West Virginia and Miami, was named the Shreveport Times 2022 Male Athlete of the Year after catching 76 passes for 1,502 yards and 20 touchdowns his junior season at North Caddo High School. Miller excels elsewhere, averaging 26 points a game in basketball and sports a 3.2 grade-point average, according to the Shreveport Times.
“O is special due to the obstacles he’s overcome, while remaining focused on his goals and staying completely out of trouble,” North Caddo High coach John Kavanaugh said. “He has grown into a leader as he matured.”

Riley Van Poppel
6-4, 270, linebacker
Argyle, Texas
Argyle High
Ratings: 247 Composite: 0.8994 (4 stars)
Van Poppel had 23 scholarship offers but chose Nebraska over suitors like Arkansas, Colorado, Florida State, Kansas State, Michigan and Purdue. The son of retired Major League Baseball pitcher Todd Van Poppel, Riley had 14 tackles for loss, including seven sacks, for 11-2 Argyle High School in 2021, according to the Dallas Morning-News. 247Sports rates Van Poppel 286 overall and 14th best at his position nationally.
He told Huskers 247 that he didn’t think much of Nebraska before visiting campus, but afterward he was “blown away.”
“Lincoln wasn’t what I expected,” he said. “It was bigger; there was more to it than I thought it would be.”

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Gunnar Gottula

Gunnar Gottula
6-6, 285, offensive tackle
Lincoln Southeast High
Ratings: 247 Composite: 0.8767 (3 stars)
The third-best prospect in the state, according to 247Sports, is staying home. Gottula, who plays for his father, Ryan Gottula, at Lincoln Southeast, committed to the Huskers last summer after attending a Friday Night Lights camp at Memorial Stadium.
“(Offensive line coach Greg) Austin had me talk to him after camp and he asked me, ‘Would you like to be a Husker?’ After I answered, he offered me. That was pretty cool,” Gottula told the Lincoln Journal Star. “It’s pretty exciting because I always went to their games as a kid, so it was cool to get an offer and have the opportunity to play there.”

Jaidyn Doss
6-0, 195, receiver
Peculiar, Missouri
Raymore-Peculiar High
Ratings: 247 Composite: 0.8794 (3 stars)
Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Illinois, Colorado and Iowa State all came calling for Doss, but he’s coming to Lincoln. One of four receivers Nebraska picked up this summer, Doss had 28 catches for 442 yards and five touchdowns at Raymore-Peculiar High School. The small town with the odd name is just southwest of Kansas City, an area special teams coordinator Bill Busch has worked extensively this offseason.
“I’m not sure how much Nebraska had been in Kansas City over the last few years. I know they’ve recruited it, but boy, it seems like coach Busch is doing it even more,” Raymore-Peculiar coach Richard Elkins told the Lincoln Journal Star in March.

Dwight Bootle II
5-10, 165, cornerback
Miami, Florida
Killian High
Ratings: 247 Composite: 0.8630 (3 stars)
Name sound familiar? The younger brother of recent Husker Dicaprio Bootle is following the path blazed from South Beach to the plains, passing up opportunities with Northwestern, Michigan, Indiana, Kansas and Boston College. The younger Bootle received a scholarship offer from Nebraska on Jan. 30 and committed Jan. 31.
“I just felt like it was a great place for me to continue my legacy and piggyback off of my brother. It was just the move. I’ve been there already, I’m familiar with it and I know the coaching staff will push me to the max,” he told the Lincoln Journal Star.
Bootle had 22 pass deflections for Killian High School, which posted four shutouts in a 12-2 season last year.

Maverick Noonan

Maverick Noonan
6-4, 225, defensive end
Elkhorn South High
Ratings: 247 Composite: 0.8759 (3 stars)
Noonan and Gottula can argue about who’s got the better game and who’s got the better name. Noonan, a senior at Elkhorn South High School, was rated as the fourth-best prospect in Nebraska, one behind Gottula, by Noonan is the son of former Dallas Cowboy and Husker All-American Danny Noonan, who was the Big Eight Player of the Year in 1986.
“I know every dad thinks their kid is the greatest,” Danny Noonan told the Omaha World-Herald. “But Maverick is a thoroughbred. He was born to rush the passer. His skills now at 17 years old are as good as some of the pros. If you watch his film and break it down, his hand skills are unbelievable. I’d like to say I taught him that – I didn’t.”
The younger Noonan turned down Michigan State, Minnesota, Stanford, Iowa State and Iowa to follow his father’s path to Lincoln.

Benjamin Brahmer

Benjamin Brahmer
6-5, 185, receiver
Pierce, Nebraska
Pierce High
Ratings: 247 Composite: 0.8736 (3 stars)
Another in-state recruit and another coach’s son. Ben Brahmer, who plays at Pierce High School for his father, Mark Brahmer, could be a receiver or a tight end when he gets to Lincoln. Height runs in the family; his older sisters Maggie and Jaci Brahmer both play volleyball at Wayne State.
Brahmer, who turned down Iowa State, told that his father taught him to be a more vocal leader on the field and “to treat everyone kindly and not be cocky … I’ve been playing football since I could stand so I’ve been able to catch it well because of him.”

William Watson III
6-0, 175, quarterback
Springfield, Massachusetts
Springfield Central High
Ratings: 247 Composite: 0.8769 (3 stars)
Most coaches wouldn’t consider Massachusetts a recruiting hot bed, but new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple found a gem there in Watson. Known as “Pop” Watson on Twitter, the high school senior has known Whipple since middle school, according to, giving the Huskers the inside track. Watson led Springfield Central to a state championship in 2021, throwing for 2,026 yards, 22 touchdowns and three interceptions. He passed on Oregon, Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky to head to join Big Red.

“Whipple was the No. 1 reason,” Watson told about why he chose Nebraska. “He knows I’m going to make the correct read every time.”

Watson is the only quarterback in the Huskers’ 2023 class.

He also had offers from Iowa, Iowa State and Kansas State.

Dylan Rogers
6-3, 232, linebacker
Cypress, Texas
Cypress Woods High
Ratings: 247 Composite: 0.8693 (3 stars)
Colorado, Kansas, Kansas State and Houston came calling for Rogers but he only said yes to Nebraska with a tweet, “Husker Nation I’m home!!” on July 6. He piled up 58 tackles and four interceptions in seven games last season at Cypress Woods High School and played both inside and outside linebacker.
“I’m a family guy, and Nebraska made me feel like part of their family,” Rogers told Inside Nebraska.

Barry Jackson
5-11, 175, receiver
Ellenwood, Georgia
Cedar Grove High
Ratings: 247 Composite: 0.8572 (3 stars)
One of four receivers in Nebraska’s class, Jackson made 28 catches for 510 yards and seven touchdowns for Cedar Grove High School last season. He passed on Mississippi State, Pittsburgh, Kansas, Duke and Vanderbilt to come to Lincoln.
“The players and coaching staff made me feel like I was home,” Jackson said when he announced his college decision on TV station 11 Live in Atlanta.

Sam Sledge
Sam Sledge

Sam Sledge
6-4, 270, offensive line/defensive line
Creighton Prep
Ratings: 247 Composite: 0.8631 (3 stars)
Sledge started his high school career as a tight end but after one game moved to tackle.
“I had to learn the plays in one week,” Sledge told HuskerOnline.
He proved so good there that he eventually became a starter on both sides of the ball. Sledge, whose father, Bob Sledge, was an All-Big Eight lineman at Nebraska in the 1980s, had offers from Kansas and Miami (Ohio).

Brock Knutson
6-7, 270, offensive tackle
Scottsbluff, Nebraska
Scottsbluff High
Ratings: 247 Composite: 0.8672 (3 stars)
Knutson transferred from Mitchell High School – a Class C-1 program – to Class B Scottsbluff last year to possibly graduate early and head to Lincoln a semester sooner. He told HuskerOnline that he was a “fat tub of lard” when he started high school but credited his strength coach for helping him add 70 pounds of muscle the past three years.
Playing at a bigger high school also gave Knutson more publicity, which attracted offers from Iowa State, Arizona State, Kansas and Kansas State.
“Exposure was hard for me at Mitchell. I had to do a lot work on Twitter,” Knutson said. “I wrote up a little resume and sent it to everybody.”

Hayden Moore
6-3, 210, linebacker
Aurora, Colorado
Regis Jesuit High
Ratings: 247 Composite: 0.8533 (3 stars)
Moore turned down offers from Iowa State, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Texas Tech and UCLA. He had 111 tackles, including 11 for a loss, in 12 games at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora. He also was 5-0 as a pitcher on the school’s baseball team.

2022 Nebraska Football Hall of Fame

Nebraska Football Hall of Fame Will Recognize Class of Eight at Georgia Southern Game

Six former Cornhuskers will be among the eight inductees into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame Sept. 9.

The former Huskers and two state college athletes will be inducted at a banquet in Lincoln and then recognized the next day at the Huskers home game against Georgia Southern.

Prior to 2015, players must have been either an All-American or first-team all-conference selection to make the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame ballot. Beginning in 2015, Huskers who earned second-team all-conference honors dating back to the expansion of the Big Eight to the Big 12 (1996) and now the 14-team Big Ten are eligible. Players are not eligible for the ballot until a 10-year waiting period from the end of their collegiate careers. Major national award winners earn automatic induction. Active NFL players are not on the ballot.

2022 Inductees

Ron McDole Head Shot

Ron McDole
Offensive Tackle, 1958-60
A three-year letter winner, McDole served as a team captain in 1960. In the NFL, he moved to defense and went on to play 18 professional seasons with the Cardinals, Oilers, Bills and Redskins. McDole was a five-time first-team All-AFL selection and played in 240 career games. He was selected from the Legends category.

Kunz Lee mug

Lee Kunz
Linebacker, 1976-78
Kunz led Nebraska in tackles in both 1977 and 1978 and earned second-team All-Big Eight and honorable-mention All-American honors in 1978. He still holds the school record with 95 assisted tackles in 1977 and ranks sixth at Nebraska with 276 career tackles. Kunz was selected from the Legends category.

Lindquist Ric mug

Ric Lindquist
Defensive Back, 1979-81
A three-year letter winner, Lindquist was an All-Big Eight choice as a senior cornerback, leading a Blackshirt secondary that led the nation in pass defense. Lindquist finished his career with nine interceptions, 11 breakups and nearly 100 tackles. He was also a first-team Academic All-American in 1981.


Bruce Pickens
Cornerback, 1988-90
A two-time first-team All-Big Eight selection, Pickens helped Nebraska to a Big Eight Championship and appearances in the Orange, Fiesta and Citrus bowls. Pickens had four interceptions, 13 breakups and 84 tackles in his career. He was the No. 4 overall selection in the 1991 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons.


Toniu Fonoti
Offensive Guard, 1999-2001
Fonoti was a dominant offensive lineman helping Nebraska to a pair of NCAA rushing titles in 2000 and 2001. Fonoti was a first-team All-American selection and Outland finalist in 2001 when the Huskers reached the BCS national championship game. Fonoti recorded a school-record 379 pancakes and did not allow a sack or receive a penalty in 2001. He went on to play five seasons in the NFL.

Amukamara Prince 302

Prince Amukamara Cornerback, 2007-10
A first-team All-American and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2010, Amukamara was part of dominant defenses his final two seasons. He played in 49 games with 31 starts in his career and finished with 181 career tackles, 27 pass breakups and five interceptions. A two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection, Amukamara was a finalist for the Thorpe Award as a senior. A first-round NFL pick, Amukamara made 99 career starts in nine pro seasons.

2022 State College Inductees

Coach Darrell Morris
Nebraska-Kearney, Coach
Morris served as the head coach at Nebraska-Kearney for 15 seasons from 2000 to 2014. He posted a 101-63 career record with the Lopers and guided UNK to four Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference championships and four NCAA Division II playoff berths. His 2009 team posted a school-best 11-2 record.

Ross Wurdeman
Concordia, Tight End
Arguably the top tight end in Concordia program history, Wurdeman owned many of the program’s receiving records at the completion of his career. A two-time NAIA All-American, Wurdeman was named to the NAIA All-Decade team of the 2000s. He finished his career with 168 catches, 2,458 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns.

Quick Start to Season Could Lead to Donnybrook

Oklahoma Returns to Lincoln for First Time Since 2009

By Steve Beideck

If Nebraska is 3-0 before going head-to-head with Oklahoma in Lincoln, the Huskers would be brimming with confidence – a rare occurrence in recent years.

Oklahoma fans who endured the misery that came from Lincoln Riley’s abrupt departure for USC are hopeful their restlessness takes a Shakesperean turn as the 2022 football season begins.

New coach Brent Venables can help the OU faithful view the next two seasons – Oklahoma’s final two as members of the Big 12 Conference before moving to the SEC – as the “winter of (their) discontent” by kicking off his tenure just as Venables’ mentor Bob Stoops did in Norman.

Win, and win often.

“Now is the winter of our discontent” – that famous line from Shakespeare’s Richard III, which means a time of unhappiness is soon to end – already is looking like a difficult task for Venables and his staff.

Oklahoma’s first true test of the 2022 season is expected to be presented by Nebraska when the Sooners travel to Lincoln Sept. 17 in the first game between the two teams at Memorial Stadium since the Huskers defeated OU 10-3 Nov. 7, 2009.

It’s not just the Huskers being the strongest early season test for the Venables-led Sooners – Oklahoma opens with home games against UTEP and Kent State before playing NU – that could make things tough on the Sooners.

Internal turmoil flared up during the first week of practice when longtime assistant Cale Gundy abruptly resigned Aug. 7 after reading a word from an OU player’s iPad during a film session.

Gundy, who had been an assistant at OU since Stoops became head coach in 1999, said he read a single offending word just once. When Venables addressed the issue in a written statement, he presented a drastically different version of what happened.

“Coach Gundy resigned from the program because he knows what he did was wrong,” Venables said. “He chose to read aloud to his players, not once but multiple times, a racially charged word that is objectionable to everyone, and does not reflect the attitude and values of our university or our football program. This is not acceptable. Period. Coach Gundy did the right thing in resigning.”

That statement by Venables prompted Gundy’s daughter, Cat, to accuse Venables of not properly handling the situation in a since-deleted post on her Twitter account.

“Interesting you told your players to keep their mouths shut about what really happened and their heads down,” Cat Gundy allegedly wrote in her tweet. “The truth will always come to fruition, it’s only a matter of time.”

Not an ideal way to start a new era. On the field, there also have been some major changes to the Sooners roster from the group that had to hang on late to defeat the Huskers 23-16 last season in the first meeting between the storied programs since 2010.

Eight players from the 2021 team that finished 11-2 after a 9-0 start left Norman via the transfer portal. Included in that number are two who followed Riley to Los Angeles – starting quarterback Caleb Williams and one of his top receiving targets, Mario Williams.

The offensive line will open as an area of concern. Having three starters back who were part of a unit that gave up 33 sacks in 13 games is not necessarily a good thing.

Central Florida transfer Dillon Gabriel is expected to take the reins of the new-look OU offense. Gabriel threw for just over 8,000 yards and 70 touchdowns in two-plus seasons at UCF, and he’ll be reunited with Jeff Lebby, his UCF offensive coordinator from 2019 who left Mississippi to join the Sooner staff.

Oklahoma is unproven at running back and the top returning wide receiver is Marvin Mims after the departure of Mario Williams and Jadon Haselwood, who transferred to Arkansas.

The outlook is brighter on the defensive side even though the OU run defense took a big hit in its first loss of the season. Baylor controlled the ball for 35:19 and racked up 297 rushing yards in a 27-14 victory that started a 2-2 finish which took the Sooners out of a chance to play for another Big 12 title.

Expect Venables to work with defensive coordinator Ted Roof to put his stamp on this and future OU defenses. Long one of college football’s top defensive strategists, Venables will not be satisfied with a unit that gives up nearly 400 yards and 26 points per game as the Sooners did last season.

The addition of Tulane transfer Jeffery Johnson in the middle of Oklahoma’s defensive line should help that group avoid a big drop after several key players moved on via transfer or graduation.

Oklahoma’s linebacker corps with DaShaun White, Marcus Stripling and Danny Stutsman could turn into one of the Big 12’s best by midseason.

Transfers will have to step up immediately to help OU’s secondary avoid becoming a liability as was the case in key moments throughout 2021. Trey Morrison (North Carolina) and C.J. Coldon (Wyoming) are the top hopes to make that a better group.

This game won’t carry the conference and national importance as it once did for many decades. Last year the Huskers weren’t supposed to even be on the same field with the Sooners, but NU hung tough and came close to notching a big upset.

While the conference games are still the biggest hurdles for the Huskers, they’re expected to be competitive with an Oklahoma team that again is earning preseason Top 10 accolades. Nebraska will be brimming with confidence if the Huskers can take care of business against Northwestern, North Dakota and Georgia Southern before the Sooners come calling.

If OU’s internal turmoil is still an issue and the Sooners again struggle in one of their first two games – remember they had to hang on to beat Tulane 40-35 in the 2021 opener – a national TV audience and engaged Memorial Stadium crowd could be witnessing an early season donnybrook.

Johnny Rodgers and Barry Switzer, two legends of Nebraska’s and Oklahoma’s past, talk on the sidelines before the 2021 game in Norman.

Frost Short on Words

Scott Frost Was to the Point in Indianapolis

By Shawn Ekwall • Photos by UNL Sports Information

Scott Frost knows there’s only so much to be said. Perhaps that’s why the fifth-year Nebraska coach was brief and to the point during Big Ten media days the last week of July at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

When asked if he’d like to give an opening statement while at the podium, Frost deferred and requested to go right to questions. With the many offseason changes – especially on the coaching staff – Frost is well-aware the 2022 season may decide his future as the Huskers head man.

With a 15-29 record since coming to Nebraska in 2018, Frost understands the “pressure to win now” mindset, not only from the fans, but from within the athletic department. And while last season’s 3-9 finish was extremely disappointing, Frost can point to the fact NU was competitive in each loss, with only one (26-17 to Ohio State) being by more than one score.

“We were competitive in every game last year. We had our chances to win,” Frost said while answering questions from the media. “We made a ton of progress as a program from a talent perspective and a culture perspective. We haven’t gotten where we want it yet.”

An off-season overhaul on the assistant coaching front, especially on offense, will bring a new look to the Huskers in 2022. Four new assistant coaches come on board, along with 16 new players from the transfer portal.

Mark Whipple takes over the play-calling duties as the new offensive coordinator. Last year as the OC at Pitt, Whipple directed a potent offense, led by Kenny Pickett. Pickett, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in April, completed more than 67% of his passes, while throwing for more than 4,300 yards.

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi recently threw shade at his former offensive coordinator for his perceived lack of wanting to run the football.

“Our old offensive coordinator had no desire to run the ball,” Narduzzi said in a recent interview. “Everybody knew it. He was stubborn.”

But Whipple’s results speak for themselves. The Panthers ranked No. 8 in total offense in 2021, ranked third in passing yards and put up 41 points per game.

Can Whipple duplicate that type of success in Year 1 in Lincoln? According to Frost, he doesn’t care how it occurs.

“If we score as many points as they did last year (at Pitt), I don’t care if we run it, throw it or kick it,” Frost said.

With Frost handing over the play-calling duties, it will allow him to be more involved in other areas, including special teams – an area of well-known struggles for the Huskers in recent years.

“It makes me a little sad,” Frost said of handing over play-calling duties. “But it’s also helped me focus on a lot of areas where we can get better.” Frost vowed to “remain involved a lot” with the offense in collaboration with Whipple.

Frost was joined in Indianapolis by three players: tight end Travis Vokolek, edge Garrett Nelson and cornerback Quinton Newsome.
Vokolek stressed the importance of taking things one game, one day at a time to turn the corner.

“I’ve said it before: We want to go 1-0 every week,” Vokelek said. “In every rep, in everything we do, we want to go 1-0.”

Nelson, whom Frost called “one of the best leaders to ever come through the program,” said NU players are approaching the season with a chip on their shoulders.

“Everything’s right in the world when you win football games, and that hasn’t happened in my life in college yet,” Nelson said.

It’s human nature to hear the outside noise. Especially when wins are few and far between. Nelson said it’s that motivation to quiet the critics and defend his head coach – whom he calls a “father figure” – that has him and teammates geared up.

“It’s time to play. Growing that chip on your shoulder from the negative stuff … it’s time to play.”

Players, coaches and Nebraska Athletic Director Trev Alberts all pointed to one area – leadership – as a vital piece in turning things around.

“It’s going to take great leadership,” Alberts said. “I think Scott can do that – I know he’s working hard on that – but that’s going to be really critical. Because a team full of talent isn’t necessarily a team.”

Newsome’s mindset this offseason has been to take over the leadership void left by Cam Taylor-Britt, now with the Cincinnati Bengals.

“My mission is to lead,” Newsome said in reference to the secondary. “To help bring along the new guys … all of them are really starting to come along and we’re headed in the right direction.” Frost echoed Alberts’ statement that a talented team doesn’t always equate to winning.

Defensive back Quinton Newsome, tight end Travis Vokolek and edge Garrett Nelson were Nebraska’s player representatives in Indianapolis.

“You can have a lot of talent, but that doesn’t always make a team,” Frost said. “We gotta become one team, one heartbeat both as a coaching staff and as a team.”

Losing wears on players, coaches and fans – especially when those losses are competitive close losses. Nebraska knows it was close in 2021. The goal is to finish and get over the hump in 2022.

Alberts wouldn’t bite when asked what the magic number of wins needed for Frost to keep his job. However, he acknowledged that pressure exists.

“Every single coach in the Big Ten is under the pressure to win. We’re in the competition business – that’s not going to change,” Alberts said. “We don’t get tenure in athletics.”

Nelson, who never minces words, offered an interesting analogy to the narrow defeats in 2021.

“It’s like going to a bar every Friday and talking to a chick all night and all of a sudden her boyfriend walks over and takes her home.”

Huskers Striving for Fast Start to Season

Does Last Year’s Blowout Win Against Northwestern Give Nebraska an Edge?

By Steve Beideck • Photos by Reggie Ryder

Nebraska players were hopeful a year ago the thumping they put on Northwestern would be a momentum-builder for the final six games of the 2021 season.

The Wildcats were the defending Big Ten West champions and harbored hopes, at the least, of another bowl game appearance.

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Running back Jaquez Yant had his best game of the season against Northwestern in 2021 with 13 carries for 127 yards, which included a 64-yard run.

Instead of that 56-7 victory igniting a second-half resurgence following a 3-3 start, the Oct. 2 blowout was the last time Nebraska would win a game.

The 2022 battle of the Big Ten teams with Ns on their helmets – both of which finished 2021 with 3-9 records – has a different theme than recent meetings. Both schools are looking for fast starts to a crucial season.

Northwestern has demonstrated an ability in recent years to bounce back from subpar seasons. In 2019, the Wildcats had another of those 3-9 seasons, but went 7-2 in the pandemic-abbreviated 2020 season and reached the Big Ten title game.

Does the yo-yo come back up in 2022 for Pat Fitzgerald’s charges? More was expected of Northwestern last season, but an anemic offense and underachieving defense produced mostly disappointing results.

The Wildcats have rarely been offensive juggernauts. Even when they’re eking out victories and winning seasons, much of the credit rightly lends to consistently stellar defensive efforts.

Nebraska’s yo-yo keeps hitting the floor. A coaching change from Mike Riley to Scott Frost following the 2017 season has produced more heartache than reasons to celebrate.

The Huskers haven’t had a winning season since 2016. They haven’t won a postseason game since the 2015 Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara, California. Their record at Memorial Stadium since 2017 is 13-18.

Frost-led teams haven’t come close to a winning season since his ballyhooed arrival from Central Florida. The Huskers are 15-29 in Frost’s four seasons, including an 11-13 record in home games.

Some of that can be forgiven by the fan base if fortunes begin to change early and continue through the 2022 season. A late-August game shouldn’t be a make-or-break affair for a coach, but it could be just that for Frost and Co. with a poor showing on the national stage in Dublin, Ireland.

Especially after Nebraska annihilated the Wildcats a year ago when quarterback Adrian Martinez had three rushing touchdowns in the first 10:46, and place-kicker Connor Culp had yet to catch the yips that would cost him his starting job.

Nebraska will be properly favored against the Wildcats, but no one can count on a blowout in the season opener, especially in this series.

Six of the 11 Nebraska-Northwestern games played since the two programs became conference mates in 2011 have been decided by three points or less. Both teams have won three and lost three.

Edge Garrett Nelson, left, and JoJo Domann celebrate a sack against Northwestern.
Edge Garrett Nelson, left, and JoJo Domann celebrate a sack against Northwestern.

Nebraska should be more familiar with Northwestern’s personnel. Not just because of the Wildcats number of returning starters, but because the Huskers had so much turnover in both their roster and coaching staff.

The Huskers hit the portal hard to remake an offense that now will be run by offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, even a few offensive linemen will be new to the Northwestern defense.

Northwestern’s defense will have a few new faces, but the way Fitzgerald builds from the linebacker spots both forward to the D-line and backward to the safeties will again spell trouble for opposing offenses. Bryce Gallagher, like Garrett Nelson for the Huskers, will be the pulse of the defense from his linebacker spot.

If Whipple wants his offense to throw the ball around Aviva Stadium – the soccer pitch that will host this game in Dublin – he’ll have to solve an experienced secondary trying to stop Nebraska’s new corps of receivers. Coco Azema, Cameron Mitchell and A.J. Hampton all are returning Wildcat starters.

The only drawback to having that group back is that Northwestern defenders picked off just six passes all of last season, and the star who had two of those – safety Brandon Joseph – transferred across the Illinois-Indiana state line to play for Notre Dame.

Even with several offensive players back for the Wildcats, the quarterback position is still up for grabs. Ryan Hilinski and Brendan Sullivan are vying for the starting spot.

The strength of the Northwestern offense likely will be the offensive line with four starters returning, led by left tackle Peter Skoronski. Andrew Clair and Evan Hull are expected to be the one-two punch in the backfield behind Hilinski or Sullivan.

Here’s the recent history that is on Northwestern’s side. Only once under Fitzgerald have the Wildcats had back-to-back losing seasons (2013 and 2014). He figures to have his team ready.

What’s the recent history that supports a Nebraska victory? The Huskers defeated the Wildcats both in 2013 and 2014, though one of those wins took a miracle heave from Ron Kellogg III to Jordan Westerkamp on the final play to secure the victory.

But the most telling item still favors the Huskers – that 56-7 victory last season.

On the Bandwagon? Proof Is Needed

Season’s Second Half Will Tell the Story

Opinion • By Steve Beideck

Sometime this season Nebraska football will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its last national championship.

Scott Frost was still coaching at Central Florida, Dave Rimington was the interim athletic director and the 2017 season had already begun to implode – remember the 21-17 loss to Northern Illinois? – the last time the 1997 champions gathered for a celebration of those glory days at Memorial Stadium.

Milestone anniversary seasons for that most recent title team, with maybe one exception, have been forgettable campaigns. They also illustrate the coaching instability that has gripped the program since Tom Osborne retired following the Orange Bowl victory over Tennessee that secured Nebraska’s fifth national championship.

Here’s a quick review of those anniversary seasons:

• 2002 – Despite a 3-0 start, Frank Solich’s fifth NU team ended the season 7-7 with some tough-to-take, double-digit road losses at Penn State (40-7), Iowa State (36-14) and Kansas State (49-13). Despite a 10-3 record the following year with a revamped coaching staff, then-Athletic Director Steve Pederson made the catastrophic decision to fire Solich and sent the Husker program on a descent into mediocrity from which it has yet to recover.

• 2007 – As the program descended beyond mediocrity under the guidance of Bill Callahan and Kevin Cosgrove, ultimately ending in Pederson’s midseason firing by Chancellor Harvey Perlman, the Huskers gave up 76 points to Kansas and 65 to Colorado in their final two losses in a 5-7 season. Osborne, who replaced Pederson as AD, fired Callahan.

• 2012 – The 15th anniversary season produced Nebraska’s last appearance in a conference championship game, and it’s one Husker faithful would like to forget. Wisconsin scored 21 points in each of the first three quarters as Nebraska’s defense gave up a record 539 rushing yards in a 70-31 loss to the Badgers. There also was a 63-38 regular season loss to Ohio State, but Bo Pelini’s fifth team still posted a 10-4 record. That’s the last time Nebraska posted a double-digit number of victories.

• 2017 – On the 10th anniversary of Pederson’s midseason firing, AD Shawn Eichorst was fired by Perlman following the loss to Northern Illinois. The ’97 team gathered for the 20th-year reunion at the Wisconsin game, which ended in a 38-17 NU loss. That setback began a run of six losses in the final seven games, resulting in Mike Riley’s dismissal after four seasons. In the final three games, the Huskers lost to Minnesota 54-21, Penn State 56-44 and Iowa 56-14. Nebraska’s streak of five consecutive seasons without a bowl game appearance began this year as well.

So here we are in 2022. Not since the 1950s have the Huskers had such a difficult time winning football games. There has been plenty of optimism prior to each of Frost’s first four seasons, but all have ended in profound disappointment.

Athletic Director Trev Alberts has given Frost this season to show progress – a bowl appearance would be a good start – with a revamped coaching staff a la Solich in 2003. While everyone around the program is saying the right things during fall camp, there’s still plenty of reason to wonder if the Huskers can win six games in 2022.

A review of the schedule favors the Huskers chances of potentially winning two more games than they did in the 3-9 2021 campaign. Replacing Michigan State and Ohio State with Indiana and Rutgers as East Division opponents provides a ray of optimism.

It’s easy to envision a 5-1 start to the season. Nebraska thumped Northwestern 56-3 last season, so a loss to the Wildcats would put a cloud of doom over the program as soon as they board the plane in Dublin to return to Lincoln.

If the Huskers do beat Northwestern – Nebraska was a 12.5 favorite at the time of publication – they can’t get overconfident against their first two nonconference opponents. North Dakota and Georgia Southern are must-win games. If there’s a 2017 Northern Illinois slip-up in either of those games … let’s don’t think about that for now.

Picturing a 3-0 start heading into a home game with Oklahoma is the ideal – and for some, only – way to begin the season. A win over the preseason No. 9-ranked Sooners ignites genuine optimism not seen around Lincoln in close to two decades.

A loss to OU? It wouldn’t doom the season, because the final eight games are more important to the overall narrative. Those are the conference games to show if the Huskers really have learned how to win under a group of new coaches.

The three most important games in the first half of the season are Northwestern, Indiana and Rutgers. Winning those three puts NU at 3-0 in the Big Ten West heading into the second half of the season, which is the most concerning part of the schedule. The last time the Huskers played all six of those teams – 2021 – they lost. That’s true even for Indiana – the Hoosiers beat NU 38-31 the last time they met (2019) – but IU was 2-10 last season.

Yes, those setbacks to Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa all were by seven or fewer points. Nebraska hasn’t shown in recent years that they can consistently be competitive with any of those teams under a staff helmed by Frost.

That reluctant pessimism last season led me to predict a 4-8 finish for the Huskers. Even that was one game too optimistic.

Right now, I can’t get past this scenario for 2022 – a 5-1 start followed by an 0-6 second half and the streak of no bowl games growing to six seasons.

A loss to any of those first three Big Ten opponents, and the picture only gets more bleek. It’s easy, and lazy, to just assume Nebraska should beat Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota and any other West Division foe.

If this was 1997, those would be perfectly logical assumptions, just sub in Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State for those three. But this is 2022. On-field proof is needed. Hopefully that is what happens.

Players and coaches from Nebraska’s 1997 national championship team that beat Tennessee and Peyton Manning in the Orange Bowl acknowledge fans as they enter Memorial Stadium during a 20-year reunion at the 2017 Wisconsin game. Those pictured include Steve Warren, Jack Pierce, Charlie McBride, Aaron Taylor and Tom Osborne.

Welcome USC and UCLA, Nebraska Is Happy to See You

Conference Realignment and NCAA Rules Changes Are Working to NU’s Favor

Opinion • By Thad Livingston

The Huskers take the field in 2012 at UCLA’s home field at Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California. The Bruins beat Nebraska in both 2012 and 2013.

Have you come down from the high yet?

No, I’m not talking about the Husker softball team’s Big Ten championship. Which, these days – I admit – does rank among the biggest news in Husker Athletics.

And folks, Nebraska will take all the championships it can get, softball or otherwise. Congratulations. But the big news I’m talking about is USC and UCLA joining the family in 2024.

It’s been almost two months since the announcement, and I’m still somewhat staggered, often finding myself pondering the long-term effects of this wonderfully unexpected happenstance.

The Huskers, in a fly-over state with little recent athletic success – enter the requisite volleyball exception here – are right in the middle of the coolest club in college athletics, also known as the Big Ten, and the jealousy is palpable. There’s SEC resentment. We’re still the best football conference! Some bring up logistics. Good luck with the travel! And the cultural differences. Tinseltown vs. states with small towns.

Then there’s the irony of feeling sorry for a school like Kansas just months after the Jayhawks won a national basketball title. We are among the best basketball programs in basketball-loving America. Can we come too?

Sorry boys. We told you the toxic Texas thing would blow up eventually. But we’ll put in a good word for you with our friends Michigan, Ohio State, USC and UCLA at the next pool party over in the gated community.

I know, snobbishness doesn’t wear well in Nebraska, but then again, it’s not Nebraska’s fault the college sports Pangaea is separating in such a way as to position Nebraska in an ideal climate in which to thrive, while other perfectly fine universities are sliding to the cold, harsh poles where survival is difficult and few venture.

One glance at a sepia photograph of a polar explorer – beard frozen, face awkwardly windblown, coat made of four dead goats and hugging a penguin – is proof enough you don’t want to be out there.

The cover of the game program from USC's visit to Memorial Stadium in 1969. The Trojans won, 31-21. The next year, the Huskers and Trojans played to a 21-21 tie, but Nebraska would go on to win a share of the national title.
The cover of the game program from USC’s visit to Memorial Stadium in 1969. The Trojans won, 31-21. The next year, the Huskers and Trojans played to a 21-21 tie, but Nebraska would go on to win a share of the national title.

It’s perfectly understandable why Kansas, which is actually good at something, would be pulling out its feathers in frustration.
Kansas fan is looking at Nebraska and saying, “Herbie, you’re only in the cool club because of events more than two decades in the past.” Herbie can counter by saying, “I have a fan base that continues to fill a huge football stadium and there are Nebraska expats and football connoisseurs spread across the nation who know the Husker brand and who will watch me play on their televisions out of nothing more perhaps than morbid curiosity.”

OK, maybe Herbie doesn’t say the morbid curiosity part, but he wouldn’t be wrong.

To most of the country, Herbie was born on third base. They don’t remember – or care – about the mid-1990s. They view the great Husker teams of the early ’70s much like Herbie views the great Minnesota teams of the mid-’30s and early ’40s. Wait, Minnesota was good at football? Yep. I Googled it. True.

The lens most people see Nebraska through is this: Since 2011, when Nebraska joined the Big Ten, its records in football are 9-4, 10-4, 9-4, 9-4, 6-7, 9-4, 4-8, 4-8, 5-7, 3-5, 3-9. Those last four are Scott Frost’s.

It’s almost not worth mentioning, but the second-most watched sport, men’s basketball, has this to show for its 11 years in the league: 12-18, 15-18, 19-13, 13-18, 16-18, 12-19, 22-11, 19-17, 7-25, 7-20, 10-22. Those last three are Fred Hoiberg’s.

Instead of the Big Ten, Nebraska has somehow performed as if it joined the NFC North and the Central Division of the NBA’s Eastern Conference.

When it comes to football, I have the feeling Nebraska’s all-to-often miserable play – at least in the beginning – somehow boosted the confidence of others in the league. It shouldn’t have. Nebraska hasn’t been Nebraska since joining the league. It’s not them, it’s, well, us! Nebraska has not been what the league thought it was getting, and that’s a bit scary with tectonic shifts rumbling through college sports every other year.

But for now, with USC and UCLA, two of the shiniest brands in the land, shaking the landscape, along with several NCAA rules changes, Nebraska football is in position to take major steps back toward relevance.

Here are some reasons why:

Money, of Course

The Big Ten media rights windfall will put Nebraska on a level few will be able to approach. Remember, Nebraska sells out a 90,000-seat stadium seven times a year. Men’s basketball and volleyball are also revenue producers. There is also Big Ten Network revenue and other revenue we won’t go into here. As of this writing, the league’s massive new media rights agreement is reportedly anywhere from seven years for $7 billion to nearly $8 billion starting in 2023. According to a Los Angeles Times report on this magazine’s deadline, there are “financial escalators” that could push it to almost $10 billion. That puts each Big Ten school’s annual payout at an estimated $62.5 million on the low side, and depending on the escalators, it could be much, much more. The LA Times also reported the deal is backloaded and increases significantly in Years 3 through 7.

For comparison, one projection for 2022 many media types point to has each vested Big Ten school receiving around $57.2 million under the old deal, which would already be the highest in the country. It’s true the Big Ten was doing just fine without USC and UCLA, and was already in line for a mega media rights deal. With the two newcomers, it will be even larger.

Fox, NBC and CBS are all on board, and Big Ten games will be televised in three different time slots each Saturday, and still other games will be on BTN and there’s talk of a streaming package. Good heavens, if it seems like the Big Ten will be taking over college football, that’s because it is.

Much has been made of the Big Ten’s pending split with ESPN, which will be all-in on the SEC, and will now have money to spend on the Big 12 and Pac-12, which is good for those two leagues. Having a predictably smaller presence on “College GameDay” will hurt, and having ESPN pumping the SEC 24/7 will push the Big Ten into the shadows, at least in some homes.

That said, in the era of cord-cutting, the Big Ten suddenly is on three national over-the-air networks in three different time slots. So, if you have a television, you can watch Big Ten football for nine hours each Saturday. You don’t need cable.

Regardless, until the next shake-up at least, schools in the Big Ten and SEC stand head and shoulders above those in other conferences. Over time, it’s not a stretch to say those are the two conferences where the best players and best coaches will want to be. They are where the nation’s eyeballs will be fixated. That means most of the rest of the schools in the country are potential feeder schools. Current coach not getting it done? Open the vault, pay him off and grab the guy who’s proved he’s ready for the big time after cutting his teeth at one of those suddenly “less elite” schools with comparative paltry athletic budgets – like Florida State, Baylor or Arizona.

If that’s too much of a stretch for you, look at it in the most practical terms: As any administrator will tell you, it’s a luxury to have profits to pour back into your product and spend time working with your staff to find ways to make your product even better. And it’s drudgery being forced to cut spending and talent to meet budget, which in the end, hurts the product and just makes everyone miserable.

Nebraska will be the former group. For as far as the eye can see.

Athletes I

A reason often cited for Nebraska’s rough go in the Big Ten is that it lost its recruiting pipeline to Texas when it left the Big 12. If so, that same theory now should work to Nebraska’s benefit in California. Texas has about 30 million people. California has 40 million. Nebraska is the closest school in the Big Ten to California. Nebraska has always recruited California, but the competition is tough. It just got easier now that the two premier California football schools are moving Nebraska’s way.

Athletes II

It bears repeating: If you are truly a top athlete coming out of high school, it will be hard not to be attracted to one of the two conferences that provides the best coaches, the best training, the best competition, the best facilities and the most national media coverage.

The Shake-Up

USC and UCLA will take the monkey off Nebraska’s back. As Nebraska did, USC and UCLA will shoulder the burden of losing their identities and having to reshape them in a league with a different mentality. The Trojans and Bruins will poo-poo this notion, and then after a decent win, will realize they have to play the next game with two third-string offensive linemen because three in the two-deep got hurt in their “big win” and a fourth had to move to bolster the defensive line because the starting defensive tackle got put in concussion protocol.

Husker receiver Jamal Turner evades UCLA defenders in a 2012 matchup at Rose Bowl Stadium, a game won by UCLA 36-30.
Husker receiver Jamal Turner evades UCLA defenders in a 2012 matchup at Rose Bowl Stadium, a game won by UCLA 36-30.

Also, the original Big Ten teams have been playing each other since the ball was stuffed. Nebraska gave them a new toy to smash – something to get excited about. Now it will be USC and UCLA who will get to be the league’s new tackling dummy. They will get everyone’s best shot. And won’t it be compelling television when Southern Cal plays a November game in Ann Arbor when it’s windy and 15 degrees?

Where’s the Beef?

At Nebraska, which has adjusted to the league in the most important way – finally. Here, I give kudos to the nutrition and strength staffs. Last season, while not a success, finally proved there is enough beef up front on both sides of the ball to be competitive. The Big Ten is all about lineman attrition. You can’t have too many big bodies. Build from the inside out.

The flashy stuff comes second. The few real good teams have both. Nebraska has stacked the bodies, now it needs to execute and let the flash, well, flash.

New Rules

NIL, the transfer portal and football’s one-time transfer exception all present timely opportunities for Nebraska. The league’s monetary windfall will help make Nebraska, already a good landing spot for “free agents,” an even better one.

Nebraska wisely took the portal plunge and used the summer as a second recruiting cycle, attracting 16 transfers. NIL money undoubtedly helped and will continue to help. As the years roll on, Nebraska’s facilities and fan base should continue to attract highly thought-of transfers. And the new football facility, new coaches and a decent season this year could ignite prep recruiting for the 2023 and 2024 classes.

There are schools that pride themselves on not turning to the transfer portal – Clemson for one. Iowa, too. They like to send the message that “we’ve done our homework and we already have the players we want and they like us, too.” Good for them. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Nebraska has always used anything it could to its advantage. Proposition 48 helped build the powerhouse teams of the ’90s and then the NCAA changed the rules. Nebraska pioneered strength and conditioning and then everybody else caught up. The list goes on.
It’s hard to say that conference realignment, NIL and athletes switching schools like they change their daily underwear are good things for college athletics. But are they good for Nebraska?

Nebraska has a history with UCLA, playing the Bruins 11 times since 1972. Nebraska won seven of those games, and also won the last matchup, 37-29 in the 2015 Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara, California. Pictured here is the 2012 Nebraska-UCLA game in Pasadena.

They sure are.

Is This the Year?

By Jeff Bundy

Well, that time of year has finally come. Husker Nation has been debating since the spring game over whether this will be Scott Frost’s breakthrough year or his final year. Since last football season we have had a coaching staff overhaul, a revised head coach’s contract, 16 new faces from the portal and a small recruiting class that didn’t much impress the experts, ranked No. 41 nationally and No. 10 in the Big Ten, according to 247Sports composite.

Frost has to make it work this year, for himself to retain his job and for the fan base’s morale. To what degree of success Frost must reach, only Athletic Director Trev Alberts knows.

For the record, I am a Frost fan. I covered him as a high school athlete, at Nebraska as a quarterback and now as the head coach, but here is a fact: With Frost’s current record of 15-29, it would take four years of 8-4 seasons to reach a winning percentage of .500 at Nebraska. In the Big Ten, 8-4 is not easy. in its Big Ten preseason poll of writers who cover the league picked Nebraska to finish fifth in the West Division ahead of only Illinois and Northwestern. That’s a good indication of what those outside the program think of Frost’s work. Let’s hope they are wrong.

A lot is riding on this season. If Frost does not get it done, can the fan base take another coaching search and the inevitable rebuilding years? Will the sellout streak stay intact? Will donors continue to open up their wallets?

When answering the phone here at the office, I always get the same questions. How does the team look and is this Frost’s year? It’s hard for me to answer. Just because we cover the team does not mean we have unlimited access. We were allowed to watch two practices for 30 minutes during fall camp. Here is what I can tell you: The team appears to be holding each other accountable for their mess ups. This is a little thing, but during stretching one player called out a teammate for not doing all of his jumping jacks. The entire team did the exercise again. You may think, who cares about jumping jacks? But it was an example of players holding other players accountable. We heard that theme over and over through fall camp.

Off the field, there have been a lot of dynamics that appear positive for Nebraska. All the Big Ten schools look to financially benefit from the addition of UCLA and USC. A new television deal starting in 2023 will bring in more than $1 billion annually to the conference with games being broadcast on Fox, NBC and CBS. With ESPN out of the picture, more people – meaning even those without cable – will have access to the games and that could help with attracting players. I would imagine that Husker fans will travel very well to California rather than going to New Jersey. Contributing writer Thad Livingston breaks down the move of UCLA and USC to the Big Ten and what it means for Nebraska football. You can read Livingston’s column on Page 10.

Our cover story is about family tradition – Sam Sledge and Maverick Noonan following in their fathers’ footsteps to play football for the Huskers. Bob Sledge was an offensive tackle who graduated in 1988. Danny Noonan was a nose guard who graduated in 1986. Their sons, both 2023 recruits, are impressive young men. At the photo shoot both shook my hand, looked me in the eye and confidently visited with me. These are not the first sons to follow in their fathers’ footsteps. Nebraska has had quite a list of father/son combos. Here are a few: Larry and Scott Frost; Tom, Barrett and Bo Ruud; Johnny and Terry Rodgers; Tony and Josh Davis; Dean, Baker and Ty Steinkuhler; Jimmy, Jamie and Dan Burrows; Tom and Josh Banderas; Barney, Sam, Ben and Jake Cotton; Ben and Morgan Gregory; Bill and Jesse Kosch; Tony and Joey Felici; Dan and Cole Pensick; and Scott and John Raridon.

You can read more about the Noonans and Sledges in the story written by contributing writer Clark Grell on Page 4.


Husker volleyball was selected No. 1 in the AVCA preseason poll. The last time John Cook’s squad was preseason No. 1 was in 2016. That team went 31-3 and was eliminated by Texas 3-0 in the NCAA tournament semifinals.

With the national championship being held in Omaha this year, you know Cook’s radar will be pointed 50 miles north all season. Contributing writer Lincoln Arneal will be covering the volleyball team for Huskers Illustrated. You can read more about the team in Arneal’s story on Page 32.


Men’s basketball coach Fred Hoiberg also has a restructured contract. Will the hiring of assistant coach Ernie Zeigler from Mississippi State and native son portal transfer Sam Griesel help the basketball team get over the hump? Jacob Bigelow offers his opinion on Page 36.

As always, thank you for for being a subscriber to Huskers Illustrated. We appreciate your support and readership. Go Big Red!

Casey Thompson Gets Another Shot at OU

Charles Thompson Will Be in the Stands When Sooners Return to Memorial Stadium

By Clark Grell

Former Oklahoma quarterback Charles Thompson holds a portrait of himself and his son, Casey, now a quarterback at Nebraska after transferring from Texas. “I’m 100% supportive and behind my son,” Charles said.
Former Oklahoma quarterback Charles Thompson holds a portrait of himself and his son, Casey, now a quarterback at Nebraska after transferring from Texas. “I’m 100% supportive and behind my son,” Charles said.

Charles Thompson loves talking football with his three sons, including Casey. They’ll talk strategy before games. They’ll recap the games. They are film junkies.

On this winter day in Lincoln, Charles was talking history with his middle son – a little Sooner-Cornhusker blast from the past.
Casey, who had just entered the transfer portal after four years at Texas, was on an unofficial visit to Nebraska. It was his first look at Memorial Stadium. But not Dad’s.

About 35 years after leading Oklahoma to a victory over NU, the memories are still clear as day.

They walked around the stadium. Charles showed Casey where he made some big plays. He pointed out that it was the Sooners running out of the northwest tunnel on a cold November day.

“I told him the sideline on this play …,” Charles recalled. “‘You remember this play I ran? …'”

This, however, was more than a trip to revisit the past. It was about Casey’s future and where he was going to finish his college career. Dad wanted his son to go to a school that put him in the best position to succeed – even if that meant playing for the rival Huskers.

Casey, of course, picked Nebraska. It was a proud and emotional day for father and son, and somewhat of a surreal moment for Charles, who has and always will bleed Oklahoma red.

Now imagine the emotions Charles will encounter on Sept. 17 when he watches Casey, who is projected to start under center this fall, lead the Huskers against his beloved Sooners in Lincoln.

“No one questions my love and passion that I have for the University of Oklahoma, the fact that I played there and what it means to me,” Charles said from his home in Oklahoma City. “But I’m 100% supportive and behind my son and I want him to have success. To answer your question that may come: Who will I be rooting for? Of course, it will be Casey and the Nebraska Cornhuskers.”

Football is never too far from Charles Thompson’s thoughts. His old Sooner jersey and a magazine cover that hang in his home are just two of many constant reminders.
Football is never too far from Charles Thompson’s thoughts. His old Sooner jersey and a magazine cover that hang in his home are just two of many constant reminders.

The man who delivered Nebraska fans heartache in the “Game of the Century II” will have the Huskers close to his heart this year.

The Thompsons love football. For Charles, that included watching each of his three boys play on Friday nights in Oklahoma. His oldest son, Kendal, played quarterback at Oklahoma before finishing his collegiate run at Utah and later in the NFL. Casey had an illustrious prep career before heading to Texas. Cade, the youngest, also played high school football.

Since they were little, Charles has mentored his boys, coaching them in his youth football program. Interestingly, because he had a couple other talented quarterbacks on the team, Charles had Casey play tight end, running back and linebacker growing up.

That was OK with Casey.

“People used to identify Casey because he was the only kid on the sideline that never took his helmet off,” Charles said. “He loved hitting. He was a physical guy, and he was kind of tough to be honest with you, at a young age. You could feel he had a knack for the game of football from a very early age.”

By the sixth or seventh grade, Casey moved to the position he loved most – quarterback. Dad was there every step of the way, grooming his son to be a college-ready signal-caller.

Does Charles see a little of himself when watching Casey play the position?

“I think just a little OCD,” Charles said. “(We) just want to be perfect. The one thing that we have in common is we love watching film. You don’t have to force Casey to do it. He’s just going to do it automatically. That’s just who he is.”

Their relationship is built on love, trust and honesty. Charles knows he can offer a tough critique without Casey taking it the wrong way.

“A lot of people that are around us will say, ‘Gosh, you’re really hard on Casey,'” Charles said. “But that’s how we can identify and talk to each other. He expects me to push him to be the best he can be.”

Charles Thompson wasn’t supposed to start under center when No. 2 Oklahoma visited No. 1 Nebraska on Nov. 21, 1987. Jamelle Holieway, who led OU to a national championship in 1985, was the Sooners’ rock at QB, but he tore his ACL against Oklahoma State.
Enter Charles, a 5-foot-9, 165-pound redshirt freshman who played much bigger than his size listed in the program.

The Lawton, Oklahoma, native was now the Sooners’ starting QB two weeks ahead of the showdown in Lincoln. OU was No. 1 when it played Missouri in mid-November – a week ahead of NU – but the Sooners barely escaped (17-13), and they swapped places with Nebraska in the Top 25.

All that did was ignite a spark in Thompson.

What stands out about the highly anticipated Game of the Century II?

Charles Thompson was a 5-foot-9, 165-pound redshirt freshman when he ran for 126 yards to help the No. 2 Sooners beat No. 1 Nebraska in 1987.
Charles Thompson was a 5-foot-9, 165-pound redshirt freshman when he ran for 126 yards to help the No. 2 Sooners beat No. 1 Nebraska in 1987.

Charles remembered seeing Nebraska’s defensive linemen warming up without sleeves on a frigid day, even though teammate Keith Jackson told him, “Don’t look at the linemen,” during warmups.

He remembered a loud Memorial Stadium making it tough to get the game’s first snap off.

“I can’t explain to you the knots that were in my throat,” Charles said. “But I lived and prepared for that moment, and it was something that I just knew I had to go out there and do what I’ve known and knew how to do my entire life and play the game of football.”

He ran the wishbone offense like a veteran, rushing for 126 yards as the Sooners bulldozed their way to a 17-7 one-sided victory.
“When you talk about a big-stage game … (When) I was 6 years old I dreamed of playing in that game, and I watched it many, many times on Thanksgiving Day,” Charles said. “And here I was a part of it – a right to not only win a Big Eight championship, but a chance to play for a national championship in the Orange Bowl.”

Charles was an All-Big Eight quarterback in 1988, but his collegiate career came to an abrupt stop after a drug arrest. He never played for the Sooners again, but Thompson grew from the experience.

He eventually returned to school to earn his degree and became a motivational speaker. He’s a licensed minister and runs the Oklahoma City Inner Youth Football Program, which unfolds over a 22-acre plot of land.

“My dad has done a great job of just preaching patience, just being ready for my opportunity, and also staying focused,” Casey told ESPN last year. “The experiences he went through in life, having to deal with adversity, has molded who I am today and I’m very appreciative of that.”

Charles’ sons have seen most of his Oklahoma games on tape, and yes, the NU-OU game of 1987 comes up a lot. On that day, Charles cemented his place in one of college football’s best rivalries.

“We’ve watched years of me even playing back from my high school days all the way to my college days, so they certainly know a lot about what I consider the best game I played at Oklahoma,” Charles said.

Sept. 17 will not be the first time Charles has rooted for his son against the Sooners. Just last year, Casey piloted Texas’ offense against OU in the Red River rivalry, another one of college football’s great clashes.

The intertwining story was a part of ESPN’s “College GameDay” broadcast on the same day OU and Texas met in Dallas. ESPN’s Chris Fowler asked Charles what he was going to feel watching his son play against his school.

“When people say it and they talk about it in a futuristic tense, it doesn’t really do it justice when it’s in the moment,” said Charles, who knows the Red River rivalry well – he broke free for a 65-yard touchdown against the Horns in 1987. “I remember how I felt leading up to it. (Fowler) even tried to explain what I was going to feel, and it wasn’t nearly as close to what it felt like.”

A nervous father watched as Casey, making his fourth start, completed 20-of-34 passes for 388 yards and five touchdowns in the Longhorns’ 55-48 loss to the Sooners. Charles, of course, wanted a different outcome for his son.

It took a long time to get used to watching Casey don the burnt orange, Charles added, which is why he wore a black Texas shirt to his son’s games.

Charles doesn’t like to use the word “hate,” but back when he played there was no other way to describe Texas. “It’s hard as you get older to use the word hated, but that’s how you described it as an adjective,” he said. “We really had this hatred for Texas. With Nebraska, it was a rivalry, but it was a mutual respected rivalry. Kind of like we almost feared that these guys could be on your level.

“With Texas, it was just more I can’t stand them, and I want to beat them.”

But those feelings have passed. Charles enjoyed watching Casey emerge as Texas’ starting quarterback last year.

He watched as Casey threw for 2,113 yards and a Big 12-best 24 touchdowns. But when UT coach Steve Sarkisian told reporters that he was opening the quarterback competition ahead of the 2022 season, the junior-to-be decided it was in his best interest to pursue a new opportunity.

“Honestly, I think sometimes in life you just feel like it’s time for a restart,” Casey told reporters in the spring. “It’s time for a change. I kind of just felt like I stuck around. I went through different offenses and coaching staffs, and I just felt like it was time for me to move on.”

Casey chose Nebraska over Oklahoma and Auburn in early January, then plunged into a new playbook. He already had a connection with Scott Frost. The Nebraska head coach began following Casey while serving as offensive coordinator at Oregon and then recruited the quarterback at UCF.

Their paths finally crossed in Lincoln.

Casey had to wait a little to show his new teammates what he could do with his arm, but he didn’t waste any time putting his smarts on display. Just two weeks into his time in Lincoln, Casey took his offensive linemen to Rodizio Grill for dinner, picking up the tab.

Then he went to work with the wideouts. Casey was feeling at home.

It’s the spiciest home game of the season. When Nebraska hosts Oklahoma in September, the Sooners will likely be a top-10 team. The last time they were in Lincoln (2009), Bo Pelini put together a defensive masterpiece in a 10-3 Husker win.

For Casey, it will be another shot at the Sooners after falling short last year. Charles will be in the stands, his legacy painted in Sooner crimson but his rooting interest firmly in the corner of Nebraska.

Speaking of corners, Casey and his new teammates will enter the field from the same northwest tunnel that Charles ran out of 35 years ago. And for the second straight year, Casey will be staring straight into the rich history of the Oklahoma program, one that includes his father.

“When I look at it, it’s kind of weird how life goes,” Charles said. “Oklahoma and Texas is a rivalry and Oklahoma-Nebraska is a rivalry. To have a son to participate in both of those rivalries … it’s modern day college football that you can have a son, the same son, one year play against my school and next year be at the other school and participate in that rivalry.

“You can never say never.”