A Coach on the Field

One of Gage Stenger’s many strength is his football IQ

Story by Shane G. Gilster • Photos by Jeff Bundy

Gage Stenger was all smiles as he signed with Nebraska on Dec. 15 at Millard South High School amongst family, friends and coaches.
Surrounded by family and coaches, Millard Souths Gage Stenger signs his letter of intent to play football for the University of Nebraska Wednesday Dec. 15, 2021. Sitting next to Stenger are his parents, Jim and Cher. (HUSKER ILLUSTRATED PHOTO BY JEFF BUNDY)

For most of this past high school season, Millard South was the best football team in the state. The Patriots were 9-0 and ranked No. 1 in Class A. Then they suffered a stunning loss in the first round of the playoffs, sullying, among other things, the season accomplishments of do-it-all team leader Gage Stenger.

Stenger burst onto the scene his senior year as a two-way starter at quarterback and defensive back. He threw for almost 1,400 yards with 19 touchdowns and no interceptions. He set the Class A state record with six touchdown passes in the playoff game loss. To complement his passing, Stenger ran the ball for more than 500 yards and 11 scores.

It was the kind of season that earns a scholarship to Nebraska. Stenger signed with the Huskers on Dec. 15.

“He’s one of the best ever in all of my 36 years coaching at Millard South,” said coach Andy Means, himself a Husker defensive back from 1978 to 1980. “I would compare him to Bronson Marsh, who was our quarterback back in 2008, 2009. He is one of those kids who you play all over the field and is tremendous.”

Stenger played quarterback and linebacker for Millard South High School.
Millard South’s Gage Stenger. Stenger signed to play football for the University of Nebraska. (HUSKER ILLUSTRATED PHOTO BY JEFF BUNDY)

Means also compares Stenger to a coach on the field, pointing to a high football IQ that allows him to know what everyone else on defense is supposed to be doing.

“He was the unquestioned leader of this team,” Means said. “He would get on players and they didn’t get mad at him because they respected him so much because of his knowledge and the way he played the game.”

Nebraska recruited Stenger as an athlete, waiting until he steps on campus to see which position fits him best.

“Coach Frost said that I would have an opportunity to work out as a quarterback to see if I could play that position at Nebraska,” Stenger said. “If not, I would go back to the defensive side of the ball. But I think I could run an offense at Nebraska. One of my best aspects to my game is being able to throw on the run.”

Besides Means, Stenger credits some other good teachers — one-time NU recruit Marsh of Marsh Elite Performance, who tutors him over the winters, and Millard South QB coach and former Husker quarterback Ryker Fyfe.

One scenario is for Stenger to become a JoJo Domann-type hybrid linebacker who could move around on defense. Domann, who was a second-team All-American this past year for the Huskers, elected not to return to NU, opening an opportunity for Stenger in 2022.

“Gage is 6-2, 200, but could easily be 225 at Nebraska,” Means said. “I can see him being an outside linebacker, hybrid type, who can easily cover receivers and come up to defend the run. JoJo Domann is who Nebraska says Gage reminds them of, and I agree. He’ll be a little bit bigger than JoJo but will make plays all over the field just like he did.”

Even though Stenger is an athletic specimen with a 38-inch vertical and 4.55 speed, colleges weren’t knocking down his door. Perhaps that’s because high-profile recruits like Kaden Helms and Micah Riley-Ducker of Bellevue West and Devon Jackson of Omaha Burke had already grabbed lots of attention in the Omaha Metro. Means felt Stenger was overlooked.

“They got more press early and some of them played when they were younger and got more exposure earlier than Gage,” he said.

Over the summer, Nebraska told Stenger that scholarships were at a premium, knowing it would be signing a small class in 2022. Therefore, Stenger felt that it was best for him to commit to Kansas State, a school with a coaching staff he particularly enjoyed that came from a winning program at North Dakota State.

But by the middle of the season, Stenger was making it impossible for other schools not to take notice, including Nebraska. Ironically, it was the game against Bellevue West, a team with a host of high-level prospects, when Stenger grabbed the spotlight.

He was 11-of-14 through the air for 220 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for 199 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns.

“Against Bellevue West he was running towards the sideline and we were all yelling for him to get out of bounds because he got the first down,” Means said. “But he turned it upfield and lowered his shoulder into a Bellevue West player. I asked him why he didn’t get out of bounds and he said, ‘I got to show them how tough I am.'”

After that game, Means got a call from NU linebackers coach Barrett Ruud, who said Nebraska was seriously looking at Stenger and wanted to see if he would be interested even though he was committed to Kansas State. Means told Ruud it wouldn’t hurt to give Stenger a call.

“Coach Ruud called me and apologized for not offering me in the summer, which meant a lot to me,” Stenger said. “He then offered me and said he could really see me fit in their system. Getting an opportunity to play at my dream school meant a lot to me, so my family and I talked about it and committed about two weeks later.”

Besides Nebraska and Kansas State, Stenger, who was rated as the fifth-best prospect in Nebraska, had offers from Wyoming, Northern Illinois, South Dakota State, Illinois State and North Dakota. But according to Means, there could have been many more schools in the mix.

“Gage made his commitment to Kansas State pretty early and that may have scared some colleges off,” Means said.

Plus, having summer camps canceled by the pandemic hurt him.

“Colleges didn’t get to see him in person,” Means said. “Schools wanted to wait to see him play his senior year and then realized he was something special, but it was too late because Nebraska offered.”

After Stenger signed his letter of intent, Nebraska coach Scott Frost had nothing but good things to say about keeping one of the state’s best players home.

“Gage is awesome,” Frost said. “His team was probably throughout the course of the year one of the best in the state, and he was arguably one of the best players in the state. If there is a player like that in Nebraska, we want him here. He is another great kid from a great family. He is a high-character guy. I am not sure where Gage will end up playing yet but I have a lot of confidence in him as an athlete that wherever he ends up he is going to make a difference on our football team.”

‘If it wiggles, he hits it’

Ernest Hausmann checks all the boxes for NU

Story by Shane G. Gilster • Photo by Greg Blobaum

Husker LB recruit Ernest Hausmann of Columbus prepares for play during the Sept. 24th game between Columbus and Lincoln High. Columbus won 28-23. (HUSKER ILLUSTRATED PHOTO BY Gregory Blobaum)
Husker LB recruit Ernest Hausmann of Columbus prepares for play during the Sept. 24th game between Columbus and Lincoln High. Columbus won 28-23. (HUSKER ILLUSTRATED PHOTO BY Gregory Blobaum)

Ernest Hausmann could have been just another statistic in poverty-stricken Uganda. But Bob and Teresa Hausmann of Columbus, Nebraska, didn’t let that happen.

Teresa was a high school exchange student in South Africa and saw the third-world side of Africa first-hand. She never forgot about the orphans she had seen and met during her stay, and made up her mind that someday she would adopt a baby from Africa.

Fast forward, Teresa seized her moment after a telephone conversation she and Bob had with Ernest’s uncle, Peter, and his family in Africa. The conversation was mostly about the time Uganda was in turmoil under the brutal leadership of despot Idi Amin. Then Peter mentioned his sister who lived in a remote Ugandan village where she cared for her children but had little income. She was sick, and he didn’t know what might happen to the kids, the youngest being Ernest who was just 2.

Bob and Teresa looked at each other and knew this was their chance to help. They eventually asked Peter about adoption and he said his sister would be very happy if one of her children could be helped. Two years later, Bob and Teresa had a new son and named him Ernest.

Bob loved sports and having a young son could be a chance to share that passion. But Ernest was essentially handicapped after receiving an injection in his hip. The needle pierced a nerve, causing him to lose control over one of his feet.

But Bob and Ernest didn’t give up. Bob did rehab with Ernest everyday, and the nerves in Ernest’s leg slowly healed. Playing on a Nerf basketball hoop helped little Ernest work on jumping and pushing off with his foot. Bob got his son interested in T-ball, basketball and football even though he was still mostly running on one leg. Ernest’s drive and inner strength were on clear display as he hobbled through games. Then, during a T-ball game, the unexpected happened.

“Ernest hit a ball to the pitcher and he was going to have to run pretty hard to make it to first base,” Bob said, describing a scene he will never forget.” As he tried to run, something fired in his foot and he actually ran and beat the throw. My wife and I looked at each other in shock, mouthing the words, ‘He ran!’ After that he just kept getting stronger and faster.”

Ernest developed into such an athlete that he could excel at any sport, but it was football that he gravitated to above others. He eventually exhibited enough talent as a sophomore at Columbus High School to draw interest from Division I coaches. As a sophomore, he started at cornerback for the Discoverers and showed the ability to shut down the opponent’s top receiver.

“He was so athletic and strong that he started at cornerback. He is pretty fast, around that 4.5 range,” said Columbus coach Craig Williams. “In our district, we played Creighton Prep, Omaha Westside, Elkhorn South and Millard South, so he got a lot of challenges out there. In the offseason he bulked up putting on 20 pounds of muscle allowing us to move him from corner to outside linebacker as a junior.

Eventually, his coaches put him wherever they needed to best slow down the opponent.

“We put him on the line to help control the edge. We blitzed him. We dropped him back to the safety spot when we wanted to play with two safeties,” Williams said. “He is so versatile and athletic.”

Nebraska agreed.

Hausmann, then a junior, was on the team bus riding to a game in October when Sean Dillon, NU’s director of player personnel, reached out on Twitter and wished him good luck in the game. It piqued Hausmann’s interest.

The Huskers remained in touch with linebackers coach Barrett Ruud and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander developing a good rapport with him. Then all three had a virtual visit over Zoom the second week of November. Shortly afterwards, Ruud offered.

Ruud told Hausmann that he and head coach Scott Frost believed he “checked all the boxes” they wanted in a player. Still, Hausmann didn’t commit. His parents, especially his mom, urged him to visit campus, see the academic program and facilities and meet the coaches in person.

“But after I told them I got offered by Nebraska,” Hausmann said, “my parents were jumping around and the look on their faces was priceless.”

There never was much doubt where Hausmann was going to commit.

“My family and I are true Nebraska fans,” Hausmann said. “I liked watching Lavonte David when he was at Nebraska and now in the NFL. I love the way he plays with his instincts and making huge plays for his team. I have been following Scott Frost before he was at Nebraska. He is the guy to turn the program around with the guys he is recruiting, but it will take time.

“I like how Coach Ruud reaches out to his players and builds relationships, which can go a long way in winning games. I like how the defense is aggressive and uses the players’ skills to make them better. They are not scared to bring pressure and do in-game adjustments. I like how their linebackers trust their instincts and go to the ball.”

But Ruud is an inside linebackers coach, a position Hausmann hadn’t played to that point. Williams gave Hausmann the opportunity to move inside as a senior and start playing his future position.

“We graduated two of our three inside linebackers, and Nebraska was looking at him to play inside linebacker so we moved him there to help us and help him prepare for Nebraska,” Williams said.

Hausmann made the move and helped the Discoverers to a state playoff appearance this past season. He made 77 tackles with eight tackles for loss, two sacks, two fumble recoveries and four pass breakups. He also caught 37 passes for 600 yards and eight touchdowns.

“He can play inside or outside because he is versatile enough,” Williams said. “Even colleges will move their linebacker to that defensive end spot if they are big enough. The one thing that Coach Ruud said about Ernest is his high effort and intensity. Ernest isn’t going to take plays off, especially if he is on the backside and the play is going away from him.”

Hausmann currently is 6-3, 215 pounds, but is still growing. “With the way he commits himself and with the access he would have at a place like Nebraska, with that training table and weight room, I could see him in that 225-pound range,” Williams said.

Huskers.com had JoJo Domann give his analysis on Hausmann. Leave it to a second team All-American to tell it like he sees it: “Thinking about the longevity of the program we need Nebraska boys to come in here and set the culture, set the precedent. Talent sets the floor, character sets the ceiling, and this dude is what Nebraska stands for. This dude loves contact, if it wiggles, he hits it.”

A Trusted Coordinator

Whipple brings lengthy resume, experience to NU role

Story by Mike Malloy • Photos by Jeff Bundy

Mark Whipple addresses the media Wednesday Dec. 15, 2021.   (HUSKER ILLUSTRATED PHOTO BY JEFF BUNDY
Mark Whipple addresses the media Wednesday Dec. 15, 2021. (HUSKER ILLUSTRATED PHOTO BY JEFF BUNDY

Mark Whipple’s coaching career started before he was a coach.

Whipple, 64, was hired Dec. 8 as Nebraska’s new offensive coordinator, taking over a unit ranked 71st out of 130 FBS teams in scoring last season.

“I’m really excited to be working with Coach Frost,” Whipple said during a Dec. 15 press conference. “I’ve been a lot of places but the one thing that struck me (about Nebraska) is that when you walk into the facility, there’s no feeling that it’s a 3-9 team.”

Whipple’s lengthy resume includes coaching a surefire NFL Hall of Famer, winning a national championship, and signaling in plays to a Heisman Trophy finalist. But it all started when Whipple was still pulling on a helmet.

He left his hometown of Phoenix to attend Brown University where he played football and baseball. Freshmen were ineligible for varsity play when he arrived on campus in 1975, but he began making highlight reel plays back when highlights were recorded on reels for the Bears’ freshman team.

“They called us the ‘Cardiac Kids,'” teammate Bob Forster said. “We had this knack for getting behind, but with Mark and his creative genius, we really believed anything was possible with him back there.”

Whipple threw touchdown passes on the final play of victories against Yale and Dartmouth during that 6-1 season. He and Forster, an offensive guard, played on Brown’s Ivy League championship team the following season. Whipple took over as starting quarterback in ’77 and was team captain in ’78.

“Mark was the brains of the outfit,” offensive tackle John Sinnott said. “He was the kind of leader you wanted to please.”

Mark Whipple addresses the media Wednesday Dec. 15, 2021.   (HUSKER ILLUSTRATED PHOTO BY JEFF BUNDY
Mark Whipple addresses the media Wednesday Dec. 15, 2021. (HUSKER ILLUSTRATED PHOTO BY JEFF BUNDY)

Sinnott, who played four seasons in the NFL, and his teammates were displeased with an 0-2 start to the ’78 season and were even less enamored with coach John Anderson’s philosophy of run right, run right again, then run right some more.

Trailing at halftime in the third game of the season against Princeton, the players had had enough.

“We revolted,” Sinnott said. “(Anderson), God rest his soul, was an old offensive lineman. Offensive linemen aren’t known for their creativity.”

Whipple proposed that he be allowed to call plays in the huddle.

“He wasn’t disrespectful, but he knew what his strength was, and that was recognizing defenses,” Sinnott said.

Whipple’s arm and brain led Brown to a comeback victory that day. The team finished 6-3 and averaged 26.5 points in their final seven games after scoring three in the first two.

“He should have been compensated as one of the coaches,” Forster said. “Anyone could see Mark was destined for a wonderful career in coaching.”

As a compensated coach, Whipple led Division II New Haven to a nation-best 50.5 points a game in 1992. The tiny Connecticut school drew much more attention than it was accustomed to the following year when a Sports Illustrated writer said the team had “the best offense in college football” after averaging 52.5 points and 557.6 yards a game.

Whipple then went 24-16 in four seasons at his alma mater, helping the Bears set Ivy League records in yards-per-game (483.6) in 1997. The following fall, Whipple took over at Massachusetts where he would become the winningest coach in school history. The Minutemen won the FCS national championship under Whipple in 1998.

He left the college game for several assistant coaching gigs in the NFL. He was quarterbacks coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2004-06, where he helped Ben Roethlisberger set NFL rookie records for completion percentage (66.4) and passer rating (98.1). With Whipple on the sidelines, the Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2005.

After stops in Cleveland and Philadelphia, Whipple returned to UMass as head coach from 2014-18. Three times Whipple’s teams were nationally in the top 20 in passing yards, many of those being accounted for by receiver Randy Isabella, now in his third year with the Arizona Cardinals. Isabella finished at UMass with a school record 3,526 yards in 44 games and was second in the nation with 102 catches in 2018.

Whipple spent the past three years as the offensive coordinator with the Pittsburgh Panthers. Whipple again led a brilliant offense, but his biggest coup came prior to the season when he encouraged quarterback Kenny Pickett to stay in college for one more season. Pickett, who finished third in the Heisman balloting this year, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in June that he would have gone pro rather than play for another offensive coordinator.

“If he left, I was definitely leaving,” Pickett said.

Pickett threw for 4,319 yards (fifth in nation) and 42 touchdowns (third) this season while the Atlantic Coast Conference champions averaged 43 points a game, third best in the country. The NFL-bound Pickett may prove to be a valuable recruiter for Nebraska if Whipple’s low-pressure recruiting style is any indication.

“I tell ’em here’s Kenny’s number, call him,” Whipple said. “Ask him why did he come back to Pitt? How was our relationship?”

Frost said he wanted to turn over the offense to someone who had a wealth of experience and that Whipple’s “intelligence and personality” separated him from other candidates. That shoulder-shurgging demeanor was on display in Whipple’s first meeting with the media.

“I got into coaching to help people when I left Brown. I think I can help here,” he said.

Coming Full Circle

Joseph wanted opportunity to coach at his alma mater

Story by Steve Beidick • Photos by Jeff Bundy & Huskers Illustrated Archives

Mickey

The head coach at Omaha North was looking to hire an assistant who could form genuine connections with players.

He picked a guy with a short resume, but who seemed to have a love for the game – and the kids who played it. His pick was Mickey Joseph.

Herman Colvin quickly realized his instincts were correct and that bringing Joseph, the former Husker quarterback, on in 1996 to coach his quarterbacks was a good decision.

Joseph is congratulated by head coach Tom Osborne on Senior Day in 1991. Below: Joseph was one of the most prized prep recruits as he was the Gatorade National Player of the Year and a first-team Parade All-American. Joseph wore a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt while he was a quarterback at Nebraska.
Joseph is congratulated by head coach Tom Osborne on Senior Day in 1991. Below: Joseph was one of the most prized prep recruits as he was the Gatorade National Player of the Year and a first-team Parade All-American. Joseph wore a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt while he was a quarterback at Nebraska.

“The kids gravitated to him,” Colvin said. “He demanded a lot, but they also knew how he felt about them. The difference with Mickey is that while he was demanding, he also was respectful of the kids. You have to allow kids to have dignity.

“No person should have to prove their manhood on the football field every day of the week. They are human beings, so treat them like that. You can have high expectations and kids will respond to those expectations.”

If that coach-to-player respect wasn’t there, Colvin never would have brought Joseph into the Vikings’ program. Twenty-five seasons later, that approach is one of the big reasons Joseph is back in Nebraska.

Joseph was hired away from LSU on Dec. 3 by NU coach Scott Frost and was promptly given three titles – wide receivers coach, passing game coordinator and associate head coach. The relationships Joseph builds with his charges continues to burnish his image as one of college football’s elite assistants.

It had been five years since Joseph last played for the Huskers until the time he joined Colvin’s staff. He began his college coaching career the following season at Wayne State. But Vikings at all positions had not forgotten Joseph’s on-field accomplishments.

Joseph was one of the nation’s most prized prep recruits when he joined coach Tom Osborne’s program in 1988 out of New Orleans. He was the Gatorade National Player of the Year and a first-team Parade All-American. He picked Nebraska over Big Eight Conference rival Oklahoma.

Mickey Joseph during his playing time at Nebraska.   Joseph played 1988-1991.  (HUSKER ILLUSTRATED FILE PHOTO)

He started nine games in his Nebraska career, rushing for 1,091 yards and 16 touchdowns while passing for 909 yards and 14 TDs. The Huskers were 39-9-1, won two Big Eight titles and played in four bowl games while Joseph was a student-athlete.

“Mickey had good coaching in that system,” Colvin said. “A lot of that carried over with the way he coached. The receivers at Nebraska will gravitate to him.”

Colvin believes this because that’s what happened at North. Joseph and longtime Vikings wide receivers coach George Anderson “worked quite well together with the receivers and quarterbacks,” he said.

Joseph had been at LSU since 2017. He began the groundwork with his new stable of receivers the first day he returned to Lincoln.

In an interview on the Husker Radio Network’s “Sports Nightly” program, Joseph talked about his initial meeting with two of Nebraska’s top returning wide receivers, Omar Manning and Xavier Betts.

He talked to them about the struggles of the 2021 season in which the Huskers finished 3-9. An important part of that talk centered on what he saw from them and other players as Nebraska lost all those games by no more than nine points.

“At the end of the day they had not given up, they’re still fighting, so that means we’re going to fight,” Joseph said. “That’s what I talked to Omar and Xavier about. These people have your back. They’re riding with you. We’re going to ride together, but we’re going to get this thing flipped. I truly believe we can do it.”

Mickey Joseph during his playing time at Nebraska.   Joseph played 1988-1991.  (HUSKER ILLUSTRATED FILE PHOTO)

Colvin believes Joseph will be successful because he has had so many different coaching roles over the past quarter-century. Through all of those, his focus has remained player-centric.

“He’s not going to forget about the kids,” Colvin said. “Not only on the football field. You have to be involved in their lives away from football. You had to make sure they know people are looking at them whether they were in school or not. In or out of season they had to do all those things like homework.”

That goes back to what Colvin said he saw right away in Joseph’s first days at North.

“People want to know how much you care as a coach,” Colvin said. “Some of these kids had some of these issues, things like what their home life was like. For some reason he had a great understanding. He would not let that be an excuse not to succeed.

“He would tell them, ‘You will be successful in spite of these things. You’re not going to let yourself be defined by that.’ Those kids ended up having a lot of success in the classroom and on the football field.”

Joseph plans to pass that same message on to all the Huskers he works with in preparation for the 2022 season and beyond.

“New faces and new coaches may mean new life for some kids,” Joseph said. “Everybody’s on a clean slate. So, you’ll probably see some kids step up who haven’t been stepping up because they feel like, OK, the depth chart is written in sand. We can erase it.”

Badgers block NU’s dreams

Huskers fall in five sets as Wisconsin continues to be a nemesis

Story by Darren Ivy

stivrins

Nebraska has continued to close the gap with Wisconsin this season, but continued to be blocked by the taller Badgers in the NCAA championship match on Dec. 18 before the largest crowd (18,755) to ever witness a college volleyball championship match at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.

The fourth-seeded Badgers, who swept Nebraska in their first meeting this season and won in four sets in their second meeting, used a dominating block to win the third and most important meeting of the season 22-25, 31-29, 25-23, 23-15, 15-12.

The 24 blocks by the Badgers were a title game record and proved to be too much for 10th-seeded Nebraska to overcome despite NU winning the dig battle 93-79.

nuwisc101

“The fans got their money’s worth,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “It was a great match with two great teams. There is not a lot of separation in points like it has been all year. It was a great match. I told the team, ‘This might be the most proud I’ve been of a Nebraska team – how they handled this season, the setbacks and losses to get to this match and play like that.’

“Even to get way down in the fifth and fight our way back. Just a tremendous amount of heart, grit, resiliency. These guys have done it everyday. I am a very, very proud coach. These guys are going to own Nebraska with this effort win or lose tonight. Husker Nation is really, really proud right now.”

bench

NU (26-8) started out its 10th championship match like the team that had won six consecutive matches, including four against ranked opponents, leading up to the final.

The Huskers raced to a 5-1 lead behind the serving of Lexi Rodriguez. Wisconsin battled back to take an 11-10 lead, but NU again answered with a 5-1 run behind Rodriguez’s serving. Up 24-22, Lauren Stivrins ended set one with a kill.

The Huskers looked like they were going to win set two as they jumped to a 13-7 advantage. NU continued to lead and on the first set point, Madi Kubik had a serving error. Wisconsin (31-3) fought off four set points in all and eventually won 31-29 behind two blocks in a row by 6-foot-8 Dana Rettke.

In set three, Wisconsin led for much of it before the Huskers rallied to tie things at 23. However, the Badgers won the next two points to go up two sets to one. Of the nine sets, UW took from NU this year, six were by two points.

Nebraska looked like it was going to run away with the fourth set as it went up 24-20, but then Wisconsin got things back to 24-23 before freshman Ally Batenhorst got the kill to force a fifth set.

In the fifth set, Nebraska fell behind 7-0. Nebraska clawed back within 9-5, 10-7 and 11-8. The Huskers also got within 14-12 after a successful challenge reversed match point for the Badgers and gave NU new life.

Nebraska, which was going for its sixth national championship, couldn’t take advantage. NU dug the Badgers three times before Player of the Year Rettke ended the match with a kill to give the Badgers their first volleyball national championship.

The Badgers improved to 4-1 in five-set matches this season, while NU fell to 1-3 in five-set contests.

Rettke finished with 11 kills. The Badgers were led by 6-foot-9 Anna Smrek, who had 14 kills, and Jade Demps, who had most of her 12 kills from the back row. The Badgers had their second-lowest hitting percentage of the season thanks to NU’s defense.

Keonilei Akana finished with a career high 24 digs. Hames added 23 digs to go with her 56 set assists. Kubik had 14 digs to go along with her 19 kills and Rodriguez had 13. Kayla Caffey added 15 kills.

All-American Honors

Four players who could return for Nebraska earned AVCA All-American honors including freshman Lexi Rodriguez, who was first team; senior Kayla Caffey, second team; junior Madi Kubik, third team, and senior Nicklin Hames, honorable mention.

Rodriguez becomes the AVCA’s first true freshman first-team All-American since 2017 (Wisconsin’s Dana Rettke). Rodriguez is one of just three Huskers to get an All-American nod as a true freshman, joining Sarah Pavan (2004) and Kadie Rolfzen (2013).

Nebraska’s Lauren Stivrins, a three-time All-American, was not eligible this season because she did not meet the requirement for the number of sets played during the season.

The 10th-seeded Huskers rallied to upend third-seeded Pitt 3-1 (16-25, 25-17, 25-20, 25-22) in the NCAA Semifinal at Nationwide Arena in Columbus that began on Dec. 16 and stretched into the morning of Dec. 17 to earn their 10th championship final trip. Nebraska will be going for its sixth national championship.

Madi Kubik was solid in all phases of the game to lead Nebraska in the semifinal. Kubik finished with a match-high 13 kills and added a career-high-tying three service aces to go along with seven digs and two blocks. Kubik posted her 24th match this season with at least 10 kills.

Kayla Caffey joined Kubik in double-digit kills with 10, and Caffey added four blocks. Lindsay Krause had nine kills on 19 swings and Lauren Stivrins had nine kills on 17 swings with a match-high six blocks. Ally Batenhorst added seven kills. Nicklin Hames registered her 23rd double-double of the year with 45 assists and 13 digs, while Lexi Rodriguez (13) and Keonilei Akana (11) also had double-digit digs.

Nebraska hit .239 in the match, rebounding from a .167 attacking percentage in the first set. The Huskers held Pittsburgh to a .233 attack percentage, the Panthers’ lowest mark of the NCAA Tournament. Pitt hit .483 in winning the first set, but NU limited the Panthers to a .163 attack percentage over the final three sets. Nebraska also won the serve-and-pass battle with six aces against only six errors, while Pittsburgh had five aces and 12 errors. The Huskers also out-blocked the Panthers 10-7, but Pitt finished with more digs (56-50).

The win earned Nebraska a third shot at Wisconsin this season and it will be a rematch of the 2000 national championship match won by Nebraska in five sets.

Behind strong serving, suffocating defense and stellar offensive performances from its freshmen pin hitters, the No. 10 Nebraska volleyball team won a thrilling 3-1 victory over No. 2 Texas on Dec. 11 at the Longhorns’ Gregory Gymnasium in the final of the Austin Regional. With the 25-19, 25-23, 23-25, 25-21 victory, the Huskers advanced to Dec. 16 NCAA Semifinal in Columbus, Ohio.

Nebraska (25-7) became the lowest-seeded team to advance to the NCAA Semifinals since 2014. The Huskers, who handed Texas (27-2) its first loss at Gregory Gym since the 2019 NCAA Regional Semifinal, headed to their 16th NCAA Semifinal appearance and fifth trip in the past seven seasons.

The Huskers were led offensively by their talented freshmen hitters Ally Batenhorst and Lindsay Krause, who combined for 28 kills on .519 attacking. Batenhorst, a Texas native, had 15 kills – tying her career high – with only two errors on 32 swings, hitting .406. Krause, who was celebrating her 19th birthday, put down 13 kills – two shy of her career high – while attacking at a .500 clip to tie for the highest hitting percentage of her career. Krause also added five blocks, matching Lauren Stivrins for team-high honors in that category. Madi Kubik matched Batenhorst for team-high honors with 15 kills. Keonilei Akana had a career-high seven aces, the most ever by a Husker in a four-set NCAA Tournament match and tied for the most by a NU player in any NCAA Tournament match. Lexi Rodriguez added a match-high 20 digs – her eighth 20-dig match of the season – while Nicklin Hames posted another double-double with 43 assists and 13 digs, and she also had kills on all three of her attempts. At the match’s conclusion, Hames, Krause and Kubik were all named to the NCAA Austin Regional All-Tournament Team. Hames was also honored as the regional’s Most Outstanding Player.

The 10th-seeded Nebraska volleyball team opened the NCAA Tournament on Dec. 3 with a 3-0 sweep of Campbell at the Devaney Center, using a strong defensive effort in a 25-14, 25-14, 25-17 victory.

The Huskers held Campbell to a -.022 attack percentage, marking the first time Nebraska has held an opponent to negative hitting in the NCAA Tournament since 2010. NU recorded 10 blocks and tallied 41 digs in limiting its second opponent this season to a negative hitting percentage.

Lexi Rodriguez led Nebraska’s floor defense with 10 digs in her postseason debut. Rodriguez broke Nebraska’s freshman digs record in the win, eclipsing Kenzie Knuckles’ mark of 444 set in 2019. Lauren Stivrins added a match-high six blocks for the Big Red. Stivrins also paced the Husker offense with nine kills on 17 swings, hitting .412 on the night. Kayla Caffey and Madi Kubik added seven kills apiece, and Caffey added three stops at the net. Lindsay Krause put down five kills on only nine swings to hit .444 in her tournament debut. Nicklin Hames led an offense that saw 10 Huskers finish with multiple kills, and she finished with 37 assists, seven digs, three blocks, three aces and two kills.

While Nebraska held Campbell to a negative attack percentage, the Huskers hit .272 and attacked at a .300 or higher clip in each of the first two sets. The Huskers doubled the Camels in blocks (10-5) and out-dug Campbell 41-36. Nebraska also served up six aces to the Camels’ one.

NU improved to 34-1 all-time in first-round NCAA Tournament matches. The Huskers have won their last 33 first-round matches dating back to 1984. NU improved to 55-1 all-time against unranked opponents in the NCAA Tournament.

‘A God Thing’

NU taking a chance on a kid from South Carolina paid off in a big way

Story by Shane G. Gilster

Tyrone Legette broke the NU season record for pass breakups in 1991.
Tyrone Legette broke the NU season record for pass breakups in 1991.

Under Tom Osborne, Nebraska rarely recruited the state of South Carolina. NU’s best-known player from that neck of the woods was a walk-on named I.M. Hipp from Chapin.

Hipp left NU in 1979 as the program’s all-time leading rusher. But in terms of a scholarship recruit, the Huskers never had any from the Palmetto State.

That didn’t stop NU assistant Ron Brown from taking a look at a kid named Tyrone Legette from Columbia, home to the University of South Carolina. Brown became interested when Legette’s high school coach sent Nebraska a VHS highlight tape of his star player.

Legette was a first-team All-Big Eight cornerback.
Legette was a first-team All-Big Eight cornerback.

Brown was in his first year on Osborne’s staff in 1987 coaching wide receivers and tight ends. Brown talked about Legette’s recruitment during NU’s Big Red Blitz Tour in Broken Bow, Nebraska, this past June.

Both Brown and running backs coach Frank Solich believed Legette could be a productive player.

“We went to Coach Osborne and we said, ‘This is a kid, man,'” Brown said about Legette. “But Coach Osborne wondered why didn’t anyone else think so. The kid was 5-9, 165 pounds, so Tom wasn’t really jacked up about the physical appearance of the kid, and neither was Danny Ford at Clemson and Joe Morrison at South Carolina, so they didn’t even offer him.”

Brown and Solich then went back and watched tape of all of Legette’s high school games. They then asked the following questions:

What does he do when he doesn’t have the ball?

What position is he going to play?

What kind of kid is he?

“It came down to signing day, and it was between us and Furman,” Brown said. “Coach Osborne was like, ‘Dadgummit, Ron, are we really going to take this guy? His own state doesn’t even want him.’ Frank and I said, ‘Coach, we’ve done all the research. We don’t want a bad player either.’ So, Tom finally said, ‘OK, let’s go with it.'”

Legette attended Spring Valley High School, which was in the state’s largest school classification. He was the Columbia Touchdown Club’s 1987 Player of the Year and an all-area defensive back and running back for a team that had back-to-back 10-2 seasons in 1986 and 1987. As a senior, Legette set school rushing records of 210 attempts and 1,580 yards.

But size was an issue. He wasn’t built to be a collegiate running back. In-state schools like Clemson and South Carolina were slow to offer.

Brown and the Huskers saw things differently. They wanted Legette as a defensive back, something other schools hadn’t considered.

“It was a God thing,” Legette said. “Coach Brown saw something in me that a lot of people in-state didn’t see. In my mind I was an athlete and whatever I could do to help the team, I was OK with it. Coach Solich made a visit to my house and my parents felt comfortable with the support I would have at Nebraska. Because coming from a big family – youngest of 10 children – I always had that and I found an extended family in Nebraska.

“Coach Tom Osborne told my mom that they will make sure I will do a great job academically and as a man at Nebraska, nothing about sports.”

As a freshman in 1988, Legette played on the freshman team, as was the norm at the time. He started at right corner for Coach Shane Thorell’s 5-0 squad. Legette led the freshmen in kickoff returns with five for 201 yards and a 40.2-yard average, including a 94-yard touchdown against the Air Force junior varsity.

Early on at Nebraska, Legette struggled to find his way.

“I started off in a new position and had to work hard,” he said. “It was a challenging process and I was getting discouraged, but I told Coach Osborne that I was a team player. Things didn’t move or happen as fast as I would have liked, but I didn’t realize I was developing as a player and person. These are the trying times you must go through to be able to become what God wants you to be in the future.”

Even though Legette had never been outside his home state until attending college, he acclimated himself at Nebraska because of the people who supported and surrounded him.

Legette (pictured bottom left) with other starters from the 1991 Blackshirt defense including clockwise from top left: Mike Petko, Tyrone Byrd, Travis Hill and Pat Engelbert
Legette (pictured bottom left) with other starters from the 1991 Blackshirt defense including clockwise from top left: Mike Petko, Tyrone Byrd, Travis Hill and Pat Engelbert.

“The Nebraska coaches were like a bunch of dads and their wives were like our moms. They brought me up the right way,” Legette said. “When I got to Lincoln, Doug Waddell was already on the team and he and I were friends from middle school back in South Carolina. Guys like Broderick Thomas, LeRoy Etienne, Lawrence Pete and Charles Fryar were all older but they took us younger guys under their wings and helped us out. It was a tightknit group of guys.”

With a support system in place, Legette became a fixture at cornerback over the next three years. He played in every game his sophomore and junior seasons, having the versatility to play both corner spots. He became a full-time starter at the end of his junior year in 1990, starting the final three games of the season and in the Citrus Bowl.

As a senior, Legette earned first-team All-Big Eight honors. He broke up nine passes in 1991, breaking the school record, and had 45 tackles. His best game was against Kansas State when he had 12 tackles (seven solo) in NU’s 38-31 win.

During his collegiate career, Legette’s teams won two conference championships but never got a shot at playing for a national title. NU was close in 1988 and 1989, but they lost one game each season, knocking them out of playing for the title in a bowl game, which is another thing Legette never got to win in his career at Nebraska.

“It wasn’t our time to win a national championship, but we helped build up toward that later in the mid-1990s,” he said. “And it didn’t bother me that I didn’t win a bowl game. It was part of the growing pains and development we had to go through to win those after I left.”

Legette’s career didn’t end at Nebraska. Despite his size, he was on the radar of NFL scouts for the 1992 NFL Draft.

“When I was getting ready for the draft, Coach Osborne came to me and said I had some teams looking at me and that I likely will get drafted. But he said that I wasn’t very big so I should save my money when I get there because I might not be playing long. He was really being a father to me and telling me what to do in the long run,” Legette said.

But Legette played longer than Osborne thought. After being drafted in the third round (72nd overall) by the New Orleans Saints, Legette was able to stay in the league for seven seasons with the Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers.

Eventually injuries took a toll, and Legette retired in 1999 to pursue another profession.

“I was interested in helping families get into their own homes,” he said. “New Orleans had a huge rental population so my goal was to get them out of the apartments. So, I started a construction company in New Orleans called Legette Construction that dealt with affordable housing and subdivisions for people who never owned a house before.”

Legette then opened a Save A Lot grocery store in the Baton Rouge area, providing affordable, healthy food to customers. After taking care of others, the 51-year-old Legette is now retired and focusing on himself and his family.

“I’m living in New Orleans and working on my health and my family,” he said. “I had quite a few concussions from playing football. When I played special teams on kickoffs, I would be the one who would go down to bust up the wedge. That was never fun when you were 180 pounds going against 300-pound offensive linemen all locked together.”

Legette is married to wife Shontell and has three kids. His oldest, Tyla, is 22. Tyrone Jr. is 21 and daughter Ronnie is 20. All three children attend Southeastern Louisiana University. Tyrone Jr. is a sophomore defensive back on the football team.

Legette still looks back fondly at his time in Lincoln. He said Nebraska was the best time of his life with some of the nicest people and fans who cared about his well-being. He hasn’t been back to any Husker home games in a while but is excited that one of his former teammates is back to hopefully help coach NU back to national relevance. Mickey Joseph, who was a starting quarterback during the 1990 season, is now on the Husker coaching staff.

“Nebraska needs a guy like Mickey who has been there; a guy who knows what Nebraska needs to be built on,” Legette said. “Mickey was the guy who kept everyone together. He got in your face and let you know what you don’t want to hear, and that’s the truth. That was one of the things I liked about him, he spoke his mind, was truthful, and then loved you afterward. He was for the betterment of the team because his goal was to develop a team.”

Getting in on the Ground Level

Bruce Haney played a key role expanding fan base

Story by Mike Kelly

Bruce Haney, left, sits next to then-Nebraska head football coach Tom Osborne during an event the two attended. Haney helped organize the film watching sessions that were open to fans.
Bruce Haney, left, sits next to then-Nebraska head football coach Tom Osborne during an event the two attended. Haney helped organize the film watching sessions that were open to fans.

No one knew that the secret arrival of “Mr. Roberts,” the pseudonym of one Robert Devaney as he quietly slipped into Lincoln to check out Nebraska, would herald four decades of Cornhusker football dominance. Bruce Haney, a 27-year-old aspiring Omaha stockbroker, certainly didn’t.

By happenstance, Haney met Bob Devaney and his assistant coaches almost immediately after they accepted the job in January 1962.

Nebraska assistant football coach Mike Corgan.
Nebraska assistant football coach Mike Corgan.

“It happened within days of their arrival,” Haney said. “It was through Art Storz Jr.”

A lovable eccentric, Art Jr., scion of a wealthy Omaha brewing family, was better known for an outrageous stunt that got him court-martialed. In the Air Force reserve, he flew a B-17 low over the Blackstone Hotel and the nearby Storz Mansion at 3708 Farnam St., scaring lots of folks.

In spite of that, Art was shy face-to-face. “And I am not,” said Haney, a Navy veteran and Creighton University graduate who had worked college summers as a safety inspector in the Storz bottling plant. So Art invited his gregarious friend Bruce, who was single, to a chef-prepared dinner welcoming the coaches in a party room at the Storz plant.

Soon to turn 87, Haney recalls that the guests included Devaney, assistant coaches George Kelly, Mike Corgan and Jim Ross and others. As they departed that evening, Art loaded their cars with cases of beer. It wasn’t his last kindness to the coaching staff.

Bruce Haney became good friends with Corgan while Corgan was on Bob Devaney’s staff with the Huskers. Haney had been a 27-year-old aspiring stock broker when Devaney rolled into Lincoln in 1962.
Nebraska assistant football coach Mike Corgan, left, and Bruce Haney, right, became good friends while Corgan was on Bob Devaney’s staff with the Huskers. Haney had been a 27-year-old aspiring stock broker when Devaney rolled into Lincoln in 1962.

Two years later, The Omaha World-Herald reported that Storz had furnished $165 tailored sportcoats and slacks ($1,400 today) to wear to Orange Bowl festivities. He called it part of his “$9,000 thank you.”

Ten days later, after a coaches’ convention, the coaches and their wives were to fly to Las Vegas for a three-day holiday at Storz’s expense, with rooms provided by Creighton alumnus Jackie Gaughan of the Flamingo Hotel.

Many Nebraskans, Haney included, by then were extremely thankful to Devaney, his staff and the players for reversing the Husker football program’s fortunes. After two decades of mostly losing football in the 1940s and ’50s, heady times had returned. And the young stockbroker was happy to make friends with the coaches, who gave him postgame privileges to enter their locker room.

In a story that has been told before, Devaney was looking for a catchy phrase that fans could shout and cheer. Nebraska’s colors were crimson and cream, and he quipped that he could think of nothing that rhymed with crimson. Oklahoma fans yelled “Go Big Red,” so the coach figured that was already taken. But Haney recalls Storz urging Devaney to adopt the same cheer, and he did so. World-Herald sports columnist Gregg McBride derided it as “thievery,” but sure enough, it caught on for the fans of Big Red of the North. GBR in today’s shorthand.

In Lincoln, the Extra Point Club luncheon on Mondays drew big crowds to hear Devaney tell jokes, talk about the previous weekend’s game and preview the coming contest. The tradition of fans wearing red at Memorial Stadium has been credited to a boost from the club. That first exciting year under Devaney in 1962 also marked the start of another Husker tradition that continues after 60 years – stadium sellouts.

Haney, meanwhile, became especially friendly with assistant coach Mike Corgan, who had played at Notre Dame and coached under Devaney at Wyoming. Corgan invited Haney down to watch practice, and occasionally to see game film. They would head to the Legion Club afterward for dinner.

Haney thought lots of fans would enjoy weekly game film, especially with commentary from one of the coaches. And so in 1964, along with Mike Langenfeld and Bob Connor, he organized film-watching evenings in a party room at the West Lanes bowling alley on 72nd Street, just north of Dodge Street.

The 1962 Nebraska football coaching staff included: (front row, left to right) Tom Osborne, Jim Ross, Carl Selmer, Harry Tolly, (back row) John Melton, George Kelly, Bob Devaney, Mike Corgan and Clete Fisher.
The 1962 Nebraska football coaching staff included: (front row, left to right) Tom Osborne, Jim Ross, Carl Selmer, Harry Tolly, (back row) John Melton, George Kelly, Bob Devaney, Mike Corgan and Clete Fisher.

“I charged a buck for people to attend,” Haney said, “and I gave each coach a speaking fee and gas money. I banked the rest, and at the end of the season I divided it up among the coaches who had spoken. I also had a smoked ham sent to each of them.”

After about three years at the bowling alley, the increasing crowd sizes forced a move to the Elks Club at 75th and Hickory Streets. One night when Devaney spoke, the place was packed. Haney recalls KFAB radio announcer Lyell Bremser, who arrived late and didn’t have a seat, climbing a ladder for a press box-type view of the proceedings.

The Huskers endured a couple of 6-4 seasons in 1967 and 1968, and some fans grumbled about Devaney and his assistants – a petition drive against them didn’t gain traction – but the generally upward trend was apparent. It reached the pinnacle when the 1970 Huskers defeated LSU in the Orange Bowl to win their first national championship.

From 1957 to 2016, the Omaha Press Club annually spoofed public figures with song parodies, and Haney is the only person who attended every show. In honor of that 1970 championship, the club staged a special, extra show at the start of the 1971 season, hilariously glorifying The One who had made the Huskers No. 1.

In red choir robes, to the tune of Handel’s “Messiah,” club members sacrilegiously sang in harmony to the Husker messiah:

“Bob Devaney! Bob Devaney! Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hall-le-e-lu-u-jaaah!… For the Lord Bob omnipotent reigneth, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!… For he shall win forever and eh-ev-er!… Go Big Red, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Halleluuuu-jaaaah!”

If Husker football is the state’s religion, that was a night of tongue-in-cheek hero worship.

After a second national title in 1971 and then one more season, Devaney handed the head coaching reins to Tom Osborne. Haney said he thought Devaney, who was also the athletic director, would name as his successor Carl Selmer, who had come with him from Wyoming nine years earlier. But Osborne, hailed as an offensive genius, put together a 25-year head coaching career that was capped off with three national championships in four years.

Through the ’70s and early ’80s, the weekly film sessions with coaches that started in ’64 continued, but after 20 years Haney and friends turned them over to others. Meanwhile, a separate breakfast group for fans and coaches had started in the late ’70s at Johnny’s Cafe in South Omaha. It grew and moved to the Holiday Inn near 72nd Street and Interstate 80, sometimes attracting 400 people in the ’80s, when the Huskers usually made runs at a national title.

Mike Corgan was an assistant coach at Nebraska from 1962 to 1982.
Mike Corgan was an assistant coach at Nebraska from 1962 to 1982.

One Thursday morning in December 1987, a coughing, sneezing Osborne, then 50, spoke for college coaches everywhere in revealing the sometimes exasperating travails of the recruiting trail – the difficulty of getting teenage boys to accept full scholarships for football.

T.O. had headed east for a couple of days that week, but a snowstorm hit Chicago, canceling his flight. He lined up a private plane, which then had a “terrible landing” because of wind shear. His driving directions to a player’s house were wrong, and when he finally arrived, “His mom and dad were sitting there, but no player.” (He was at a basketball game.)

The next trip was to St. Louis, but that player wasn’t home, either. His mother fixed dinner and after an hour Osborne could think of no more to say. “I had said everything I could say to the mother, twice.” Then it was off to Kansas City, where the player arrived home but very late. Osborne got home to Lincoln at midnight and was on his feet speaking in Omaha at 7 a.m. “That’s just the way recruiting is,” he concluded his tale. “It’s very frustrating at times. It’s the hardest thing we do, but the most important thing we do.”

Over the years, Haney had heard sad stories like that from his coaching friends. Overall, though, it was a good life for them, especially at a top national program like Nebraska’s. But salaries weren’t like today’s.

In 1980, for example, when $30,000 equated to $100,000 today, Husker assistants got 10 percent raises to between $25,000 and $32,000. Osborne’s was raised to $48,000.

Most of Devaney’s original staff stayed for a number of years, and that stability was credited for part of Nebraska’s success. Another “original” who contributed mightily was Don “Fox” Bryant, a former Lincoln sportswriter, who became sports information director shortly after Devaney arrived. Haney, Bryant and their wives sometimes socialized.

Haney attended his first Husker game in 1948 and acquired season tickets in the 1950s, when it wasn’t difficult to do so. He is still a fan today, but no longer attends games because it became too difficult for him to climb the stadium stairs. He and wife Marlene traveled the world and raised four children and he used to tease her that none could be born on a football Saturday. (They weren’t.)

Haney enjoyed a successful career of his own, and he retains great memories of his friendships with coaches. The gruff, hard-nosed Corgan, who coached running backs to run over defenders and on occasion would cuss out sportswriters, had a softer side. When he arrived in Lincoln, he looked up what trees were native to Nebraska and eventually planted them in his yard, developing his back yard as a peaceful garden.

Corgan retired from coaching after the 1982 season, replaced as running back coach by Frank Solich. After Big Mike died at 70 in 1989, his daughters gave Haney a keepsake – their father’s 1981 Big Eight Conference championship ring.

Coaches naturally come and go, but it hasn’t been a revolving door. Four assistants from the 1971 Husker team became head coaches – Selmer, Warren Powers, Jim Walden and Monte Kiffin. Others came to Nebraska and stayed, such as offensive line coach Milt Tenopir. Haney got to know him and share in his humor because Tenopir spoke for 34 years in a row at the Omaha Business Men’s Association’s annual “Czech Day.” He died at 76 in 2016.

Haney has outlived so many. The witty John Melton, longtime linebackers coach whose recruits included Trev Alberts, now the Nebraska Athletic Director, died at 86 in 2013. Cletus Fisher at 75 in 2000. Art Storz Jr., who introduced Haney to the coaches, died at 89 in 2009. And the Bobfather himself, Bob Devaney, at 82 in 1997.

Devaney always had a way with people. After he was shown on national TV chatting before a Nebraska-Oklahoma game with Bud Wilkinson, the Sooner coach, Devaney told Haney afterward: “People probably thought we were talking football. I was telling him about that stock tip you gave me.”

From the time Devaney arrived in 1962 until the 62-36 loss at Colorado on Nov. 23, 2001, Nebraska won an incredible 83 percent of its games. Since then, 57 percent. But Haney marvels at the continual sellout crowds and unstinting support and enthusiasm of Husker fans, even after a 3-9 season that includes replacing four assistant coaches.

Bruce Haney helped bring game films and coaches to fans long ago, but his warm memories of old friends and what they built for Nebraska are better than any film. “It was just exciting. This success story was right in front of me, and the entire state was turned on to it.”

Mike Kelley retired in 2018 after 48 years at the Omaha World-Herald, including 1981-91 at a sports editor and sports columnist.

Wherever They Need Me

Versatility is the name of the game for Jake Appleget

Story by Shane G. Gilster • Photos by Greg Blobaum

Jake Appleget follows a long line of Lincoln Southeast players who have gone on to play for the Huskers.
Jake Appleget follows a long line of Lincoln Southeast players who have gone on to play for the Huskers.

The pipeline from Lincoln Southeast High School to the University of Nebraska continues to flow smoothly with the signing of Jake Appleget.

“He is a Husker through and through and a Lincoln kid,” NU coach Scott Frost said of Appleget at his signing day news conference. “We do not want to miss out on really good athletes that we think can develop into really good players for us, especially here in the state of Nebraska. So, Jake was a pretty easy decision for us and we are looking forward to spending more time with him.”

Appleget, who is the lone Lincoln native in the 2022 Nebraska recruiting class, follows most recently the Gifford brothers who also played at Southeast. Luke currently plays for the Dallas Cowboys, and Isaac is a sophomore defensive back for the Huskers.

“It is an honor to walk the same halls in high school as other guys who have gone on to play at Nebraska.” Appleget said.

Appleget was recruited by another Southeast grad in NU inside linebacker coach Barrett Ruud, who was happy to extend an offer back in June after Appleget worked out for the Nebraska coaches in person on the first day after the NCAA dead period.

Appleget, at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, is ranked as the No. 8 player in the state by 247Sports. He chose Nebraska over Minnesota, which offered after he attended a Gopher camp.

“My first offer was from South Dakota State during my sophomore year,” Appleget said. “Then I picked up some more FCS offers along the way and interest from some Ivy League schools.”

Nebraska was his second FBS offer. Northern Illinois was his first.

But for Appleget it was all about Nebraska. NU first contacted him the summer before his junior year, and the conversations were steady from there. After the June 1 offer from the Huskers, he committed later that month.

“I felt a connection with Coach Ruud and can’t wait to play for him and the rest of the coaches at Nebraska,” Appleget said. “Coaching stability in the collegiate level doesn’t really exist, so you can’t pick a school solely on coaching because they might not be there the following year. I’m just lucky to have Coach Frost and the defensive staff still there. Mike Dawson will be my position coach and he and Ruud bond really well together. They both have really good knowledge of the game.”

Dawson coaches the outside linebackers, a position Appleget projects to in college. But Appleget excelled on both sides of the ball in high school, so nothing is set in stone.

Appleget played wide receiver and linebacker for Lincoln Southeast his senior season. The future outside linebacker for the Huskers totalled more than 70 tackles and made an interception.
Appleget played wide receiver and linebacker for Lincoln Southeast his senior season. The future outside linebacker for the Huskers totalled more than 70 tackles and made an interception.

“Initially (Nebraska) liked me at inside linebacker, then it went to tight end or outside linebacker, then to whatever I would like to play,” Appleget said. “I liked playing defense more, making big plays, being the one delivering the hit. They see me playing the outside linebacker position where Caleb Tannor plays.”

Appleget said he likes coming off the edge and also dropping back into coverage. He played outside linebacker as a sophomore and switched to inside his junior and senior years at Southeast.

“Wherever they need me, I’ll play it,” he said.

As a senior, Appleget totaled more than 70 tackles with one interception and two pass breakups. On offense, he had 30 catches for 427 yards and eight touchdowns with 19 carries for 109 yards and one score.

Appleget was a two-year captain at Southeast, “something that doesn’t really happen for us,” Southeast coach Ryan Gottula said.

He also excelled on offense as a receiver.

“At Southeast we make all of our kids practice on both sides of the ball,” Gottula said. “Some may play a little more on one side or the other, but a kid like Jake, he’s too good of an athlete to not be on the field as much as he can.”

Gottula said Nebraska will like Appleget’s versatility and could see him playing as a freshman on special teams as well as outside linebacker, but wouldn’t be surprised if Appleget eventually ends up as a receiver.

Appleget played wide receiver and linebacker for Lincoln Southeast his senior season. The future outside linebacker for the Huskers totalled more than 70 tackles and made an interception.
Lincoln Southeast outside linebacker and Husker Recruit Jake Appleget plays against Lincoln East on September 23rd. (HUSKER ILLUSTRATED PHOTO BY Gregory Blobaum)

“He can do a lot of different things to help a football team,” Gottula said. “He has a good frame to get up to that 230- to 240-pound range. Athletically, Jake is right there with anybody we have had at Southeast in terms of measurables. His vertical jump is 40 inches and runs the 40 in the 4.5s. He is also a great kid and a great worker which is going to help transition to college.”

“I get my talent from God,” she said. “God put this dream in my heart and I have been chasing it ever since.”