Blackshirts Ready For Next Step

There Are Holes to Fill but a Whole Summer and Fall to Fill Them

By Steve Beideck

For a group that entered spring football with a number of concerns, real or imagined, Nebraska’s defensive line had a solid showing in the 2022 spring game.

With five starters and regular contributors gone from last season’s lineup, a new crew of defensive linemen was eager to show that they’re prepared to fill those positions.

News on April 20 that Casey Rogers was entering the transfer portal puts more pressure on an inexperienced crew to stop opponents’ run games. The junior from Syracuse, New York, played in 19 games during his three seasons in Lincoln.

The 2021 campaign was a difficult one for Rogers, who missed the first five games because of a knee injury during preseason practice. Near the end of the season finale against Iowa, Rogers reinjured the knee and missed all of spring ball.

There’s a chance that Rogers could return if he doesn’t have any suitors, but the Huskers now will be looking even harder for additional depth at an already-thin position now coached by Mike Dawson.

Fourth-year sophomore Ty Robinson (6-foot-6, 305 pounds) and Rogers were expected to be anchors of the interior line. More will now be expected from Nash Hutmacher and walk-on Colton Feist of Yutan.

Feist (6-2, 280) went through Senior Day ceremonies before the Iowa game but has elected to return for a fifth season. Injuries kept Feist out of Nebraska’s first two and final two games in 2021.

With so many roles to be filled and injuries limiting or eliminating time for others, the extra reps for players like Feist were valuable.

“We only have eight interior guys, so you’re getting a lot of reps each practice,” Feist said. “I think it was big for us to all stay healthy. I think we’re confident with the guys we have up front to be able to play versus the Big Ten teams and do well.”
The play of players like Feist, Hutmacher, Blaise Gunnerson and Garrett Nelson was encouraging to NU coach Scott Frost and his defensive coaches.

“I think that has been a highlight for us today and through spring,” Frost said. “I have seen improvement from Garrett and improvement from Caleb (Tannor) and Jimari (Butler) and Blaise. Those guys have really taken a giant leap forward.”

During the first half, when defenders weren’t allowed to finish tackles, there was plenty of pressure put on every quarterback who took snaps. Whether that’s a product of improved defensive play or even deeper concerns about the offensive line, Frost said remains to be seen.

If it’s determined that additional personnel is needed, Frost said the Huskers will make the necessary moves in the portal if the right players are available.

“We had trouble blocking them today,” Frost said. “Hopefully that is a sign that they are playing good football as opposed to we did not protect well enough.”

One of those youngsters who might be ready to make a bigger contribution is Gunnerson, a 6-6, 255-pound redshirt freshman from Carroll, Iowa. He was one of the players who was applying his share of quarterback pressure.

“I thought we had it going pretty good at the beginning,” Gunnerson said. “Had some good moves on the speed series, have to work on my power a little bit. But overall, it was a pretty good day from the pass rush perspective. I got off the ball, had a good double swipe move a couple of times.”

Hutmacher made his presence known. At 6-4, 325 pounds, the sophomore from Oacoma, South Dakota, consistently pushed the pocket with a bull rush and mucked up the run game.

Making things tough on Nebraska’s quarterbacks was something sophomore Mosai Newsom (6-4, 285) smiled about when asked about disrupting pocket protection.

“I thought it went pretty well,” Newsom said. “That’s a big thing, getting the pass rush. It’s a big part of playing D-line. A lot of the guys did a really good job, especially those outside ’backers. They were getting to the quarterback.”

Several players were impressed by how much Nelson has improved both as a player and a leader since last season.

“When I need to I will scramble,” quarterback Casey Thompson said. “But Garrett and the defensive line did a really good job today. Hopefully we will improve on blocking those guys, but it is also a good sign for the rest of the team and for our defense that we are going to have good pass rushers.”

Nelson (listed at 6-3, 245) said his offseason focus was making improvements in the pass-rushing part of his game.

“That was the biggest thing for me,” Nelson said. “Last year that last kind of peg in my game was pass rush and being faster and being quicker to get off and (quicker) off the ball. There was one big thing I focused on. (It was) definitely emphasized by coaches, (so) I’ve been working on that.

“I think statistically I gained 10 pounds of muscle and lost like 4% body fat just eating correctly, taking it serious and emphasizing those points of my game trying to get better.”

Being ready for the physical Big Ten opponents, especially in the second half of the season, is the ultimate goal for which Nelson is aiming.

“The quickness is definitely there and it has been throughout the spring,” Nelson said. “I want it to keep getting better. As we start playing in the Big Ten with those first-round tackles, I want to be able to do that against them as well just to cement myself and cement the edge guys as a true threat in the Big Ten and nationally.”

Gunnerson noticed how the edge rushers were consistently getting the job done no matter who was on either side of the ball.

“I know Garrett had a really good day pass rushing, Jamari had a really good day pass rushing,” Gunnerson said. “Days like today, when we’re straight rushing a lot, it’s really important to focus on just getting off the ball and focusing on our fundamentals. That’s the type of stuff we work on a lot.”

He also is especially appreciative of the way Nelson has taken him under his wing, even during the recruiting process.

“Garrett’s one of those guys who has kind of been by my side the entire time since I got here,” Gunnerson said. “He’s just taken the leadership role to the next level this year. He’s done a really good job of leading the troops.

“I think coach Frost recognizes him as one of the biggest leaders on the team. Garrett is one of those guys who is going to give it all every single day. He’s going to give it all in the weight room, give it all on the field, whatever we’re doing.”

Frost also is looking for leaders like Nelson to step up in other position groups, especially the defensive backfield.

“I thought the defensive backs played well,” Frost said. “I thought Quinton Newsome had a good day and he has had a really good spring and we are going to have to count on him. He has kind of been the No. 2 guy for us for a couple years here and he needs to step up.

“Myles Farmer needs to step up in the back end and we got some new guys playing really well. But those two have got to kind of transition from following to leading, and I feel good about our talent in the back end. We are a little inexperienced and they are going to need the leadership from those two guys.”

Now, all thoughts are on summer and getting ready for fall.

“Summer conditioning starts today,” Gunnerson said after the game. “It’s really important that we all understand that and that we all can get better. We (need to) watch the film from today and we learn where we can get better. From there, just keep getting faster, stronger, more physical to compete in this Big Ten.”

Gaining Attention

Luben Runs Hard, Turns Some Heads in Game’s Second Half

By Jansen Coburn

Most fans in attendance for Nebraska’s spring game came for a sneak peek of the fall. After all, plenty of offseason changes have been made. Are things coming together?

New coaches, new players, new schemes. Many were eager to see projected starting quarterback Casey Thompson command a revamped offense coordinated by veteran offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. What they got was a teaser. Thompson attempted four passes, starters logged limited snaps and play-calling was vanilla.

But fans did get a look at younger players.

In the second half, Frost allowed younger players to get reps. “Thud” mode was over and live tackling allowed players to show what they’re made of – the perfect opportunity for a breakout player to emerge. In just two plays, that player was Trevin Luben.

Coming into the game, Luben, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound redshirt freshman, was an unfamiliar name. He’s a homegrown Husker who played his high school ball at Wahoo High School. He’d made just one appearance, against Fordham in 2021. Before the spring game, most of Luben’s contributions had gone largely unnoticed.

That isn’t to say he hasn’t accomplished much behind the scenes. He was awarded scout team special teams player of the year in 2021 and has excelled in the classroom, earning Academic All-Big Ten in 2021 and qualifying for the Nebraska Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll three consecutive semesters.

In the spring game, Luben immediately turned heads with a big run on his first carry. After his second carry, he emerged as the leading rusher on the day. By the end, he tallied eight carries for 91 yards. His longest run went for 32 yards.

  • Running back Trevin Luben is tackled by Jimari Butler. Luben had eight carries for 91 yards.
  • Sam Sledge, a Husker commit from Omaha, attended the game with his parents, Dawn and Bob, a former Husker offensive lineman.
  • Mike Rozier, left and Rich Glover were two of the Husker legends who attended the spring game.
  • Coach Scott Frost watched the action from the field.
  • A small crowd for a Husker spring game of 54,357 fans soak in the sunny day. It was the final game on the 13-year-old FieldTurf.

For Now, Special Teams Still a Work in Progress

Expect Lots of New Names in the Third Phase

By Jansen Coburn

Six plays into the spring game, a sign of the special team woes Nebraska has endured rose from Memorial Stadium in a therapeutic chorus.

The loudest cheers of the day came from a punt off the foot of Brian Buschini. Sixty-three yards. A touchback. A beautiful sight.
Fans, perhaps some sarcastically, roared.

Chase Contreraz was good on a 26-yard field goal.
Chase Contreraz was good on a 26-yard field goal.

“I would have been clapping too if that had not been inappropriate,” coach Scott Frost said after the game.

Disjointed special teams cost Nebraska games in 2021. In response, Nebraska hired Bill Busch as full-time special teams coordinator, mined the transfer portal for specialists and is looking to fill special teams units with top athletes.

The spring game offered fans an opportunity to gauge the progress. Buschini’s punt was the first good sign.

Buschini, a sophomore, is a proven commodity. The transfer from Montana was the top punter at the FCS level in 2021. On 75 career punts, he averaged 45.8 yards.

Nebraska has also welcomed proven return man Trey Palmer out of LSU and cornerback Tommi Hill who returned four kickoffs for 79 yards last year for Arizona State. There were no returns in the spring game, so blocking, tackling and returns are still a total mystery.

But there was some actual kicking. Official stats show Buschini had seven punts for an average of 40.3 yards. He was able to down two inside the 20. On one, he launched a ball into the air that got caught by the wind and plummeted straight down as if it had hit a wall – a definite average-killer.

Place kicker Timmy Bleekrode.
Place kicker Timmy Bleekrode.

The place kicking was still a little rough. Chase Contreraz connected on his first field goal attempt of 26 yards but later hooked a 42-yarder wide left.

Gabe Heins shanked a PAT that was not only left of the goal post but the netting behind it. The affair left unexpecting fans ducking and dodging the careening line drive.

On the way is place kicker Timmy Bleekrode, a portal recruit out of Furman. In 2021, Bleekrode was good on 15-of-18 field goals and was 9-for-9 under 40 yards. He will join Nebraska in the fall with three years of eligibility.

One interested spring game spectator was Athletic Director Trev Alberts. As a former player, he knows the importance of special teams and likes what he sees behind the scenes.

“Watching coach Busch outside with the special teams group was great,” Alberts said in mid-April on the “Sports Nightly” radio show. “I even got to watch coach Busch have the punters and kickers doing some sprints, running and conditioning, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is great.’”


By Scottie Spinazola

The grading scale is skewed a bit due to starters and other higher profile newcomers playing only a sliver of the game.
Also, the “thud” format left much to be desired. That being said, here are position grades from the Husker spring game:


Texas transfer and junior quarterback Casey Thompson started the game with the first team, but only played two series and threw four passes, completing three for 31 yards. The outing did not offer much to grade, other than poise in the pocket and short-throw accuracy.

Sophomore Logan Smothers appeared to be running No. 2. After a season where he got to showcase his skills in a few games, Smothers looked rusty in the new system and ended his day 5-for-14 for 46 yards. He had a few nice throws but also a few head-scratchers.
Florida State transfer and redshirt freshman quarterback Chubba Purdy only had a few practices due to a foot injury but looked the most polished of the quarterbacks. He completed five of his 10 passes for 63 yards and added a pair of scrambles for eight yards.
Purdy’s best throw came when he hit redshirt freshman tight end AJ Rollins on a corner route. Purdy fit the ball between two defenders for 27 yards, and Rollins made a nice grab. Purdy also looked fast on his feet. He showed that his future is bright.
Others to get on the field were redshirt freshman Heinrich Haarberg, junior Matt Masker and redshirt freshman Jarrett Synek. Out of that group, Haarberg was the most efficient, going 4-for-7 for 78 yards with a 34-yard TD to redshirt freshman receiver Kamonte Grimes.

Synek had a 42-yard TD pass to redshirt freshman receiver Ty Hahn and also ran for a 16-yard TD.

Overall, it was not fancy and the real offense under Mark Whipple, the new offensive coordinator, wasn’t really on display, but the quarterbacks did what was asked of them and showed savvy and depth. It was a good collective effort.


The thud format pretty much ended any true evaluation, other than to see if the backs knew what they were supposed to do and where they were supposed to go. That said, there was some speed and pass-catching ability on display.

JUCO transfer Anthony Grant showed a good burst and decent speed with a 60-yard touchdown run. He has poise, earned at Florida State and junior college, and made a catch for 15 yards.

It appears, at the moment, there is a solid top three, with a pair of sophomores, Jaquez Yant and Ramir Johnson, and Grant. The format didn’t allow Yant or Johnson to display much.

Running back suddenly looks to be an area of depth. Remember, Gabe Ervin will also be in the mix, as will two incoming freshmen and maybe even well-traveled Markese Stepp.

Those kinds of player numbers indicate that Whipple wants to run and run it hard. Here is where the spring game did offer a glimpse of Whipple’s offense. Outlet passes and two-back sets will give the quarterbacks a big break come fall. No longer will the quarterback be the leading rusher.


Coach Scott Frost and Whipple said the aerial attack, as well as the bulk of the offensive playbook, would not be divulged. They weren’t kidding. Without a full display by the receivers and a secondary not attacking as it would in a real game, a higher grade here would be misleading and, frankly, unearned. That doesn’t mean these guys won’t live up to the hype.

LSU transfer Trey Palmer and senior Omar Manning all but had the day off. New Mexico State transfer Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda did have the day off. Oliver Martin grabbed one ball. Alante Brown caught none. The top receivers were not the highlight of the game, but some younger players showed well.

Young tight ends did too. Rollins and redshirt freshman tight end Nate Boerkircher finished the game with four and two catches. With arguably the top four tight ends out due to injury, the two younger Huskers stepped up.
A lot will be expected out of the tight ends in the new offensive scheme.


The offensive struggles in the first half could have been because the offense was not attacking, nor showing much, but the line playing without sophomore tackles Teddy Prochazka and Turner Corcoran definitely did not help. New offensive line coach Donovan Raiola will need to get this group up to speed once fall rolls around.
The line’s pass protection is what brought down its grade. The run blocking seemed to be coming along nicely. As the game went on, the run game started to show. That might be because the thud drills were over, but still, there was some good work being done.


The defensive front applied constant pressure and did a good job of shedding blockers and clogging holes in the first half.

The quarterbacks were rarely comfortable. The tackles were able to apply pressure and the ends would contain. Junior outside linebacker Garret Nelson found a home in the quarterback’s personal space. In the middle, the most notable player was sophomore Nash Hutmacher, who, at 6-foot-4, 325 pounds, was a disrupting presence. Sophomore Ty Robinson, at 6-6, 305, was also a handful. Some bad news for Nebraska came about 11 days after the game when junior Casey Rogers (6-5, 295) announced he was entering the portal. That makes depth even more of a concern, giving more weight to Frost saying that if the right lineman is available, NU would be active in the portal.


This group had nine of the top 10 leading tacklers in the game. That’s a hollow stat, considering that for a half, a touch was considered a tackle, but it shows the ’backers were in the right spots and shedding some blocks.
The leader of the group was a bigger and faster Nelson, who finished with two tackles and two sacks.
Redshirt freshman outside linebacker Jimari Butler could be a factor going forward. He had six tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss and one quarterback hurry, and his speed was evident.


Because of the format in the first half, it’s hard to get a read on this position. Here is how Frost put it: “I thought the DBs played well. Quinton Newsome had a good day, he had a really good spring, and we are going to have to count on him. He’s been the No. 2 guy for us a couple years here and he needs to step up. Myles Farmer needs to step up in the backend. Those two need to transition from following to leading.”

There is lots of talent and length at the corner and safety spots, but it was difficult to tell from the spring game how ready they are.


A work in progress. A 63-yard punt received the first loud roar of the day. Other than that, there was little to see here, thus the non-grade. It’s no secret that special teams need dramatic improvement.

Turning On the Charm

Spring Game Offers Grand Stage for Attracting Prospects

By Scottie Spinazola

Glorified “thud” drills standing in for the spring game may not have impressed some long-time Husker fans, but a certain set of other visitors didn’t seem to mind.

As potential recruits for the 2023, 2024 and 2025 classes filed into Memorial Stadium April 9, what they saw were 55,000 fans enjoying football on a sunny day in April.

That doesn’t happen everywhere.

Athletic Director Trev Alberts visits with Ochaun Mathis at midfield. Mathis is a highly sought edge rusher who plans to transfer from TCU and is expected to make a decision by the end of April.
Athletic Director Trev Alberts visits with Ochaun Mathis at midfield. Mathis is a highly sought edge rusher who plans to transfer from TCU and is expected to make a decision by the end of April.

The athletic department used the moment to show off the football team’s newest additions – the 2022 class – with highlight videos on the big screen.

The stadium roared. The throng of visiting prospects took note.

One of them was five-star quarterback Dylan Raiola, currently going into his junior season at Chandler High in Arizona after playing his sophomore season at Burleson High in Texas.

Raiola, at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, is the No. 1-ranked recruit nationally for 2024 and is being pursued by every school confident enough to throw its hat into the ring.

The name is familiar to Husker fans, of course. Dylan is the son of former Husker great Dominic Raiola and nephew of Nebraska offensive line coach Donovan Raiola. Dylan and Donovan did connect on the field and shared some laughs as the youngster showed off his best offensive lineman impression.

Athletic Director Trev Alberts and Raiola seemed chummy as they walked down the tunnel and onto the field from the same gate the players use. The fans roared.

Later, Raiola could be seen talking with fans, posing for pictures and even holding someone’s baby.

Another player who drew plenty of eyeballs was Ochaun Mathis, a 6-5, 235-pound edge rusher who was twice named All-Big 12 at TCU but is now looking for a new team.

There were a lot of Raiolas at the Husker spring game. Here Dominic, Yvonne, Dayton, Dylan and Donovan gather on the field prior to the game. Dylan is a top quarterback prospect for 2024.
There were a lot of Raiolas at the Husker spring game. Here Dominic, Yvonne, Dayton, Dylan and Donovan gather on the field prior to the game. Dylan is a top quarterback prospect for 2024.

For most of the pregame festivities, Mathis stood at midfield and soaked in the atmosphere. An occasional visit from Alberts resulted in shared laughs and smiles.

After the game, coach Scott Frost said that indeed the Huskers would be looking to add pieces to the defensive line “if the right ones are available.” Presumably, Mathis fits that definition well.

Hot Streak Has Huskers Back From the Shadows

Softball Team Finds Its Chemistry and Eyes an NCAA Regional

Opinion • By Steve Beideck

A most unexpected renaissance has become the bright spot of an otherwise bleak Nebraska athletics spring season.

With each victory, the Nebraska softball team further fades the memory of an internal university investigation following the 2019 season into player concerns about a virulent culture they said had engulfed the program.

Courtney Wallace winds up for a pitch against Iowa.
Courtney Wallace winds up for a pitch against Iowa.

Only a handful of players in the program that season are still on the Husker roster.

But whatever changes came from that tumultuous summer, the underclassmen are helping lead the charge that has placed Nebraska back in the national conversation. The guidance they’re receiving from Omaha-area veterans like Olivia Ferrell, Courtney Wallace and Peyton Glatter also are taking hold.

In the first full season of softball since 2019 – the global pandemic cut short the 2020 season and only conference foes were on the schedule in 2021 – Rhonda Revelle’s 33-9 Huskers are on a heater the likes of that hasn’t been seen in Lincoln since 2004.

Entering a weekend series at Wisconsin, Nebraska had won 18 consecutive games since beginning the 2022 season 15-9. That nonconference slate includes losses to Northern Iowa, Southeastern Louisiana, two setbacks to San Diego and a 1-2 record against South Dakota State.

This schedule wasn’t as loaded with upper-echelon opponents as it has been in recent seasons. Chances to play two traditional powers were lost to poor weather conditions – two against No. 10 Arkansas in Fayetteville and a home game against Stanford, which currently is No. 35 in the RPI.

Nebraska’s “best loss” was a March 13 setback to Central Florida, which is No. 14 in the most recent RPI standings.

As of this writing, the Huskers are 13-0 in Big Ten play, one game ahead of Nos. 7- and 10-ranked Northwestern (30-6, 11-1), with two series remaining in the regular season at Ohio State and home against Indiana before the May 11-14 Big Ten tournament in East Lansing, Michigan.

Nebraska's Mya Felder gets a hit against Rutgers.
Nebraska’s Mya Felder gets a hit against Rutgers.

Things have been going so well that Nebraska has worked its way back into the Top 25. They debuted at No. 21 in the ratings following the Easter weekend sweep of Minnesota. The Huskers also are No. 25 in the USA Today/NFCA ratings and No. 24 in the ESPN/USA Softball poll.

With Ferrell and Wallace having the best seasons of their careers, and a batting order that features eight players hitting better than .300, the Huskers seem destined to return to an NCAA Regional for the first time since 2016.

How the Huskers have returned to their winning ways while receiving a modicum of national attention has caught the attention of NU Athletic Director Trev Alberts.

It “might just be one of the great stories we have had around here in a long time,” Alberts said on the “Sports Nightly” radio show. “I do not know how to explain it, other than this is a team that believes in itself.

“This is a team that was down 8-1 against Minnesota and had every reason to say, ‘We have won the series, Minnesota is a great team. They will probably win one.’ Well, they didn’t accept that and found a way to fight back and win that game.”

After dispatching the Gophers, including that school record-tying comeback from a 7-run deficit to win 11-8 on April 18, the Huskers moved to No. 27 in the NCAA RPI standings through games played April 19.

Despite being undefeated in conference games, three Big Ten rivals are ahead of Nebraska in the RPI standings – Northwestern (6), Ohio State (22) and Michigan (23), a team the Huskers defeated twice in Ann Arbor to open conference play. Wisconsin (31), Illinois (32) and Minnesota (39) aren’t far behind and give the Big Ten seven schools in the top 40.

The overall strength of the conference is helping Nebraska improve its profile for potential seeding in one of the 16 NCAA Regionals that begin May 20.

Doubters outside the program point to the 15-9 nonconference record and the teams NU isn’t playing in conference.

Nebraska doesn’t play any of the three teams – Northwestern, Illinois and Maryland – immediately behind them in the conference standings. Penn State and Purdue also aren’t on NU’s conference slate this season.

But remember, it’s beyond Nebraska’s control who they play in conference. This is the first time since 2014 that Nebraska hasn’t played the Wildcats. Also, Maryland’s fourth-place position in the league standings is a bit deceptive because its spot in the RPI standings is No. 86, two better than Southeastern Louisiana.

Yes, Nebraska has played the three teams at the bottom of the Big Ten – Rutgers, Iowa and Michigan State – and all have 1-13 conference records. Minnesota is in 10th place at 5-7 but is 19-18-1 overall with that RPI in the top 40.

Try this view instead: The Huskers are defeating the teams they should be beating. That hasn’t been the case with NU since at least 2015 and even in that NCAA Regional season the Huskers weren’t completing series sweeps and were losing games to teams behind them in the standings.

Sweeps have become common this season because of elevated play in the three primary aspects of the game: pitching, hitting and defense.

Ferrell has evolved into one of the Big Ten’s top two or three pitchers, and Wallace isn’t far behind with another season on the horizon because of the pandemic.

Nebraska’s batting order, top to bottom, hasn’t been this good since 2015. That’s the season when eight Huskers finished the season with batting averages higher than .300, though two of those players played in just 36 of the 58 games.

Husker hitters this season are on pace to top those 2015 numbers with eight players currently hitting .312 or better.

Mya Felder leads the way with a .411 average, followed by Cam Ybarra (.372), Ava Bredwell (.366), Abbie Squier (.361), Billie Andrews (.353), Sydney Gray (.336), Caitlynn Neal (.315) and Wallace (.312). Glatter is ninth at .290, and Ferrell has hit .262 in limited plate appearances as she is focusing more on her pitching responsibilities.

Ferrell, when called upon, still has game-changing power at the plate. She hit .730 with three hits, two home runs and three RBIs in the Michigan State series.

Ava Bredwell gives coach Rhonda Revelle a high-five.
Ava Bredwell gives coach Rhonda Revelle a high-five.

Andrews has been the scariest hitter for opponents to face all season. In NU’s three-game series with Rutgers, the sophomore from Gretna was 0-for-1 but scored three runs in the first game and had an RBI in the third game.

That’s an odd stat line until you know that Scarlet Knights pitchers walked Andrews, who bats leadoff, 10 times – four times in each of the first two games and twice in the third game.

One of her walks came with the bases loaded in Game 2, forcing home Bredwell with the first run of the game in a 2-1 victory. Andrews leads the Huskers in eight offensive categories: on-base plus slugging (1.278), on-base percentage (.473), runs scored (45), hits (47), home runs (18), RBIs (45), total bases (107) and walks (31).

Pitching around Andrews didn’t work for Rutgers, and it likely wouldn’t work for long with so many other players hitting so well. Four other Huskers – Felder, Ybarra, Squier and Gray – have an OPS of 1.026 or better.

There are still plenty of games to play before the postseason begins. The Huskers have so far deftly handled the responsibility of being the team others are chasing. If Nebraska gets to 40 wins before the conference tournament – three more sweeps would put them at 42-9 – NU will be one of those hot teams opponents will want to avoid.

Good Season, but Early Exit Lit a Fire for the Next

Williams Loved Her Team and Sees Good Things Ahead

By Shawn Ekwall

  • Jaz Shelly, the team’s leading scorer, is returning for another year.
  • Humphrey, Nebraska, native Allison Weidner averaged 7.2 points a game as a freshman.
  • Alexis Markowski was the Big Ten Freshman Player of the Year.

A 24-win season – tied for fourth best in school history. The first NCAA tournament appearance since 2018. Nebraska women’s basketball coach Amy Williams should be happy as she reflects on the past season. And she is, for the most part. But in a recent hourlong interview over the phone, there was more than a niggling undercurrent of regret.

Of course she’s proud of her team and all of the progress her players have made. She feels good about the future and she spoke of the joy she felt coaching her players the past year.

But the early exit from the tournament — a 68-55 loss to Gonzaga – was a bitter pill. The Bulldogs were senior-laden, and their experience paid dividends. NU struggled to score, and the 55-point output was unsettling for players and coaches alike. It’s something that will motivate them in offseason workouts.

“That result lit a fire in the bellies of this team,” Williams said. “When we’re playing our best, we can compete with the best in the country. We ran across a situation where we only put 55 on the board. It left a bad taste in our mouth.

“Gonzaga has a lot of seniors and I think our team learned things they (Gonzaga) learned previously.”

The good news for NU, which finished sixth in the Big Ten, is the return of a core group of key players. The starting five of Jaz Shelley, Sam Haiby, Alexis Markowski, Allison Weidner and Isabelle Bourne all return.

Haiby’s announcement to return for a fifth season was a mild surprise. She went through Senior Day festivities, but after the disappointing loss to the Bulldogs and some arm-twisting from her roommates such as Shelley, Bourne and Trinity Brady, Haiby announced in early April that she’d be back.

“We had several discussions and we knew Sam was strongly considering (returning),” Williams said. “Sam wasn’t satisfied after the loss to Gonzaga. There’s a few things she’d like to accomplish, so we’re excited for that decision and the experience she brings back.”

The Moorhead, Minnesota, native averaged 11 points per game and has averaged at least 10 points all four of her seasons at NU. She ranks 15th all-time in points (1,381) and eighth in assists (414).

“I still feel like I have more to accomplish as a player and a leader,” Haiby said. “I am coming back to Nebraska next season because we believe we can take our program another step further together. I can’t wait to go to work again with this team.”

Haiby’s leadership and experience will be key to a team that started a pair of freshmen in Markowski and Weidner late in the year. With a year under their belts, the duo from Lincoln Pius X and Humphrey St. Francis, respectively, should be more comfortable in their roles moving forward.

Williams mentioned how Markowski (12.8 point per game) and Weidner (7.2) fit in immediately and how coming from winning cultures in high school eased the transition.

“They’re winners, they have a winning mindset and experienced a lot of success in high school,” Williams said. “The work ethic they brought in was really important and they just take a lot of pride in representing the state of Nebraska.”

Shelley, a transfer from Oregon, found her niche early in the season and never relinquished her role as a scorer, ballhandler and distributor. She led the team with 13.1 points a game while shooting 40.6% from beyond the arc.

Still, Williams talked about Shelley’s desire to improve parts of her game.

“Jaz is really focusing on improving her mid-range game,” Williams said. “She led us in scoring, assists, steals and was second in rebounding. Her overall game is so versatile and it’s critically important to us. But she’s never satisfied and wants to get better and tighten up her handles even more.”

Williams talked about being selective as NU looks to fill out its roster. The transfer portal will be active through summer. Whitney Brown, a freshman from Grand Island, announced her departure from Nebraska to Fort Hays State within the past few weeks.
“We feel really good and solid about our returning core,” Williams said. “That allows us to be selective and guarding of our culture in who we take. We’re looking to find players that will compete, but also match with the pieces we have in place. Players that are selfless and play together.”

Along with adding a few pieces to the roster, Williams looks to have one assistant coaching spot to fill. Assistant Chuck Love was suspended with pay following the Penn State game Feb. 17. And while Williams was unable to comment on the situation, she was hopeful things would be resolved in the near future.

“We’re just being patient and letting the process take place,” she said. “We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to have an announcement before too long.”

The 24 wins were a season-high for Williams since coming to NU in 2017, and third-best in her career behind her final two seasons at South Dakota. She continues to mold the Huskers into an annual Big Ten contender.

While reflecting on the past season’s high points, Williams wasn’t shy to heap praise on her team and brought it all back to the team mantra of Compete and Connect.

“I’m very grateful to be part of this team and their journey,” she said. “It was a very special group and our mantra, Compete and Connect, allowed them to do what they love and do it out of sheer joy. They enjoyed each other and enjoyed playing together.

“We always said we’re going to fight. The competition was there each day they put the uniform on. They stayed together and stayed connected. Any success we had is a credit to that. I’m happy for each of their successes.”

Taking a New Path

Believe It or Not, It’s Not All Doom and Gloom Around Husker Basketball

Opinion • By Jacob Bigelow

Six-foot-9 Derrick Walker is returning for a sixth season with the Huskers and should combine nicely in the paint with 6-11 junior college transfer Blaise Keita.
Six-foot-9 Derrick Walker is returning for a sixth season with the Huskers and should combine nicely in the paint with 6-11 junior college transfer Blaise Keita.

Except for a stunning three-game run of wins at the end, Nebraska’s basketball season was forgettable.
What else is new, right?

Well, this: While previous offseasons of the Fred Hoiberg era have been marked by massive roster turnover, this one seems it will be marked by changes to the coaching staff and recruiting philosophy.

And that is a good thing.

While top-tier teams were focused on NCAA tournament play in late March, Nebraska was jettisoning coaches. The program mutually parted ways with assistant coach and chief recruiter Matt Abdelmassih. Then Nebraska announced Doc Sadler, special assistant to the head coach, would not be a part of the staff going forward and that the position was being eliminated.

The most significant change is the departure of Abdelmassih, who single-handedly oversaw Nebraska’s recruiting operation the last three seasons and did very little on-court coaching. Hoiberg has never had a season as a college coach without Abdelmassih, who hung his hat on the recruitment of transfers.

With Abdelmassih’s departure, priority No. 1 for Hoiberg became keeping his 2022 recruiting class intact.

With promising 6-foot-6 freshman guard Denim Dawson already on campus as an early enrollee, that put the focus on retaining 6-11 JUCO big man Blaise Keita, 6-3 New Jersey sharpshooter Jamarques Lawrence and 6-6 Sierra Canyon (California) guard Ramel Lloyd.
Lawrence did not waiver on his commitment, but it was reasonable to worry about Keita and Lloyd, who were directly recruited by Abdelmassih. Both, however, reaffirmed their commitments after visits by Hoiberg.

In late April Hoiberg got Juwan Gary out of the portal from Alabama. The 6-6 forward, a former four-star prospect, started 16 games for the Tide last season and averaged 6.5 points and 3.4 rebounds in 15.6 minutes.

All four of these newcomers are big gets for Hoiberg – as is Dawson. They solidify positions of need and alleviate fears that Abdelmassih’s loss might also lead to attrition of an excellent class of recruits.

Remember, these are the type of players who have other options, but they believed in Hoiberg’s vision enough to stay committed. That is a good sign.

Part of what they see is how the roster stacks up next season. Sure they see opportunity. How could they not with Nebraska winning only 10 games last season? But, dare I say, there have been some good things happening roster-wise lately.

The Huskers added a piece out of the portal in North Dakota State transfer and Lincoln East product Sam Griesel.

The Lincoln native was a four-year starter at NDSU and averaged 14.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists last season. At 6-6, Griesel is being brought in to run the point, which he had done for the past two seasons in Fargo. Whether he can do that in the Big Ten remains to be seen, but Griesel is seasoned enough and good enough to help somewhere.

Also, 6-9 forward Derrick Walker announced he is returning for a sixth year of college basketball. Walker was a mainstay for the Huskers this past season and showed he has some offense to go with his defense. What’s more, with the arrival of Keita, Walker can move to his natural position at the 4. That’s two full-grown men down low. When was the last time Nebraska had that?

Another plus is the return of former four-star Wilhelm Breidenbach, who missed much of last season due to an injury. At 6-10, Breidenbach can shoot it and certainly will have a role next season.

As will C.J. Wilcher. The Xavier transfer proved his worth his first year as a Husker and good things can be expected from the sharpshooter next season.

The two players left on the roster with remaining eligibility who could return if they wanted are Trey McGowens and Lat Mayen.
Both were honored on Senior Night and both have played their fair share of basketball. Mayen likely has professional opportunities back home in Australia. My bet is that he is gone.

McGowens is more of a mystery. If he were to return, his vocal leadership and defensive intensity would play a big role for Nebraska next season. Getting him back would be huge for the Huskers.

On the attrition front, no departure is particularly surprising.

• Bryce McGowens officially declared for the NBA Draft. The AP Big Ten Newcomer of the Year broke multiple freshman school records. The goal was always the NBA for the five-star recruit, and his play down the stretch may have secured his spot as a first-rounder.

McGowens got bigger and better during his short stay. That’s good for him and good for Nebraska. On that front, Hoiberg and staff did not disappoint, which is a good thing for attracting future elites.

• Trevor Lakes could never stay healthy in his two years in Lincoln following his transfer from Division II Indianapolis.

• Keon Edwards was a touted recruit out of high school who reclassified to enroll at DePaul early but could never find footing there or as a Husker. Edwards was a starter for a time following Trey McGowens’ foot injury, but was never in an impactful role.

• There was talk that Eduardo Andre’s departure may have come before last season; however, he stuck around and showed solid improvement. The reserve big man likely saw the possible logjam of front court depth and decided to head elsewhere.

Now, for the most recent developments.

It appears that a high-volume scoring wing is NU’s primary transfer portal target. NU hosted Illinois State transfer Antonio Reeves, who averaged close to 20 points a game last season, on an official visit over the spring football game weekend.

Arguably the most interesting addition has been the hiring of assistant coach Adam Howard, who comes from South Alabama where he served as associate head coach.

While he doesn’t have any prior ties to Hoiberg, he had direct connections with current assistants Nate Loenser and Armon Gates.
Howard has a defensive background and worked with post players in his prior coaching stops. Look for Nebraska to experiment with some matchup zone and pressure zone schemes.

It appears that Loenser, Gates and Howard all have specified coaching roles and all appear to be involved in recruiting. That’s a staff model followed by most teams in the country – all hands on deck, everybody involved in all aspects on and off the court.

Expect improvement from that standpoint.

Because this is Nebraska basketball, everything is not rosy. Replacing the 30 points per game lost by the departure of Bryce McGowens and Alonzo Verge won’t be easy. And even with those players, Nebraska won only four league games.

But unlike years past, there are promising pieces both returning and incoming. There is sure to be more roster news, but for now it appears Hoiberg is in better shape than most any outsider could imagine going into Year 4.

Program Changer

Could Carl Crawford Have Saved Frank Solich’s Job at Nebraska?

Story by Shane G. Gilster

It was Feb. 7, 1999, and Nebraska had just signed its future star quarterback, Carl Crawford.

The Huskers were already established at quarterback with returning starters in junior Bobby Newcombe and sophomore Eric Crouch. But Crawford was the heir apparent and, with a redshirt year, he would likely be a two-year starter for NU in 2002 and 2003.

basketball and baseball. In football, “he was like a Tommie Frazier – that type of athlete,” said his high school baseball coach, Gerald Garcia.
Carl Crawford did it all at Houston’s Jefferson Davis High School, playing football, basketball and baseball. In football, “he was like a Tommie Frazier – that type of athlete,” said his high school baseball coach, Gerald Garcia.

“Crawford would have been a perfect fit for us,” NU coach Frank Solich said, according to published reports from that time. “He’d have been like Eric Crouch, and Eric ended up winning the Heisman. I think he’d have hit the ground running for us and picked up right where Eric left off.”

As a senior at Jefferson Davis High School in Houston, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Crawford ran the option offense for head coach Chuck Arnold. He had 1,213 yards rushing and 19 scores while passing for another eight touchdowns. Twenty of his carries were of 50 yards or more, which showed his speed and game-breaking ability.

“Our third-and-long play was for Carl to drop back and if the cornerback doesn’t fall down, then run it. (Crawford) wasn’t a bad passer, but we didn’t have a lot of receivers, so all our pass plays were play action. He had a good, quick release, but all we had was a couple good running backs and Carl. Also, our offensive line was small, weighing under 180 pounds per player,” Arnold said.

Saying that Jefferson Davis High School wasn’t known for football was an understatement. Before Arnold arrived, the school hadn’t won a game in six years.

“We had small football teams; we struggled to keep 30 kids on the team,” Arnold said. “When I came to Jefferson Davis, it took me three years to win one game. Carl was in the sixth year I was there and we had a winning record each year with him.”

Solich, then in his first year as head coach at Nebraska, saw Crawford as a perfect fit for his offense. Solich, along with quarterback coach Turner Gill, went all out recruiting the talented athlete who was courted by colleges to play baseball, basketball and football.

“It was pretty clear to us that he could be a great option quarterback,” Nebraska football coach Frank Solich said of Crawford. “And with his athletic talent, we felt he could have been a dominating player for us. Obviously, we’ll never know, because we never got a chance to have him there.”
“It was pretty clear to us that he could be a great option quarterback,” Nebraska football coach Frank Solich said of Crawford. “And with his athletic talent, we felt he could have been a dominating player for us. Obviously, we’ll never know, because we never got a chance to have him there.”

“Back then Nebraska was nationally known and was on TV a lot,” Arnold said. “Everybody knew that Carl was being recruited by them. I remember the Nebraska coaches coming to our school in a helicopter and landing on the football field.”

The Huskers’ main competition for Crawford’s services wasn’t another college. Crawford also loved baseball and had pro scouts flocking to Houston.

“Playing another sport at a high level was leverage for Carl because (Major League Baseball) had to come up with a big paycheck to get him from playing football at Nebraska,” Arnold said. “If he didn’t get the money he was looking for, I think he would have ended up at Nebraska. Teams were worried about drafting him because he had already signed with Nebraska, but we told them if they came up with the money, Carl would sign to play baseball.”

Gerald Garcia, Crawford’s high school baseball coach, had no doubt his star player would choose baseball. Garcia said Crawford was a natural but needed some coaching in order for his potential to blossom.

“When you get a kid that good, coaches don’t want to screw him up,” Garcia said. “But our coaches taught him a nice little work ethic. That kid became a working machine and always wanted extra batting practice and (to catch) fly balls. Some guys have the God-given talent and don’t work, but he worked at it.”

Crawford grew up as a first baseman, but Garcia told him he was going to play outfield because of his speed. Crawford was left-handed and when he would hit a routine ground ball, Garcia said he would beat the throw to first base about 90% of the time.
Nebraska offered Crawford the chance to play both baseball and football.

“Our baseball program was very strong and the idea (playing both sports) appealed to him and his family,” Solich said at the time. “They were looking at him getting his education, but we knew the draft was looming large.”

Garcia helped counsel Crawford on whether to play college football and baseball or get a paycheck from professional baseball. A main factor in Crawford’s decision was that he came from a low-income neighborhood and his mother was the sole provider for him and his brother.

“It came down to making money with baseball or being a crash dummy and getting hit in football,” Garcia said. “Carl was an action guy and really loved football. He was a read-option quarterback and would have fit in nicely at Nebraska. He was like a Tommie Frazier – that type of athlete. The MLB scouts would come to my office and ask if Carl was using football as a gambling chip, but I told them he was going to play professional baseball.”

But Solich still had hope his quarterback recruit would choose football. After Crawford signed his letter of intent, the Husker coaching staff had to patiently wait until the baseball draft in June to see what Crawford would do.

Unfortunately for NU, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays nabbed Crawford in the second round and 52nd overall in the 1999 draft. They offered a signing bonus of $1.2 million, and Solich lost his quarterback.

“It made sense to go through the effort to recruit him, have him verbally commit, and sign with us,” Solich said in the aftermath of the decision. “But that all became moot when he signed the baseball contract. He really loved the sport of football and was committed to coming to Nebraska, but that amount of money … I don’t know who would pass that up.”
Losing a recruit isn’t anything new to colleges like Nebraska. But for Solich, not having Crawford take over at quarterback after Crouch in 2002 had bigger repercussions for him and his football program.
Nebraska went 7-7 in 2002 and even though the Huskers finished 9-3 in 2003, Solich was fired before the bowl game. Nebraska Athletic Director Steve Pederson said he felt the Huskers were gravitating toward mediocrity, thus the reason for the coaching change.
“If he (Crawford) would have gone to Nebraska, Frank Solich wouldn’t have gotten fired at Nebraska,” Garcia said. “Carl was that good of a player. He could have saved Solich’s job.”

It is purely hypothetical what Crawford would have done at Nebraska, but looking back, it’s hard to argue with his choice.
Crawford was only 20 years old when he made his major league debut in July of 2002 and from there had a 15-year career. He was a four-time All-Star, led the American League in steals and triples four times and won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards.
Crawford had the talent, but his competitive nature gave him the “It” factor that made him elite.

Crawford made his major league debut at age 20 with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He played in the majors for 15 years and was a four-time All-Star.
Crawford made his major league debut at age 20 with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He played in the majors for 15 years and was a four-time All-Star.

“He always wanted to win,” Garcia said. “He was just a competitive son of a gun.”

Since his retirement from baseball in 2016, Crawford is still revered in his Houston community. His high school, now called Northside, held a ceremony in June 2021 to rename its baseball field “Carl Crawford Field.”

Crawford is now the CEO of 1501 Certified Entertainment, an independent record label based in his hometown. He called into radio station 97.9 The Box during the “Good Morning H-Town” radio show when the topic of the greatest prep athlete to come from Houston was raised.

“I go down in history, I think,” said Crawford, who made it clear who he feels was the best. “I’m the only athlete that made All-Texas teams in every sport. Football, basketball and baseball. I didn’t even play basketball my senior year to focus on baseball, but I played all three sports at a high level.”

Arnold, who coached at Jefferson Davis for 23 years and 43 years overall in the Houston area, said without a doubt that Crawford was the No. 1 player he ever coached.

“You don’t get those pro-caliber athletes in a lower-income, inner-city high school,” he said. “I coached at Madison High School while (Texas quarterback) Vince Young was there. Vince was a lot taller, but Carl was a better overall athlete.”

Garcia agreed with Arnold. He never coached a talent equal to Crawford, either. “I used to kid him and say I was going to take him to Galveston and see if he could surf because he was such a great athlete,” Garcia said. “He could do anything.”

It’s just too bad for Husker fans that Crawford didn’t get to showcase his talent in the scarlet and cream.

“It was pretty clear to us that he could be a great option quarterback,” Solich said. “And with his athletic talent, we felt he could have been a dominating player for us. Obviously, we’ll never know, because we never got a chance to have him there.”

Making the Switch

Charles Fryar Listened to Osborne and Became All-Big Eight

By Shane G. Gilster

Charles Fryar had planned to follow in cousin Irving Fryar’s footsteps to play wingback at Nebraska. Irving is still considered the best true receiver to ever play for the Huskers. He was an All-American in 1983 and the first overall pick in the 1984 NFL Draft.

Charles didn’t get recruiting attention just because of his famous cousin. He made a name for himself at Burlington City High School in New Jersey.

Charles Fryar came to Nebraska as a runningback, but he became a Husker star after making the switch to defense as cornerback.
Charles Fryar came to Nebraska as a runningback, but he became a Husker star after making the switch to defense as cornerback.

As a senior, he excelled on both sides of the ball. He was an all-state and All-American tailback rushing for 1,600 yards and scoring 32 touchdowns. On defense he intercepted nine passes as a safety.

Schools like Penn State, UCLA, Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma all were interested in Fryar, but it came down to Iowa State and Nebraska.

“I had three shoe boxes full of handwritten letters,” Fryar said about his recruitment. “If I would have had the grades, I would have been more highly recruited, but a lot of schools backed away because of my grades.”

ISU went all out and made a last-ditch effort to win Fryar over with assistant coach Dave Campo sleeping outside Fryar’s home the night before signing day.

“I took my official visit to Ames, Iowa, and I liked it there,” Fryar said. “I had a great relationship with coach Campo. He was honest, and Iowa State had an All-American receiver (Tracy Henderson) who was a 1,000-yard receiver in 1983. They wanted me to play wide receiver and said they are going to get me the ball 15 times a game.”

But in the end, family won Fryar over to Nebraska.

“Irving would come back to New Jersey and help Nebraska recruit me. Irving told me that I was going to go to Nebraska, and that is that. He didn’t want to hear about any other school,” said Fryar, who was the first in his family to go to college. “My mom asked me if I thought I was one of the best players in the country and I said, ‘yes’ and she said, ‘Who is the best team in the country?’ And at the time Nebraska was rated No. 1 in the nation in 1983.”

Fryar signed with the Huskers and, because of his grades, walked-on. NU coach Tom Osborne didn’t want to risk losing Fryar to a junior college where he could end up getting recruited by other schools. So Osborne promised him that if he got his grades up in the first semester, he would be put on scholarship soon after.

Some of Fryar’s best games and key interceptions came against Oklahoma State. Here he tackles Hart Lee Dykes.
Some of Fryar’s best games and key interceptions came against Oklahoma State. Here he tackles Hart Lee Dykes.

Fryar would redshirt that 1984 season to work on his grades and he earned his scholarship. Then the following year, Osborne approached him about moving from wingback to cornerback. He told Fryar that if he would make the switch, he would likely be at the top of the depth chart to begin the 1986 season.

Fryar then went to the office of defensive backs coach George Darlington, who showed him how much money the top NFL cornerbacks were making and that he could help Fryar reach that level someday.

“I went back to my room and busted out in tears,” Fryar said. “I called home and told my mom to call coach Campo and tell him I was coming to Iowa State. My mom asked me what was wrong and I told her that they (NU coaches) took the ball out of my hands and moved me to defensive back. My mom calmed me down and told me if I can’t be the best receiver they got then be the best cornerback they got.”

So Fryar made the transition to defense and played on the 1985 freshman team. He led the 5-0 squad in tackles showcasing the ability that Osborne thought he had to be a cornerback.

Staying true to his word, when fall practice began in 1986, Osborne penciled Fryar’s name in atop the depth chart at one of the cornerback spots.

Fryar didn’t let Osborne down as he was fifth on the team and first in the secondary in total tackles (52) and tied for the team lead in interceptions (3). He tied the school single-season mark for pass breakups with eight.

“It was a hard and easy transition to cornerback,” Fryar said. “My first introduction to bump and run coverage was in practice against Ray Nelson. He spun me like a top but the next time I backed up and read him. I studied film and watched the top cornerbacks in the NFL. I went film crazy and would study the receivers in order pick up on their signs and when they would get the ball. I would remember their tendencies and things I used to do when I played offense.”

Fryar and the Husker defense went up against some of the nation’s best receivers: Keith Jackson of Oklahoma, Hart Lee Dykes of Oklahoma State and Willie Anderson of UCLA, to name a few. But the toughest were a pair of wideouts from South Carolina – Sterling Sharpe and Ryan Bethea. Fryar and his teammates had to deal with them in 1986 and again in 1987.

“Sharpe could do whatever he wanted to against us,” Fryar said. “They also had Bethea who was a big, physical receiver. One time he was blocking me and took me all the way to the bench.”

But the Huskers would beat the Gamecocks in both of those games and kept NU in the national title race until later in the year when they faced their nemesis, the Oklahoma Sooners.

“Whenever we played Oklahoma, we were wound up too tight,” Fryar said. “That was one of coach Osborne’s Achilles’ heels because he was trying to keep Nebraska’s and his image. He wanted us to play a certain way. When we played Oklahoma, they played loose and were allowed to celebrate. If we got an interception, we had to give the ball to the referee and get back into the huddle. We couldn’t even high-five after a good play.

“In 1986 we had Oklahoma beat but they came back to win because we tightened up,” Fryar said. “If you look at Oklahoma, you saw Keith Jackson and Jamelle Holieway smiling and having fun and we are the ones up 17-7 in the fourth quarter and aren’t acting like that.”

Fryar felt both the ’86 and ’87 teams had the ability to win the national championship.

“We reminisce as teammates and how we could have won a game with just two or three plays and then we would play for the national title,” Fryar said. “Our 1986 team was the best when I was there. We had a top defense. There was no way we shouldn’t have won the national championship. I always say that if Doug DuBose wouldn’t have gotten hurt, we would have won it. He was the type of player they had at Oklahoma; you need a couple of those types of players who could talk the talk and walk the walk. Broderick (Thomas) was like that, myself, Dana Brinson, LeRoy Etienne; but we could never show it.”

The 1987 season was also one when the big prize got away. The Huskers entered the season ranked No. 2 behind Oklahoma, but Fryar and the Blackshirt defense didn’t look national championship caliber in their nonconference games against UCLA, Arizona State and South Carolina. NU gave up an average of 27 points per game but they still won. It wasn’t until their game in Stillwater against No. 12 Oklahoma State that the Blackshirts finally put it all together in a 35-0 statement win over the undefeated Cowboys.
Fryar preserved the shutout with a second quarter interception. The Cowboys drove to the NU 2-yard line. Fryar was one-on-one against OSU receiver Ronnie Williams. The 5-foot-10 Fryar outleaped the 6-4 Williams for the ball in the corner of the end zone.
Fryar said the Blackshirts were fired up for the game against the Cowboys. OSU coach Pat Jones said his team could score 50 points on anybody. Then the night before the game, heated words were exchanged when both teams went to the same movie theater.

Thurman Thomas, a Heisman Trophy candidate and the nation’s leading rusher who entered the game with an average of 140 yards per game, was quoted as saying, “You all don’t have one man on the defense that can stop me one-on-one.”

“We held Thomas to seven yards that day and I said after the game that Thurman’s number 34 means 3 plus 4 equals 7,” Fryar said, laughing.

Nebraska was on track to have its first undefeated regular season since 1983 and was looking to play Miami in the Orange Bowl for the national championship. But in a battle of No. 1 and No. 2, the top-ranked Huskers lost to the Sooners 17-7. Fryar had a season-high eight tackles in that game and was a second-team All-Big Eight selection.

The Huskers were once again ranked No. 2 entering Fryar’s senior season in 1988. After a disappointing loss to UCLA in the second game of the season, NU got back on track and faced Oklahoma State once again. This time the No. 10 Cowboys didn’t have Thomas but had someone better – Barry Sanders.

Fryar breaks up a pass against Kansas State.
Fryar breaks up a pass against Kansas State.

“Oklahoma State was the best offense I faced at Nebraska because Barry Sanders alone was an offense in itself,” Fryar said. “In the game in Lincoln, I hit Barry one time on the thigh and everything went numb so I was thinking I flipped him over or he went down, but I looked up and he was still running and shaking. He was unbelievable.”

Amazingly Nebraska led 35-0 after the first quarter and won the game in a shootout, 63-42, but Sanders rushed for 189 yards on 35 carries, the fourth-highest total allowed by a Nebraska team.

For the second year in a row, Fryar once again made a game-changing interception against the Cowboys. With NU up 7-0, he picked off an OSU pass and returned it 86 yards for a touchdown.

Fryar, who was a first team All-Big Eight cornerback, finally beat Oklahoma and got his Big Eight championship that season, but NU ended the season with a disappointing loss against Miami in the Orange Bowl. The Blackshirts played well in a 23-3 loss, with Fryar recording two interceptions and seven tackles. NBC named him NU’s most valuable player in the game.

Despite his performance against the Hurricanes, Fryar was undrafted but signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was on the team for one year before the Steelers sent him to the World Football League.

“When I went to the NFL, I had the wrong impression on what it would be like,” said Fryar who left NU tied for the school record in career pass breakups. “I was coming from Nebraska, a top college football program, and thought I would get a lot of playing time. I was a Blackshirt and big-headed. I got away from the things I was accustomed to doing. Instead of watching film and staying in Pittsburgh, I would go home because New Jersey was close by.”

Fryar played for the Barcelona Dragons for three years and then after the World League folded, went to the Canadian Football League with the Sacramento Gold Miners for one season.

“I tore my hamstring and that was it,” said Fryar of his professional football career. “So I came back to Nebraska, graduated in 2000 with a degree in human resources and got into coaching as an undergrad assistant with Frank Solich for two and a half years.”
Fryar has stayed in the coaching profession, going back to New Jersey and coaching at Burlington City High School where his sons played football.

“I didn’t pressure my kids to play football but they wanted to play and had to live in my shadow at Burlington City High School,” said the 56-year old Fryar. “My son, Tyree, played at Chadron State as a safety and made the Omaha World-Herald All-Nebraska Division II First Team. My other son, Christian, played ball in California.”

Fryar is now at Nottingham High School where he coaches football and teaches special education. He is hopeful to someday return to the college ranks.

“I want to get in contact with Trev Alberts and see if there is something NU can do to help former Huskers get back into the coaching profession,” Fryar said.