Surfer Dude

Mike Croel Rode the Waves to Nebraska

Story by Shane G. Gilster

Mike Croel was a dude on the field for the Huskers but his first love was riding the waves on his surfboard. If you look at some of the Nebraska football photos of him, you will see a white towel with a surf image hanging out of his back pocket.

“I’ve been surfing since I was thirteen years old,” Croel said. “My love of surfing came when I grew up in Los Altos [California]. That was back in the 1980s, when you didn’t see too many black kids surfing. I was more of a dirt bike racing, skateboarding, and going to the beach kind of kid. I didn’t start playing football until junior high flag football. My dad wasn’t a big sports fan so our household wasn’t into it.”

It wasn’t until Croel and his family moved across the country to Massachusetts that he got more into sports. Croel played his last two years of high school at Lincoln-Sudbury where he was an all-state tight end on back-to-back state title teams. He was also the New England high school 100-meter dash champion.

“When I moved to Sudbury, I did pretty well in track and won the 100 meters (10.7) my senior year,” he said. “I was the biggest guy on the track, so for someone my size to run that fast was unusual. A high school coach from Connecticut was going to be one of the assistant coaches at Nebraska so he told them about me. That is how things got started in the recruiting process.”

  • Croel played for the Huskers from 1987 through 1990. In 2003, he was inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame.
  • Croel blocked a punt against Missouri in 1989, which resulted in a safety. The Huskers defeated the Tigers, 50-7.
  • Croel was a first-round pick by the Denver Broncos and was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1991.
  • Croel enjoys creating abstract artwork in his free time.

NU assistant coach Frank Solich was Croel’s primary recruiter for Nebraska. Having grown up mostly in California, Croel originally wanted to go back there to college. But his favorite school (UCLA) didn’t recruit him so his final choices were Penn State, Syracuse and Nebraska.

“I visited Nebraska during a snowstorm, so you can’t accuse me of picking them because of the weather,” Croel laughed. “NU had a good academic program; the coaches were really friendly and the football program was amazing.”

Croel along with teammate Joe Sims committed to the Huskers and became part of the 1987 recruiting class that also included quarterback Mickey Joseph who is now on the Husker coaching staff.

“Joe and I made our own decisions and it just happened to be Nebraska. I was recruited at linebacker but when I got to Nebraska, they weren’t sure were to put me,” said Croel who also played receiver and returned kicks in high school. “My speed was a big factor in my success, if I made a mistake, I could overcome it with my speed. No one could catch me and I could catch anyone I wanted.”

Croel’s fastest clocked time was a 4.48 in the 40-yard dash but he was on the lighter side of the Husker linebackers, weighing around 225. But playing on the outside, he could be aggressive and cover receivers. His speed and versatility helped him become one of three true freshmen to play along with defensive backs Reggie Cooper and Tahaun Lewis.

Croel made a name for himself on special teams his first two years. He blocked a kick as a freshman and the following year, had a team-high two punt blocks, which resulted in Husker TDs. He then moved into the starting role at outside linebacker in 1989 and 1990.

His best games at Nebraska came in his junior year. One was against Utah when he was named the Big Eight defensive player-of-the-week. Game. Croel had five tackles (four unassisted), broke up two passes and returned an interception six yards for a TD.  Then against Oregon State, he had a career-high eight tackles, including two sacks for 15 yards, a quarterback hurry, and a pass breakup.

As a senior, Croel was second on the team in sacks (5) and the fifth-leading tackler with 61. The Blackshirt defense was touted as the best in school history during most of 1990 season. Then November hit. The Huskers were 8-0 and faced the nineth-ranked Buffaloes in Lincoln. NU looked to be in great shape heading into the fourth quarter up 12-0 until the Buffs scored 27 unanswered to win 27-12.

“We had a really good defense, but the night before that game against Colorado, our video production crew made a highlight tape to the song ‘Wipeout’ by the Fat Boys / Beach Boys and showed it to our defense. I think we got too hyped up and it hurt us the next day,” Croel said.

The Huskers finished 9-3 that season but Croel was a second-team All-American, first-team All-Big Eight, and a Butkus Award semifinalist.

Leading up to the 1991 NFL Draft, Croel became a hot commodity. He did well in the NFL combine and kept moving up the draft board. He was a sure-fire first rounder but declined an invite to New York in favor of staying at home to watch the draft with his family. He had heard too many horror stories about guys sitting in the draft room and dropping out of the first round.

But Croel went higher than anyone expected, being the number four overall draft pick by the Denver Broncos. His teammate, Bruce Pickens, went third to Atlanta.

“I was surprised at the time to go that high but the draft is all about teams drafting for what they need. You could be the best linebacker in the draft but could go later based on team needs,” Croel said.

Because of contract negotiations, Croel showed up late to the Broncos training camp and was thrust into a starting role after starter Tim Lucas went down with a knee injury. Croel used his speed and athleticism as a pass rusher to record ten sacks and be named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He was two sacks shy of tying the team record.

“Denver gave me the opportunity to rush the passer as a strongside linebacker,” Croel said. After my first year, my sack productivity went down but I was doing what I was supposed to do at my position. I looked at myself as a linebacker/defensive back. Half the time I was covering the number two receiver.”

Croel’s sack production was cut down to half (5) each of the next two seasons, but his tackle total went up each year with a career-high 110 tackles in 1993. That season he also had an interception return for a touchdown against Brett Favre of Green Bay Packers.

Then in his fourth season, Mike Shanahan came in as head coach and did a rehaul of the Denver team, causing Croel to have one-year stints at the New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks.

“I wanted to play defensive end and rush the passer so I played in the World League to get practice at defensive end and then played my final season in the NFL with Seattle. I then took a year off and had a chance to play in the XFL, but because of injuries, I decided against it,” he said.

Since his retirement from football, Croel has become a surfer dude, taking surfing trips to Costa Rica, Bali Indonesia, and Maldives.

“I usually try to get out about four times per week and about two hours every time,” said Croel, who mainly surfs at Malibu, California. “There are always around a couple hundred people in the water and I know sixty percent of them. We are all trying to catch the perfect wave and just have a good time. Surfing keeps me shape and is a great workout in the water. It is also relaxing when it’s just me and my board.”

Croel does a little real estate on the side along with sports consulting work with speed and agility programs for kids. He also does some artwork on the side, having been a graphic design major at Nebraska.

“I like doing abstract artwork, manipulating photos, and painting,” Croel said. “I mainly do stuff for myself but have done movie posters and designing signs and logos for people.”

Croel has two daughters. Chase (18) will be graduating from high school this year and with hopes of earning a track scholarship and Carson (22) is at San Francisco University studying sports medicine.

Croel doesn’t watch much football as he would rather spend his time at the beach but he still follows his Huskers.

“I am shocked at what is happening at Nebraska,” said Croel who is planning on coming back for this year’s Spring Game. “The program went downhill after they got rid of Frank [Solich]. They should have just left Frank alone.”

The Golden Era of Winter Sports Banquets

Sports broadcaster Howard Cosell was a guest at the B’nai B’rith dinner at Peony Park in February of 1973. Emcee Dave Blackwell is at the podium.
Sports broadcaster Howard Cosell was a guest at the B’nai B’rith dinner at Peony Park in February of 1973. Emcee Dave Blackwell is at the podium.

Big Names, Wise Cracks and Lots of Full Bellies

Story by Michael Kelly

Weeks after the most excruciating loss in Husker football history, when a 2-point conversion attempt failed in a 31-30 Nebraska loss for a national championship, coach Tom Osborne drew a zinger from emcee Dave Blackwell.

After dessert at an Omaha sports banquet, sportscaster  Blackwell playfully offered the coach an extra piece of pie. “Tom,” he said, extending a small plate, “would you like to go for two?”

The crowd of several hundred erupted in long laughter, partly in shock at the bold needling. Osborne, a careful eater who may not have consumed even a first piece of pie, could take the ribbing, though; his decision to “go for two” in the 1984 Orange Bowl had been controversial and he’d already heard just about everything.

But that wisecrack by Blackwell at an annual Christ the King parish fundraising dinner may stand as the most memorable from a kind of golden age of Omaha winter and spring sports banquets that included heavy doses of humor. And when it came to one-liners, Blackwell was the “master” of ceremonies.

“Dave wasn’t afraid to take a shot at anybody,” said Gary Java, a longtime Omaha broadcaster. “He’d say anything, just fire away. He was good at pushing the envelope to make everybody laugh.”

Gary Javitch, president of the Henry Monsky Lodge of B’nai B’rith, retains similar memories of Blackwell from the Jewish organization’s annual charity fundraiser. “He could rip somebody up and down but at the same time be funny.”

Javitch and Java, the two Garys (not related but they have met), are among many middle-age or older folks who remember the late Blackwell for his roast-style humor.

At a B’nai B’rith dinner, he teased then-Creighton coach Willis Reed, the NBA Hall of Famer, for recruiting a Jewish player named Goldberg. “Willis, you’d do anything to get a free ticket to this banquet.”

Blackwell claimed that the stone-faced Rev. Robert Gass, Christ the King pastor, drove a Jaguar “with stained-glass windows in the back.”

This time of year is the offseason for football but the traditional on-season for sports banquets. The aforementioned Catholic and Jewish dinners weren’t the only ones, but for years they were the big ones. “Christ the King in the winter and B’nai B’rith in the spring,” Java said. “It was a rite of passage in sports.”

B’nai B’rith held its final dinner in 2017, ending a custom of 62 years. Javitch cited a combination of factors, including competition with other functions, rising costs and finding enough volunteers to produce the event.

Because of the pandemic, the Christ the King Sports Club paused its annual banquet after 2019. The club hopes to resume with another one in May or June featuring a local speaker.

The Omaha Sportscasters Association Midwinter Banquet named a local sports-person of the year, but its last dinner was its 36th in 2002. The Boys Town Booster Banquet continues, though, welcoming Purple Heart recipient and Paralympian Melissa Stockwell as an inspirational speaker on April 26.

Various schools, universities and hall of fame inductions still draw crowds, as do Creighton Jaybacker Jamborees. So do a couple of national events in Omaha – the Outland Trophy banquet honoring the best college lineman and Johnny Rodgers’ Jet Award for the best college kick returner.

Humor has long been a premium at sports banquets, and sometimes the spontaneity is over the top. In 1991 the Platte Valley Booster Club in Kearney honored Husker athletic director and former football coach Bob Devaney on his 75th birthday. Unannounced as a surprise guest, and dressed as a chef pushing a cart bearing a birthday cake, was Barry Switzer, the former Oklahoma head coach.

Switzer took the microphone and gave his friend Bob a bad time for not recognizing him. Devaney faux-apologized, ad-libbing: “Barry, if you’d been carrying a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, I’d have known who it was.”

At a B’nai B’rith dinner honoring Devaney, Osborne poked fun at himself by saying it was tough to follow Devaney as coach, but that Bob never interfered. “He stood back and watched me run the football up the middle for 17 years and never said a word about it.”

The great Purdue and New Orleans Saints passer Drew Brees, in town for a Boys Town banquet, was asked if Osborne ever called him as a high school recruit. “Have you ever seen me run the option?” Brees quipped. “That’s the reason he didn’t call me.”

LaVell Edwards, the Brigham Young University coach, razzed Oklahoma’s supposed academic standards for Sooners with the old saw about how many it took to screw in a light bulb.  “One,” he said. “But he gets three credit hours.”

Lou Holtz, the Notre Dame coach, spoke with Devaney to 1,200 attending a 1988 motivational night for the Sales and Marketing Executives of the Midlands at the old Civic Auditorium Music Hall. Holtz previously coached Minnesota, taking over the year after the 1983 Huskers demolished the Gophers 84-13.

“The athletic director told me there was potential, and that they had lost to Nebraska by 10,” Holtz said. “I didn’t know he meant 10 touchdowns.”

The Omaha Press Club Gridiron Shows, with dinners that ended in 2016, for decades spoofed politicians but often included a Husker parody. Portraying Nancy Osborne, a cast member sang, “Sometimes it’s hard to be a Husker, pinnin’ all your hopes on just one man. Stand by my man!”

When an NU athletic director was adding luxury boxes to Memorial Stadium, a singer in 1997 parodied “Ghost Riders in the Sky”:

 

One day Bill Byrne was sitting down

in a stadium seat.

Bring in more cash, pile it up high.

Skyboxes i-i-i-in the sky!

 

And when Nebraska won the 1994 national championship over nemesis Miami:

 

Ding dong, we finally won

The Orange Bowl – we’re No. 1!

Unfinished business now is done.

Heigh! Ho! The merry-o,

The Hurricanes are feeling low.

 

Big-name national speakers often drew big crowds, ranging from football’s John Madden for B’nai B’rith in 1977 to baseball’s Joe Maddon for Christ the King in 2017. Some celebrities spoke to both in different years, including Devaney, Osborne, Switzer and, yes, Lee Corso – now famous for wearing a costumed mascot head from the team he picks to win on ESPN’s “College Gameday.”

The Boys Town banquet started in 1969 with boxing champ Rocky Marciano and has included such household names as Ernie Banks, Oscar Robertson, Jesse Owens, Johnny Bench, Ted Williams, Gale Sayers, Roger Staubach and Dick Vitale.

An especially memorable night for the Omaha Sportscasters Association came in 1970, when hockey Hall of Famer Gordie Howe, who once played for the Omaha Knights, received the award from the 1967 recipient, baseball Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, who played basketball and baseball for the Creighton Bluejays.

Among the most widely known speakers at Christ the King have been Scott Frost, Bill Walton, Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks, Bobby Bowden, Mike Tirico, Greg Gumbel, Billy Packer, Red Auerbach, Ray Nitschke, Ara Parseghian and, in 1998, Archie Manning.

A former Ole Miss and New Orleans Saints’ star himself, Archie spoke just weeks after Nebraska had defeated son Peyton Manning’s Tennessee team 42-17 in Osborne’s final game as NU coach. The coaches’ poll voted the Huskers the 1997 national champs, Nebraska’s third national title in four years.

The previous year, everyone wondered if Peyton would return for that season, his senior year, or would “go pro.” Everywhere Archie went, people asked: “Peyton goin’ pro? Peyton goin’ pro?” The elder Manning, a Protestant, told the Catholic audience that he had the honor of standing in line to meet Pope John Paul II, who leaned forward and asked, “Peyton goin’ pro?” (Banquet jokes don’t have to be true to be funny.)

The largest crowd for B’nai B’rith, more than 1,800, was for Switzer in 1986 at the old Peony Park ballroom. Other speakers for the group over the years included Bear Bryant, Joe Paterno, Mike Ditka, Arthur Ashe, Howard Cosell, Bud Selig, Bob Knight and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Oh, and Peyton Manning in 2016.

Peyton was a good “get” for B’nai B’rith because that was the year of Manning’s famous “Omaha” calls at the line of scrimmage. The Denver Broncos quarterback said before the banquet that everywhere he went, he got suggestions for a new word to call out.

“A city, a state, a company, a new website – you can only imagine,” Peyton said. “Well, I am here to tell you, I’m sticking with Omaha.”

Manning was true to his word. After his football career, he launched an entertainment company and gave it a great name – Omaha Productions.

Sports are played out with tension on fields and courts, but folks enjoy relaxing at other times over a meal, reminiscing and at times enjoying laughter. Postseason banquets provide that.

“They are such a great connection with the community,” said Tod Kellen, athletic director at Christ the King School. “A lot of folks who are not parishioners come, and companies sponsor tables. Just about everyone there is a fan who enjoys the camaraderie and excitement of sports. It’s always a great time to hear someone you’ve seen on TV or heard on the radio talk about their experiences and life.”

The B’nai B’rith and Christ the King banquets for years were called “sports stags,” meaning they were for men only. Both dropped the “stag” name and began welcoming  women around 1990. That was an era when Rotary Clubs opened full membership to women after a U.S. Supreme Court decision said the service club could no longer discriminate by gender. Doors were opening everywhere for women.

There had been no hue and cry from women to attend the sports banquets, but the change was a sign of the times. Previously, at last one quiet incident had occurred that was hurtful. A B’nai B’rith spokesman said a divorced mother who had raised her son was naturally unhappy when the son was honored as a high school athlete of the year at the banquet, but only the father was allowed to attend.

For the most part, sports banquets are enjoyable. And Blackwell, who died in 2005 at 66 from complications of diabetes, is well-remembered not only for his humor as an emcee but for keeping things moving.

Blackwell became popular in Omaha as a KMTV sportscaster starting in 1964 and then as a color commentator alongside Lyell Bremser on Husker football broadcasts. Even after he took a sports broadcasting job in Salt Lake City in 1973, Christ the King and B’nai B’rith continued to bring him back as emcee for 20-plus years. (Java, now sales manager for the Pinnacle Bank Championship on the Korn Ferry pro golf tour, succeeded him at CTK for several years. Radio personality Otis XII emceed B’nai B’rith.)

Unlike today, when it’s easy to go online and keep up with local news from elsewhere, Blackwell in Utah subscribed to print editions of the World-Herald. He clipped articles as the basis for topical jokes.

“People thought he winged it,” said his son, attorney David Blackwell of San Francisco. “But I remember how much preparation he put into it, scouring the newspaper for material. I’ve done some public speaking, but I’m not as funny as he was.”

Playful insults were the elder Blackwell’s style, like Don Rickles’. You felt left out if Dave didn’t zing you. But Blackwell could take a joke, too.

“You have to like Dave when you first meet him,” UNO football coach Sandy Buda once told a crowd. ”But sooner or later, he talks you out of it.”

Ha, it’s fun when even the zinger gets zinged. In any case, sports banquets have provided a filling menu for fans, serving up a big helping of sports talk – and then a tasty second course of laughter.

 

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

Going With the Flow

Darius Luff owns the seventh best time in the nation in the 60-meter hurdles.
Darius Luff owns the seventh best time in the nation in the 60-meter hurdles.

Uninterrupted Training Kicks in for Darius Luff

By Steve Beideck • Photos by Scott Bruhn/NU Communications

A return to a consistent training regimen has helped Darius Luff steadily climb Nebraska’s all-time charts in the 60-meter hurdles.

The junior from Lincoln High entered the Feb. 11 Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with one of the best times in the nation at 7.70 seconds. By the time the Huskers boarded the bus to return to Lincoln, Luff had jumped to No. 3 all-time with a career-best 7.67.

That time has Luff tied for No. 7 nationally with Jamar Marshall of Arizona State heading into the Big Ten Conference championship meet Feb. 24-26 in Geneva, Ohio.

Luff credited having a full off-season to train and prepare for the 2022 season after the tumultuous times that disrupted the 2021 indoor campaign.

“With COVID, we didn’t get much time to work out leading into indoor,” Luff said. “We kept getting shut down. We’d have two weeks off, then two weeks on. It was crazy. It’s hard to stay in shape and be able to run fast.

“This year we were working out in the summer, then we had a full fall season to train. That training set me up a lot better to run fast early in the season.”

Nebraska assistant coach Dusty Jonas has been working with Luff since he first joined the team after leading the Links to a Class A state championship and runner-up finish in his final two high school seasons. Jonas said the uninterrupted training is paying off just as he hoped it would.

“I’m not surprised he got out of the blocks so fast right away,” Jonas said. “There’s very little that that young man does that surprises me. He was progressing really well through the fall, and his consistency throughout the year was very good.

“Consistent training has been hard to come by in the age of the Corona virus. This season he’s put together some of the best workouts since he’s been here.”

Luff admitted he surprised himself by posting a personal best time in the first meet of the season, the Graduate Classic in Lincoln on Jan. 15.

“I guess I could say it was a surprise to me but normally I run that fast at the start of the season then get into things,” Luff said. “I’ve always expected it of myself. Ideally you’d want to have a PR (personal record) every week, but that’s just not realistic.”

Luff stayed in the 7.7s the rest of the month and admitted he was disappointed with his second place time of 7.82 at the Feb. 5 Frank Sevigne Husker Invitational.

“I didn’t put a complete race together in either the prelims or the finals,” Luff said. “I’d feel worse if I ran a perfect race and didn’t get faster. A complete race in the prelims or finals would have given me a faster time.”

The difference between those two races showed Luff the level of consistency he strives for is still a work in progress.

“I still have a lot of things I need to work on and get better at,” Luff said. “They were actually different things, something that I’ve struggled with all year. In some races (I get) a great start, then get a little off balance, float a hurdle or two hurdle and not get down as fast as I should.

“Then I won’t get a good start, but once I get over hurdle one, the rest of the race is good. In the prelims I had a good start then didn’t finish as well as I’d like. I didn’t like my start as much in the final. I need to put together a complete race.”

Luff’s father, Scotty, also was a hurdler at Lincoln High and helped introduce him to the sport. He began competing in the USA Track and Field summer program when he was 12. Competing for Peak Performance in Omaha and training in Lincoln, Luff eventually worked his way to national competitions when he was in eighth grade.

“I remember I got second place in the 100-meter hurdles and second in the 200-meter hurdles,” Luff said. “That’s what really motivated me. I knew I was one of the best in Nebraska. It’s a whole different atmosphere for meets out of state, and there I proved to myself I was one of the best in the nation.”

That summer success led Luff to what he said were the best times of his life helping Lincoln High win those two team trophies in his junior and senior seasons.

“Still to this day my experience with high school track was one of the best times in my life,” Luff said. “Just being a part of that team, winning (the state team title) my junior year and getting second my senior year, chasing the state championship as a whole team was special.”

Luff also said working with Jonas and new hurdles coach Brenton Emanuel is making the college experience a memorable one as well.

“Dusty’s been great,” Luff said. “He’s found a good way to keep me motivated. He likes to talk about the other guys I’m racing; he knows how to get me fired up. Knowing he’s been to the Olympics and knows what it takes to get to big meets has been good for me.”

Jonas said he also enjoys working with Luff, learning to push the right buttons at the right time and helping him develop the consistency needed to become one of the nation’s best and, maybe, even the best Nebraska’s ever had.

Jonas said Luff is well on his way.

“Being OK with being pretty good, if you want to be at the top, isn’t good enough. Keeping that edge is important, so you have to poke the bear a little bit,” Jonas said. “He’s got all the tools to be incredibly good. I’ll never say how good because you never know. Don’t want to put a limit on him. With him, the sky’s the limit.”

His coaches believe the sky is the limit for Luff. “I still have a lof of things I need to work on and get better at,” Luff said.
His coaches believe the sky is the limit for Luff. “I still have a lof of things I need to work on and get better at,” Luff said

Top of Her Game

nuindi103

Foundation Set by Her Father Has Led to
Alexis Markowski’s Stellar Freshman Season

Story by Shawn Ekwall

Alexis Markowski has never been one to shy away from hard work.

Countless hours in the gym are a staple of Markowski’s hoops journey. But her fast track to success during her freshman year at Nebraska has caught everyone’s attention.

To some, it’s been a surprising leap. There were skeptics. Could she contribute and play meaningful minutes at a Power Five school? The Lincoln Pius X grad originally committed to South Dakota State in 2019 before switching to NU. But to those who know her story, her quick rise is no shock.

Hoops success runs in the Markowski family. Markowski’s father, Andy, is no stranger to the big stage. The Ord High School product played for former NU men’s coach Danny Nee from 1995 through 1999 and was on the 1998 NCAA tournament team that featured current Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue.

He was a blue-collar player. Defend. Rebound. Set screens. The elder Markowski did the little things through hard work and perseverance.

Andy coached Alexis and her Nebraska Lasers club basketball team from fourth grade all the way through high school. He also served – and continues to serve – as an assistant coach at Lincoln Pius X High School.

So, did dad’s knowledge and passion for the game, as well as his intense practice regimen, rub off on Alexis and her Lasers teammates?

“Yeah, all the time,” Alexis said. “He really prepared me well to be successful at this level. He’s a pretty intense guy and wanted the best for all of us. He really pushed us to be our best.”

The 2021 Lasers class was littered with talent. Players like Grace Cave (Nebraska-Omaha), Molly Ramsey (Kansas State, volleyball) and current NU soccer players Haley Peterson and Briley Hill were part of the program. Nine Division I athletes, according to Andy, played with Alexis at one time or another.

“It was a great group. We were fortunate to play in the top bracket at every event,” Andy said. “Lex got the chance to play against the best posts out there. It helped elevate her confidence.”

Andy said watching the development of his daughter throughout the early years of playing with the Lasers is one of the things he remembers most.

“It was really fun to see Lex continue to develop,” Andy said. “She was one of the taller fourth-graders when we started compared to her peers. And over the years she really learned how to compete as her skills and size continued to grow.”

Admittedly, it took time for those skills to develop, according to Alexis.

“I started Lasers my fourth-grade year, and at first … I was really bad,” she said. “Honestly, my dad was like, ‘I don’t know if we’ll put her on the top team,’ and my mom (Jaime) was like, ‘You’re going to work with her and she’ll get better.’

“I didn’t really like basketball that much at that age, but as I kept doing it, and falling more in love with it, I realized I could be good at it.”

An injury derailed most of her freshman year of high school. A screw was inserted in her foot, and the recovery period was long. Once back full-time as a sophomore, the volleyball and hoops standout started to dominate, and recruiting interest picked up.

She averaged 21.5 points per game as a junior and 23.3 as a senior while leading Pius X to back-to-back Class A state titles in 2020 and 2021. She was named Nebraska’s 2021 Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior. And since arriving at NU, Markowski has hit the ground running.

She scored 20 points in her first career start, a 79-58 win over No. 8 Michigan on Jan. 4. Twelve days later she posted a career-high 27 points in a 93-83 loss at Iowa. She’s been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week seven times through mid-February.

She’s expanded her game, shooting 56% from the 3-point line while continuing to be a force on the low block. Her presence inside has opened up the perimeter for shooters like Jaz Shelley and Ashley Scoggins.

While her statistical numbers stand out, NU coach Amy Williams lauds Markowski’s fierce competitiveness.

“What I’ve seen out of Alexis and the one thing I know is that she’s a competitor,” Williams said after the Michigan win. “She just wants to compete.”

In a 50-38 win over Rutgers on Feb. 1, Markowski posted a career-high 15 rebounds to go along with 16 points. Williams pointed out the value of having Markowski down low in games where defense rules and shots aren’t falling.

“She’s incredibly valuable in a game like this,” Williams said. “In a game where there’s a lot of rebounds to be had, Lex did a great job coming away with them.”

Both Alexis and Andy agree the “fit” with Alexis choosing to play at Nebraska has been nothing short of terrific.

One of the key factors is being able to play in front of a legion of family and friends. It’s something Alexis doesn’t take for granted.

“That’s why I chose Nebraska,” she said following NU’s 76-61 win over Penn State on Feb. 3. “So I could have all my family and friends here. They’re all really supportive. I had family from South Dakota here today. They’re kind of coming from everywhere and I love it.”

Brookings, South Dakota, home of the Jackrabbits, is four hours from Lincoln. Andy said the thought of not having as many family and friends in attendance nightly was something Alexis weighed when opening up her recruitment.

“She kind of realized it would be hard to play in front of as many family and friends in Brookings,” Andy said. “She has a ton of friends here, from Pius X to her AAU teammates. It’s really important for her to reconnect with so many people after games. Even some she hasn’t seen in years.”

As for the culture and chemistry of the current Huskers? It’s a driving force behind the team’s success.

The roster includes players from Australia, California and West Virginia, for example. Markowski and fellow freshmen Allison Weidner from tiny Humphrey St. Francis and Whitney Brown from Grand Island Northwest are the three Nebraskans on the roster.

“We are all best friends on and off the court,” Alexis said. “I haven’t been on a team that hangs out this much outside the court. It’s not just the little groups here and there. We all hang out. We all love each other, we all want the best for each other and are always there for each other.”

Said Andy: “Winning and competitiveness are key attributes to kids on the team. This team puts winning first. Sometimes there’s different dynamics, where talent trumps character at some places. Not here. The culture of the staff and the locker room is a testament to coach Williams.”

And even though he’s coached his daughter since she was knee-high, some aspects of his daughter’s rapid ascent have surprised even him.

“I felt confident she could have an impact,” Andy said. “Alexis was so much bigger and stronger than most kids in high school. But there’s things she’s done that have surpassed my expectations. Her ability to score consistently against the best posts in the league, for example. Teams are starting to double her, which is surprising. I’d say that has accelerated faster than I thought as a coach and father.”

That acceleration has helped put NU (19-6, 8-6) in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018. The Huskers have won six of their last eight, capped by a huge 72-55 win over No. 5 Indiana on Feb. 14. They own an impressive 14-1 mark at home and have two wins over teams currently ranked in the top 10.

Markowski tied her career-high with 15 rebounds against the Hoosiers, while tallying a double-double with 10 points. She was one of five Huskers to reach double figures as Shelley and Sam Haiby led the way with 14 each. The Huskers used a 17-0 fourth-quarter run to blow open a tight game.

It’s that scoring balance and unselfish play that has Markowski pumped about the team’s ceiling heading down the stretch.

“I think we can be pretty successful in the postseason,” Alexis said. “We’ve beaten some top teams and if we keep working and believing in ourselves, we can go far.”

As far as dad’s outlook? Alexis said he’s happy not only for her personal success, but the overall success of the team.

“I know he’s really happy I’m having a successful year, but also because our team is successful, as well.”

And why wouldn’t he? Hard work leading to success is the Markowski way.

Right on Schedule

Bryce McGowens prepares to throw down an alley-oop against Minnesota. The Huskers went on to win their first Big Ten game of the season over the Gophers, 78-65.
Bryce Mcgowins drives for the slam dunk in the Minnesota game. The Huskers won their first Big 10 game over the Gophers 78-65. HUSKERS ILLUSTRATED PHOTO BY REGGIE RYDER.

As the Huskers Stumble, Bryce McGowens Matures on the Court

Opinion • By Jacob Bigelow • Photos by Reggie Ryder

Just before Nebraska’s first Big Ten win of the season against Minnesota, I was listening to an Omaha radio host describe the situation around Nebraska’s basketball program in brutal terms: “There is no hope, there is no joy,” the voice said. Then he added this hopeful note: “But there is Bryce McGowens.”

This was supposed to be the breakthrough season for Fred Hoiberg’s Huskers, at least in the eyes of the much-tortured fan base. Others questioned the level of expectations not only for the season but for the program as a whole. But as a group, there was excitement and hope over the arrival of McGowens, and this, despite a dismal win-loss record, especially in the Big Ten, and the pitiful way the team looked most of the season, has born out. McGowens, the first five-star recruit to ever sign and come to Nebraska straight out of high school, has been the real deal and has given fans something to cheer about, both on and off the court.

But living up to the hype wasn’t easy. Nor should it have been. Being a freshman is a learning experience, right? Still, McGowens, along with his brother, Trey – perhaps the main reason Bryce chose to come to Nebraska in the first place – were to be in the eyes of Nebraska fans at least, one of the more dynamic backcourts in the Big Ten and possibly even the country. That all changed when Trey broke his foot in the third game of the season against Creighton. A near miraculous recovery had Trey back on the court a mere two months later, but his injury was a big setback for both. Before the team departed for their road game at Iowa on Feb. 13, Trey described Bryce’s struggles when Trey was sidelined, recalling that his younger brother was on the verge of tears and that when they’d talk off the court, “(Bryce) felt like he didn’t want to play at times because it was just so hard for him.”

Those two months were hard for everybody associated with the Huskers.

Anyone who follows the team has noticed the extra pep in Bryce’s step since Trey returned Jan. 17 against Indiana. It shows in Bryce’s statistics as well. In the seven games since Trey’s return, Bryce was averaging 19 points on 41.6% shooting, including 31.4% from 3-point range. That stretch of games included a career-high 29 points against Rutgers. Bryce may even be taking pointers from his older brother on the defensive end where both his effort and output have improved.

Bryce was asked about what has helped him adjust to the Big Ten’s physicality, following a second half in which Rutgers bullied the freshman whenever he touched the ball. He mentioned strength and conditioning and nutrition as keys in his growth and development throughout the season, and he talked about how he feels stronger overall.

You can also see a change in his shot selection, especially from beyond the arc. Couple that with an increase in aggressive takes to the rim, and the freshman is rounding into the one-and-done prospect for which he was tabbed heading into the season.

Disagree? Consider this: At the time of this writing, McGowens’ 16.5 points per game trails only Duke star Paolo Banchero in terms of freshman scoring average among power conference players. Also, McGowens has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week six times. By the end of the season, he may have more freshman-of-the-week awards than his team has victories.

You have to wonder what McGowens’ game may have looked like if his older  brother had remained healthy all season.

In another season to forget, it’s hard to believe that if McGowens leaves for the NBA Draft, he would be Nebraska’s third pick in a four-year span, when prior to Isaiah Roby being selected in 2019, the program hadn’t seen one in the 20 years before that. (For those wondering: Dalano Banton, 2021.)

For me, it’s a bit disturbing to hear some of the criticism directed at this team from around the state. The win-loss record is one thing, but I hear murmurs from some that this Nebraska team has no one fans can relate to. Some even say that no one on the roster is likable. I can tell you that from my perspective as someone who attends many college and high school games, that is a bad rap.

McGowens is a basketball fan, and in his free time he often can be seen in a gym near you taking in a basketball game. He’s attended high school games in multiple cities at various levels and even has been to other college games in the state. The 19-year-old from South Carolina has embraced the basketball community in a state where basketball at all levels is usually an afterthought to football.

So, regardless of how this season comes to a close, the status of the head coach after the season and whether McGowens is one-and-done, Husker fans would be wise to just enjoy every chance they get to watch the young man play and appreciate his contributions. Hopefully, the Huskers can land others like him in the future.

Looking Good in Red

Autumn Haebig's best event is the 200-meter freestyle. She grew up following her sister to swim practice in Wisconsin.
Nebraska Swimmer Autumn Haebig Swimming and Diving vs Iowa

Haebig Has Swam Her Way Into the Husker Record Books

Story by Shawn Ekwall • Photos by NU Sports Information

Competitive swimming has been a way of life for Nebraska fifth-year senior Autumn Haebig.

From years of following her older sister Stephanie’s journey to finding herself immersed in the club and high school scene, it’s always been a busy path.

But admittedly, Haebig originally didn’t find a fondness for the sport.

“I got dragged along to every swim meet of my sister’s when I was young,” Haebig said. “I hated it at first. I actually quit when I was 10 and rejoined when I was 11.”

It didn’t take long for a strong passion to develop. Success followed. And since finding her groove, Haebig emerged as one of Wisconsin’s top high school swimmers, winning 14 events and finishing runner-up twice over four years at the state meet for Grafton High School.

It was at that point that Haebig began to ponder swimming at the next level.

“I thought to myself, ‘Oh, I could do this and continue for another four or five years.’”

With a nudge from her Ozaukee Aquatics Club coach and former NU swimmer Steve Keller, Haebig decided to take a recruiting visit to Lincoln.

“He was like, ‘You know, you’d look good in red,’” Haebig remembers.

Once on campus, Haebig was hooked. With former Husker Erin Oeltjen as her tour host, Haebig came away impressed with the family-like atmosphere and the academic support systems in place to help NU athletes thrive.

“My trip was so much fun,” she said. “The sense of family within the team really stuck with me. It was so genuine. And the overall experience for student-athlete life and academic support was amazing.”

To say Haebig has flourished during her five years at NU would be an understatement. Her best event is the 200 freestyle, in which she is the reigning Big Ten champion. Her career-best and winning time of 1:44.39 in Minneapolis gave NU its first-ever individual champion at the conference meet, and she was the Huskers’ first champion since Lauren Bailey won the 1,650 free at the Big 12 meet in 2007.

The moment produced a scene that seemed almost surreal.

“Honestly, I’m not even sure if I still process it,” Haebig said about the aftermath of her win. “You’re in your own world up there on the podium and they play your school song when they announce your name. After I got off the podium, I got so many huge hugs and so much love and support from people at that moment.”

Haebig would go on to tally 11 points at the national championships. She earned All-American status in both the 200 free (ninth place) and 500 free (14th) while helping NU to a 26th-place finish, its best showing since 2001.

She’s continued to shine after deciding to use her fifth and final year of eligibility. Her list of accolades at NU is long. She holds five individual school records, and she is aiming to trim her school-record time in the 500 free from 4:41.83 down to 4:40.

With a competitive practice environment spawned by a team that long-time NU coach Pablo Morales calls “the best group of swimmers we’ve had” and a team chemistry that Haebig said has “definitely grown” over her five years, anything is possible.

“This year the team is really together and unified,” she said. “There’s just so much positivity from the other girls on the team and the coaches. You can just feel the energy.”

Haebig is quick to credit her family for their endless support and encouragement. Competitive swimming, like all club sports, can be costly and time consuming. And watching mom (Linda) and dad (Steve) take older sister to practices and meets was an eye-opening experience.

“My sister’s the reason why I even started swimming,” Haebig said. She ended up swimming at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater “and she kept me going.”

“Mom and dad have always supported me and have always been there for me over the years, too.”

And when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sports during the second semester of 2020, Haebig was able to train at home as mom and dad made healthy meals and did whatever they could to provide the support she needed.

“I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Grafton, with a population shy of 12,000, is just north of Milwaukee. Following the season and school year, Haebig is planning to return home to find a job.

“I know my career is slowly winding down,” she said. “My goal is to make the NCAAs for a fourth time and hopefully get on a podium. I definitely want it to end with a bang.”

Primed For a Run

Ridge Lovett celebrates his 11-3 major decision over Michigan’s Pat Nolan at 149 pounds during a dual meet in Lincoln.
Ridge Lovett celebrates his 11-3 major decision over Michigan’s Pat Nolan at 149 pounds during a dual meet in Lincoln.

NU Gaining Momentum for Big Ten Title

Story by Shane G. Glister

This season hasn’t gone the way Nebraska wrestling coach Mark Manning hoped it would.

“I had planned on us going undefeated,” he said, tongue in cheek. “But I have been here long enough to know that it doesn’t always go the way you plan. People get injured, the COVID effect, guys who were freshmen last year are freshmen again, and pulling someone out of a redshirt is a tough deal. Because of injuries, we were short three to four starters in our first couple Big Ten duals. But all of our goals are still in front of us, and when healthy, this team is a tough matchup for anyone.”

That’s good news for the Huskers as their guys are healthy just in time for the Big Ten Wrestling Championships. This marks the first time since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011 that the conference meet will be held in Nebraska. The event will be at Pinnacle Bank Arena March 5-6.

The Huskers have never won a Big Ten team wrestling title, finishing third last year behind Iowa and Penn State. Even if they don’t bring home a championship this year, hosting the event will have benefits.

It is a great opportunity for us to highlight our program and bring our fans and see the Big Ten tournament in our venue,” Manning said. “It will only be here once every 13 years. It is a great opportunity to highlight our sport and get local people more up to date on how great the sport of wrestling is and how great our guys are as competitors in our program.”

If  NU does make history and win the Big Ten, they will have to do it in the toughest wrestling conference in the nation. Penn State, Iowa and Michigan are ranked 1, 2 and 3 nationally. The Huskers have gotten as high as No. 8, and even though they lost to those top three teams during the season, they were not hugely outmatched.

We are just around the corner to be at the top of the Big Ten and are right there with Iowa and Penn State,” said NU’s 149-pound sophomore Ridge Lovett. “I have been three years in the program and we are making strides each year to get to the top. There are just some mental blocks that are holding us back. I don’t think our team knows how good they are yet. We are better than what we have shown. I totally expect to bring home a team trophy this year but it is going to take everybody wrestling to their full capabilities.”

Christian Lance won by decision over Purdue’s Michael Woulfe, 11-4, at heavyweight.
Christian Lance won by decision over Purdue’s Michael Woulfe, 11-4, at heavyweight.

The senior class is led by Eric Schultz, Chad Red Jr., Taylor Venz and Christian Lance. Manning praises his seniors for leading the way, as they gain momentum going into the postseason.

“I think the senior class has come together to reach their individual and team goals,” Manning said. “Schultz is ‘Steady Eddie,’ CJ (Red) has been wrestling well, Venz has wrestled better than people are seeing, and Christian Lance has had a really good year. We will need all those guys to come through for us.”

All four seniors have a great shot to secure high placements in the Big Ten meet with Schultz and Red being capable of making it to the finals. Last year, Lance was fifth at 285, Red finished fourth at 141, Venz and Schultz were both second at 184 and 197, respectively.

With the help of this senior class, the thought is Nebraska should do just as well or better performing in front of a home crowd. Schultz feels the seniors’ approach to each match helps the underclassmen wrestle at their best.

“We’re all more lead-by-example guys,” he said. “We aren’t super talkative or demanding in a vocal way, but work hard and push our teammates that way. We show the younger guys the best path to succeed when they are older.”

Those younger guys include Jeremiah Reno (125), Dominick Serrano (133),     Peyton Robb (157), Bubba Wilson (165), Mikey Labriola (174) and Lovett. All are in NU’s starting lineup.

Serrano and Reno have had a tough go of it this season. They are in their second year in the program, but as redshirts last year they didn’t get in any open tournaments to boost their development. They had to learn on the fly this year against Big Ten competition. Reno’s first four matches in the Big Ten were against four All-Americans.

“Reno has earned the respect of his teammates, because he fought hard every time. Against the No. 6 guy in the country at Penn State, he wrestled tight as heck,” Manning said. “That shows a lot of moxie and integrity.”

Serrano and Reno are not expected to go deep in the Big Ten meet, but one guy who could surprise is Wilson.

“From the start of the season till now, Bubba Wilson has improved a lot,” Schultz said. “He is one of the hardest workers I have met. He is internally motivated. Losses upset him but he doesn’t let them affect him that much. He accepts them, learns from them and gets back to work right away. He is always asking questions and learning.”

It’s not out of the question that a handful of Huskers might come out on top in their respective weight classes. Manning tells his wrestlers that just because the Big Ten Championships are in Lincoln, the path to becoming a champion is just as hard as it would be somewhere else, it is just a little more convenient.

“Ridge Lovett, Eric Schultz, Mickey Labriola, CJ Red and Peyton Robb all have the capability to win it,” Manning said. “People might sleep on Taylor Venz because he has Aaron Brooks from Penn State in his weight class. But he is capable of beating Brooks. Would it be the biggest upset I’ve ever seen? No, not at all.”

Lovett said wrestling at home is an advantage. “I am going to sleep in my bed and do the same things I do every day,” he said. “I live right across the street from Pinnacle Bank. It is in my time zone, in my town. I have upped my attack rate and added different attacks on my feet. I am super confident on the mat top and bottom. Everything is coming together for me now.”

If Lovett and the other wrestlers Manning mentioned finish at the top or close to it, the team title would be within Nebraska’s grasp.

In the last couple of weeks, our guys are getting back into shape and are peaking now,” Schultz said. “To overtake the Penn States and Iowas, it just takes a few guys getting a few more bonus point wins in their matches. If everyone starts clicking at the same time and gets a few bonus-point wins and a few upsets, we have a shot.”

Ted’s Takes

Ted Kirk is a Lincoln-based photographer who has been a photojournalist since 1970. The Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native covered Nebraska Athletics from 1973 through 2018. During that span he covered thousands of Husker Athletic competitions around the United States. His work is being donated to the University of Nebraska Library Photo Archive.
Ted Kirk is a Lincoln-based photographer who has been a photojournalist since 1970. The Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native covered Nebraska Athletics from 1973 through 2018. During that span he covered thousands of Husker Athletic competitions around the United States. His work is being donated to the University of Nebraska Library Photo Archive.
Jim Hartung peforms on the rings during a meet at the Devaney Center during the 1981 season.
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Nebraska’s Carl McPipe shoots over Kansas center Paul Mokeski at the Devaney Center during a 62-58 win over the Jayhawks in 1978.

A Closer Look

Mike’l Sevedre’s take on each new Husker

Analysis by Steve Beideck
In Nebraska, despite what happened the previous season, football springs eternal.

And this spring, there is real cause for optimism leading up to the Spring Game on April 9. There are new offensive coaches, including a new offensive coordinator; there is a dedicated special teams coach; and most of all, the portal gifted Nebraska a host of new players who pass the eyeball test. In the next month and a half, we will find out how well the newcomers can fill holes in Nebraska’s roster and who among the returning players are ready to step up. The following is a look at who is in the mix at each position.a

Casey thompson

6-1, 200 | Quarterback | Junior | Oklahoma City | Newcastle High School | Texas

There are a lot of things I like about Thompson overall, but I like his field awareness more than anything. Watching a majority of his throws last year at Texas, his ability to go through all his progressions is obvious. He also has excellent touch and precision on intermediate throws. He doesn’t have a big arm and often puts a little more air under the longer throws to get them there. He does a great job of not drifting in the pocket, sets his feet and goes through his progressions. He has good anticipation on his throws, especially those outside the hash marks. He moves well inside the pocket and can scramble for a first down but does not look to run. The ball comes out of his hand quickly and he is a precision passer with above-average accuracy, in my opinion. You can tell he has a high football IQ. He doesn’t seem to get rattled and has a calm demeanor even when things aren’t going great. As an aside, I think Thompson comes to NU with a chip on his shoulder and has something to prove after having an outstanding season at Texas but was still not guaranteed the Longhorns’ starting spot in 2022.

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Chubba Purdy

6-0, 210 | Quarterback | Redshirt freshman | Queen Creek, Arizona | Perry High School | Florida State

The Florida State transfer has a strong arm and easy release and appears to be a pretty good runner. He’s athletic, a dual-threat and does a good job putting air under the ball. He can throw a moon ball. He’s bouncy in the pocket. I’ve not seen enough of him at FSU – he played in a few blowouts – to offer an opinion on how he will do in the Big Ten.a first down but does not look to run. The ball comes out of his hand quickly and he is a precision passer with above-average accuracy, in my opinion. You can tell he has a high football IQ. He doesn’t seem to get rattled and has a calm demeanor even when things aren’t going great. As an aside, I think Thompson comes to NU with a chip on his shoulder and has something to prove after having an outstanding season at Texas but was still not guaranteed the Longhorns’ starting spot in 2022.

Richard Torres

Richard Torres

6-5, 210 | Quarterback | Freshman | San Antonio | Southside High School

He looks like a young clone of Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert. He appears to have studied all of Herbert’s pocket characteristics – the way he holds the ball, his throwing motion, even the way he rolls away from pressure. Torres is definitely not a statue back there. He is a functional runner who can get you some yards scrambling, but I could also see some called run plays for him, like off tackle sweeps. He does tend to hold onto the ball for too long while trying to make the biggest of plays. He also sometimes leaves the pocket for no reason, as if he’s feeling ghost pressure. It looks like he has a strong arm, but I would not say it’s an A-plus arm. He shows nice touch on fades and underneath passes. I can see him growing into a nice passer in offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s system with time.

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Brian Buschini

6-0, 215 | Punter | Sophomore | Helena, Montana | Capital High School | Montana

Punter isn’t usually one of the spots you nominate for your Super Six recruits, but with all of the issues Nebraska has had with special teams in recent years, the reigning 2021 FCS Punter of the Year is worthy, in my opinion, of a Super Six spot. Playing for the Montana Grizzlies, Buschini was one of the most consistent punters in all of college football with a 43-yard average. Plus he placed 30 of his 69 punts last season inside the 20-yard line. Watching video isn’t necessary to say he really seems to be the guy Nebraska has been looking for at punter. If Buschini can just go out and not make any big mistakes and help pin teams inside the 20, as he did for Montana, it could make a huge difference in field position – an area Nebraska struggled with the last three seasons.

Ajay Allen

Ajay Allen

5-11, 185 | Running back | Freshman | Monroe, Louisiana | Neville High School

He is one of the most natural runners I have seen Nebraska sign since Ameer Abdullah. He has great balance both in contact and when cutting. He’s patient to the hole and has great explosion through it. I really appreciate how easy he makes it look. His stiff-arm and upper body strength are impressive. He’s the best back in the class and maybe the best player, period.

Emmet Johnson

Emmett Johnson

6-0, 185 | Running back | Freshman | Minneapolis | Academy of Holy Angels

I don’t exactly buy that Johnson is 185 pounds. He looks slighter than that. Regardless, he is a big play waiting to happen and shows toughness on tape, especially on defense. He has a bit of an exaggerated way of cutting at times, and I think it’s him just styling and profiling more than anything else. I like the way he puts his foot in the ground and gets downhill. I’d love to see more film of him against defenses where the holes aren’t as big to see how he makes people miss in the backfield, which is often necessary at the college level. He does show good patience when waiting on a block. I think NU could use him similar to the way they used Maurice Washington his freshman year. I’m not saying Johnson will be as good of a receiver as Washington, but if you get him out in space, especially outside the hash marks, he certainly can make people miss. But I also thought the same thing about Miles Jones and that never developed. But with the new coaches on board and in a modified system, I think Whipple will find a way to get him the ball. Johnson doesn’t have elite football speed, but he is quick out of the box.

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Anthony Grant

5-11, 210 | Running back | Junior | Buford, Georgia | Buford High School | Florida State | New Mexico Military Institute

He is a compact runner with good, explosive speed out of the blocks and is really a solid 5-11, 210 pounds. He does not have elite long speed but is plenty fast enough to be a big-play threat. He is really good at setting up his blocks and has good patience when getting to the hole. His short-area quickness may be his biggest strength. He breaks some tackles, however the majority of his runs are through pretty good-sized holes, both from high school and JUCO, so it’s hard to judge. Grant also played some defense in high school and it seems like he enjoys the contact when it’s there. He has very good hands catching the ball out of the backfield. You can see on several screen plays that he is a natural catcher of the ball, gets it put away and turns up the field quickly.

Janiran

Janiran Bonner

6-3, 210 | Wide receiver | Freshman | Ellenwood, Georgia | Cedar Grove High School

Bonner apparently runs the “9” and “post” routes very well. That is what you see mostly on his tape. He appears to have decent long speed, has great size and is put together. He does a good job of catching the ball with hands and will high-point it. I like the way he adjusts to the ball in the air, and I wonder if he played baseball because he is good at tracking it. He looks, at least on tape, like the player people hope Omar Manning becomes. He reminds me of Devery Henderson, who played at LSU and for the Saints. They have a similar gate.

Decoldest Crawford

Decoldest Crawford

6-2, 190 | Wide receiver | Freshman | Shreveport, Louisiana | Green Oaks High School

Being from New Orleans myself, I’ve never thought that highly of the football played in the northwest part of the state. Out of the four corners of Louisiana, the northwest generally has been the weakest in terms of competition. It’s not that great players don’t come out of there, it’s just that they are harder to judge due to the lack of competition. In his film, you see Crawford dominate in many different ways. He has speed, he’s a good route-runner and he seems to have good hands. But again, it’s tough to judge based on the level of competition traditionally in that part of the state. I’m looking forward to seeing what Crawford becomes when he gets some good weight on him. It looks like, based on his frame, he could fill out nicely. He reminds me a little bit of former Husker Quincy Enunwa – another Louisiana product – when I watch him run.

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Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda

6-0, 185 | Wide receiver | Junior | Twentynine Palms, California | Twentynine Palms High School | Saddleback (Arizona) College New Mexico State

He is very skilled and is a great bad-ball catcher. He’s also a pretty good route-runner. We will have to wait and see how he will be stepping up in competition in the Big Ten.

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Trey Palmer

6-1, 190 | Wide receiver | Junior | Kentwood, Louisiana | Kentwood High School | LSU

Palmer is an intriguing add from the portal. He came to LSU as a do-it-all player and first made a name for himself with the Tigers as a return man and then as a slot receiver. Palmer is capable of lining up at any of the receiver positions. He has outstanding speed and is a good route-runner with good hands. He’s especially effective coming out of motion and getting into his routes. He adds a type of receiver that Nebraska has not had the last few years. He’s kind of a bigger version of De’Mornay Pierson-El. He’s built a lot like a running back and plays like it after the catch.

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Victor Jones

6-2, 190 | Wide Receiver| Freshman | Orlando, Florida | Olympia High School

Jones is a unique receiver with a bit of Laviska Shenault in him. Basically his team used him as an athlete, getting him the ball around the line of scrimmage and let him go to work. He ran a lot of middle screens and quick smoke plays designed to get the ball in his hands in space. You don’t get a chance to see a lot of his route running or an opportunity to see how he catches the ball in traffic. He has good size, looks like he has decent speed and breaks a lot of tackles. He is a long-strider but can still break down enough to make defenders miss in space. I would like to see him catch the ball more with his hands – he lets the ball get into his body too much. His ability to make people miss and break tackles means he is going to get on the field sooner than later.

Chase Andoff

Chase Androff

6-6, 230 | Tight end | Freshman | Lakeville, Minnesota | South High School

Androff is quite the finisher when it comes to blocking. You watch him block on the edge, and he just won’t stop until the play is over – and sometimes a little after that. I really like how physical he is at his size. He might be a little bit more than his listed 230 pounds, judging by his tape. In terms of catching the ball, he seems natural. I think my comp for him, when you also consider his blocking, is former Ohio State tight end Nick Vannett. He really uses his size well and when he is in the open he catches the ball fine. I feel bad for the guys on the second level of the defense in his film because it’s just not fair.

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Hunter Anthony

6-6, 320 | Offensive line | Junior | Tuttle, Oklahoma | Tuttle High School | Oklahoma State

The transfer from Oklahoma State is athletic. He played for the Cowboys as a freshman, but because of injuries and getting passed up in the depth chart, I could not find a lot of tape. Based on what he did early in his career for the Cowboys, I believe he could contend for a tackle spot.

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Kevin Williams

6-5, 330 | Offensive line | Senior | Omaha | North High School | Northern Colorado

The big offensive lineman from Omaha North who ended up at Northern Colorado out of high school is a nice add for this offensive line. He brings a ton of experience at both tackle and guard, but I imagine he’ll play inside at Nebraska. His tape shows some unique athleticism for someone 330 pounds. You see him cut blocking, pulling with ease and even doing a cartwheel after a touchdown. I like the idea of adding Williams and his experience and nastiness to this offensive line. He is a finisher with a play-tothe- echo-of-the-whistle mentality. That’s something I expect to see a lot more of with coach Donovan Raiola in charge.

Justin Evans Jenkins

Justin Evans-Jenkins

6-2, 280 | Offensive line | Freshman | East Orange, New Jersey | Irvington High School

If you like violence on the football field, Evans-Jenkins’ tape is for you. It doesn’t matter which side of the line of scrimmage he is on, he is putting someone on the ground. He is also very quick. That said, his height limits him to the interior of the offensive line but doesn’t limit his ability to block and finish blocks. He played offensive tackle and defensive tackle in high school. Because of his size, you could call him a project, but based on tape, he seems to have most of the tools. He’s got good feet and is strong and nasty.

Brodie Tagaloa

Brodie Tagaloa

6-4, 260 | Defensive line | Freshman | Pittsburg, California | De La Salle High School

Tagaloa has a really interesting build, and we will have to see how he develops in the weight room. At this point, he looks like a defensive end when he is playing tight end and when he’s playing defensive end he looks more like an interior defensive lineman! With the lack of depth at defensive line, you would figure that he would fit best right now on that side of the ball. If he does stay at tight end, between Tagaloa and Chase Androff, NU could set up in some powerful three tight end sets because Tagaloa is a heck of a blocker, both at the point of attack and on the move.

Jake Appleget

Jake Appleget

6-4, 210 | Outside linebacker | Freshman | Lincoln | Southeast High School

Appleget is versatile and can play most anywhere on the second level. I expect him to play on all special teams starting as early as his freshman season. He’s a very good tackler and an outstanding athlete. With his receiving skills, he could play slot as well. However, I expect that he’ll start at inside linebacker, gain weight and go from there.

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Ernest Hausmann

6-3, 205 | Inside linebacker | Freshman | Columbus | Columbus High School

I’m not quite sure what spot Hausmann ends up playing. It could be either inside or outside linebacker. He certainly has raw ability, and I could see him growing into a designated pass-rusher. He can certainly play inside linebacker based on his good instincts, but he is raw. I had a chance to see Hausmann in person, and he really sticks out among others on the field. It seems like he anticipates well what’s about to happen with the play. He enjoys taking on blocks, discarding them and getting to the ball-carrier. I’m not sure how he is in coverage, but watching him play on offense, he appears to have good ball skills. My comp for him is Kwon Alexander, who now plays for the Saints.

Omar Brown

Omar Brown

6-1, 200 | Cornerback | Junior | Minneapolis | North High School | Northern Iowa

Brown is the ultimate ballhawk. Whether you watch his high school or his college tape, if the ball is on the ground or bouncing around in the air and especially when he is high-pointing it in coverage, he has a way of getting his hands on it. He doesn’t look as big as he is listed, and he doesn’t appear to be as long as some of the corners who defensive backs coach Travis Fisher has recruited, but he is physical with receivers on the jam and also when going up for the ball. I think you will also see him quite a bit on special teams. I see why he left Northern Iowa. If you are as good as he has been since his freshman year, you have to try and move up. I won’t be surprised if he contends for one of the starting cornerback spots this season.

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Jaeden Gould

6-2, 190 | Cornerback | Freshman | Somerset, New Jersey | Bergen Catholic High School

Gould is a special player. Combine his size – he looks bigger than his listed numbers – with his ability to find the ball in the air, and he’s far ahead of what you normally see from high school players. Whether at corner in man, at safety or in the slot, he always seems to be able to find the ball in the air. I personally like him at safety because of his ability to hit along with his coverage skills. Several times on tape, he comes up and hits guys with really good technique. He has a lot of former Husker Chris Jones in him. He has long arms, is good in space and can come down and play corner. I don’t know his top-end speed, but I’m not sure it matters. He might be the most complete high school player in this class.

Malcolm Hartzog

Malcolm Hartzog

5-10, 175 | Cornerback | Freshman | Silver Creek, Mississippi | Jefferson Davis County High School

Hartzog is a little guy, but he is fast. His size likely will be an issue playing corner in the Big Ten. He’s a willing tackler, but he will get posted up versus some of the receivers in this league. Maybe he is best suited as a slot corner? He is a fun player to watch on offense and as a returner. You see his ability to manage his way through traffic as a returner. Perhaps he can be a Deonte Harris-type who is always a threat returning kickoffs and punts.

Hill Tommi 1468

Tommi Hill

6-0, 205 | Cornerback | Sophomore | Orlando, Florida | Edgewater High School | Arizona State

Hill is interesting mainly because he has enough experience to contend for immediate time. The secondary is fairly deep with newcomers, so it’s going to be quite the battle. One thing Hill does well is that he’s just naturally long and covers a lot of space. He’s another guy I would expect to see on special teams, especially the coverage teams, early on. I’m not sure you get this level of athlete if not for the problems currently at Arizona State.

Javier Morton

Javier Morton

6-2, 185 | Defensive back | Sophomore | Atlanta | Stephenson High School | Garden City (Kansas) Community College

Morton is a really good-looking athlete and a big one at that. You can watch him moving in space and see why he is perfectly suited to play safety. He plays the ball well in the air, he has good hands and can finish plays in terms of returning it. He’s a solid returner in the kicking game as well. He doesn’t have blazing speed, but he seems to have good instincts and gets where he needs to be. I really like the way he can come down and play press coverage as a third corner when necessary. I would guess he plays on all of the special teams quickly.

Jalil Martin

Jalil Martin

6-3, 190 | Safety | Freshman Chicago | Kenwood Academy

Martin is an intriguing player watching him on tape. Based on the way he moves as a receiver, I could see his conversion to defensive back being smooth. I like the way he hits; he’s seriously physical. I can see him adding some weight and moving into that JoJo Domann role. I know Buddha Wright is destined for that spot, but he’s been delayed by injuries. Martin certainly could play that type of role with his size and quickness. He’s definitely one of the most athletic players in this class.

DeShon Singleton
FB Headshots 2022

Deshon Singleton

6-3, 205 | Safety | Sophomore Amite, Louisiana | St. Helena High School | Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College

Another big, good-looking safety. He looks like a Rover. He runs well, covers a lot of space and can tackle.

Gage Stenger

Gage Stenger

6-2, 200 | Athlete | Freshman Omaha | Millard South High School

Stenger is the logical pick as sleeper of this class. One of the things that sticks out – and you see it when he was playing in the secondary, receiver or quarterback – is that he’s a leader. I could see him as someone who guys would gravitate to as both a local player and because he’s a sneaky good athlete. With his size and athleticism, he could possibly grow into that joker position that JoJo Domann played, or you could see him playing as a traditional outside linebacker rushing the passer. Another possibility is that he grows into a tight end.

Spring Things

Spring Things

New Players, New Coaches Sure to Spice Up Spring Ball

Analysis by Steve Beideck

In Nebraska, despite what happened the previous season, football springs eternal.

And this spring, there is real cause for optimism leading up to the Spring Game on April 9. There are new offensive coaches, including a new offensive coordinator; there is a dedicated special teams coach; and most of all, the portal gifted Nebraska a host of new players who pass the eyeball test. In the next month and a half, we will find out how well the newcomers can fill holes in Nebraska’s roster and who among the returning players are ready to step up. The following is a look at who is in the mix at each position.a

SMOTHERS scaled e1649434689553

Quarterback

Who’s Back

Starting experience
Logan Smothers, 6-2, 195, Soph., Muscle Shoals, Ala.

Other returners
Spencer Arceneauz, 6-1, 180, R-Fr., Mobile, Ala.
Heinrich Haarberg, 6-5, 200, R-Fr., Kearney (Kearney Catholic)
Matt Masker, 6-2, 220, Jr., Kearney (Kearney Catholic)
Jarrett Synek, 6-0. 190, R-Fr., Hastings

Who’s new

Transfer portal or junior college transfer
Chubba Purdy, 6-0, 210, R-Fr., Queen City, Ariz. (Florida State)
Casey Thompson, 6-1, 200, Jr., Oklahoma City (Texas)

Incoming freshmen
Richard Torres, 6-5, 210, Fr., San Antonio

Departed contributor
Adrian Martinez, graduate transfer to Kansas State University

What to watch in the spring

The battle for the top spot should be fierce with three clear front-runners who have lots to prove. Throw in a new offensive coordinator who specializes in developing quarterbacks, and fans will have lots to follow. The pressure will be high, as most view the position as the one that has held the Huskers back the most in the Frost era. The good news is that Mark Whipple has lots to work with in Casey Thompson, Chubba Purdy and Logan Smothers, the only returner with a Husker start. Even with Smothers in the mix, most believe that either Thompson or Purdy are the front-runners, a notion nixed by coach Scott Frost, who says it’s wide open — as it should be. Strong-armed freshman recruit Richard Torres likely is a year from contending for playing time while his injured knee heals and his body develops. The continued development of Heinrich Haarberg will draw lots of interest, particularly under the eye of Whipple. The ceiling is high for both Torres and Haarberg.

Bold Prediction

Whoever wins the starting job has a mostly favorable first half of the schedule to prove they should run the offense for the entire 2022 season. Best guess here is that Thompson, who owns the most experience as the Texas starter for most of 2021, will emerge from spring ball as the leader — and then the race will continue into the fall. Regardless, for the first time in the Frost era, the Huskers will have two capable backups who can step in if needed. That also keeps everyone on point in practice in what should be a season-long competition. When is the last time the Huskers have had that luxury?

YANT

Runningback

Who’s Back

Starting experience
Gabe Ervin, 6-0, 215, R-Fr., Buford, Ga.
Rahmir Johnson, 5-10, 185, Soph., Oradell, N.J.
Jaquez Yant, 6-2, 245, Soph., Tallahassee, Fla.

Other returners
Isaiah Harris, 5-8, 190, R-Fr, Omaha (Millard South)
Cooper Jewett, 5-10, 190, Soph., Omaha (Elkhorn South)
Trevin Luben, 5-11, 200, R-Fr., Wahoo
Beau Psencik, 6-0, 205, R-Fr., Houston
Matthew Schuster, 5-10, 190, R-Fr., Cozad
Markese Stepp, 6-1, 230, Jr., Indianapolis (USC)
Zach Weinmaster, 5-10, 190, Soph., Loveland, Colo.
Aiden Young, 5-9, 175, R-Fr., Omaha (Elkhorn HS)

Who’s new

Transfer portal or junior college transfer
Anthony Grant, 5-11, 210, Jr., Buford, Ga. (Florida State, New Mexico Military Institute)

Incoming freshmen
Ajay Allen, 5-11, 185, Fr., Monroe, La.
Emmett Johnson, 6-0, 185, Fr., Minneapolis

Departed contributor
Marvin Scott, transfer portal
Sevion Morrison, transfer portal

What to watch in the spring

Three players with starting experience, along with junior college transfer Anthony Grant, will battle during spring ball to show new members of the offensive staff they know what’s expected from them to be productive in the new scheme. Again, the Whipple effect will be interesting to watch, as will the impact of new running backs coach Bryan Applewhite. With new coaches in town, everyone is starting from scratch, which means someone could make a strong move. There are enough players in the mix for everyone to be pushed. It’s a full room, and now with enough talent to be intriguing.

Bold Prediction

Rahmir Johnson has the most experience; he was second on the team in rushing behind Martinez in 2021. He also is a proven entity as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. If he can stay healthy, Johnson has a chance to be NU’s primary running back for the next two seasons. Last season Johnson had his biggest games against the best teams, including a career-high 172 all-purpose yards against CFP semifinalist Michigan.

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Tight End

Who’s Back

Starting experience
Travis Vokolek, 6-6, 260, Sr., Springfield, Mo.

Other returners
Nate Boerkircher, 6-4, 220, R-Fr., Aurora
Chancellor Brewington, 6-3, 185, Sr. Chandler, Ariz. (Northern Arizona)
James Carnie, 6-5, 230, R-Fr., Roca (Norris)
Thomas Fidone, 6-6, 235, R-Fr., Council Bluffs (Lewis Central)
John Goodwin, 6-2, 255, Soph., Lincoln (Lincoln High)
Jacob Herbek, 6-5, 265, Soph., Grand Island (Central Catholic)
Chris Hickman, 6-5, 215, Soph., Omaha (Burke)
Evan Meyersick, 6-5, 185, R-Fr., Omaha (Millard West)
AJ Rollins, 6-6, 230, R-Fr., Omaha (Creighton Prep) 

Who’s new

Transfer portal or junior college transfer
None

Incoming freshmen
Chase Androff, 6-6, 230, Lakeville, Minn.
Luke Lindenmeyer, 6-4, 250, La Vista (Papillion-La Vista)

Departed contributor
Austin Allen, opted for NFL Draft

What to watch in the spring

This position has become more valuable thanks to Austin Allen, who played himself into a go-to threat as a receiver. While much focus during the off-season has been around improving Nebraska’s wide receiver corps, expect the tight ends to have a big impact in Whipple’s system. Travis Vokolek returning is a big plus for the Huskers, but there are reports he’s out for spring with an injury. The door is open for the stable of youngsters, who still have their position coach, to step up and help. Will Chris Hickman grow into the position? Is AJ Rollins ready? Is Chancellor Brewington a tight end or a receiver? Lots of things to figure out here.

Bold Prediction

In catching the ball, the talent is there for the Huskers to pick up where Allen left off. Vokolek will lead the way come fall, but the Big Ten hasn’t gotten a taste of Thomas Fidone yet. And they may not like it. Injured last year, Fidone has the makings of a pass-catching machine. We predict opposing defensive backs will not be happy to see him. Along with returning starter Vokolek, Fidone and any number of youngsters could form a very good group.

MANNING

Wide Receiver

Who’s Back

Starting experience
Brody Belt, 5-9, 185, Jr., Omaha (Millard West)
Zavier Betts, 6-2, 200, Soph., Bellevue (Bellevue West)
Alante Brown, 5-10, 185, Soph., Chicago
Wyatt Liewer, 6-4, 195, Jr., O’Neill
Omar Manning, 6-4, 225, Sr., Lancaster, Texas (TCU, Kilgore College)
Oliver Martin, 6-1, 200, Sr., Coralville, Iowa (Michigan, Iowa)

Other returners
Chancellor Brewington, 6-3, 185, Sr., Chandler, Ariz. (Northern Arizona)
Elliott Brown, 6-1, 180, R-Fr., Omaha (Elkhorn South)
Alex Bullock, 6-2, 190, R-Fr., Omaha (Creighton Prep)
Kamonte Grimes, 6-3, 200, R-Fr., Naples, Fla.
Ty Hahn 6-2, 195, R-Fr., Johnson (Johnson-Brock)
Shawn Hardy, 6-3, 190, R-Fr., Kingsland, Ga.
Barron Miles, Jr., 5-10, 170, R-Fr., Montreal, Quebec/Chandler, Ariz.
Latrell Neville, 6-4, 195, R-Fr., Fresno, Texas
Will Nixon, 5-11, 185, R-Fr., Waco, Texas
Truitt Robinson, 6-0, 190, R-Fr., Gilbert, Ariz.
Taveon Thompson, R-Fr., Lincoln (Southeast)

Who’s new

Transfer portal or junior college transfer
Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda, 6-0, 185, Jr., Twentynine Palms, Calif. (New Mexico State)
Trey Palmer, 6-1, 190, Jr., Kentwood, La. (LSU)

Incoming freshmen
Janiran Bonner, 6-3, 200, Fr., Ellenwood, Ga.
Decoldest Crawford, 6-2, 190, Fr., Shreveport, La.
Victor Jones, Jr., 6-2, 190, Fr., Orlando

Departed contributor
Levi Falck
Samari Toure

What to watch in the spring

Buckle up. This could get good. Six returning players have started at least one game for the Huskers, but the talk of the winter is who has been added to this room, including position coach Mickey Joseph. This is going to be the most competitive position of spring ball simply because there are so many people – 21, to be exact – competing for playing time. And, dare we say, there is talent in that group. You name it, there are big guys, slot guys, experienced guys and new guys. Both transfers, Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda and Trey Palmer, are eager to show they can help immediately.

Bold Prediction

Manning and Betts will have a ball in the new Whipple offense. So will the new receivers Joseph helped lead to Lincoln. Palmer will work his way into the rotation the quickest of any newcomer, and don’t expect any of the three freshmen to be comfortable with waiting their turn. Any of those four, or several of them, could do what Toure did in his single season in Lincoln. Manning and Betts are good bets for big jumps in production, and with Joseph leading the way, the sky could be the limit for their development.

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Offensive Line

Who’s Back

Starting experience
Broc Bando, 6-5, 315, Sr., Lincoln/IMG Academy
Bryce Benhart, 6-9, 330, Soph., Lakeville, Minn.
Turner Corcoran, 6-6, 300, Soph., Lawrence, Kan.
Trent Hixson, 6-4, 320, Sr., Omaha (Skutt)
Nouredin Nouili, 6-4, 315, Jr., Frankfurt, Germany (Norris, Colorado State)
Ethan Piper, 6-3, 305, Soph., Norfolk (Norfolk Catholic)
Teddy Prochazka, 6-9, 305, Soph., Omaha (Elkhorn South)

Other returners
Brant Banks, 6-7, 305, Soph., Houston
Ian Boerkircher, 6-6, 280, Jr., Aurora (Nebraska-Kearney)
Alex Conn, 6-6, 300, R-Fr., Derby, Kan.
Sam Hoskinson, 6-0, 245, R-Fr., Omaha (Elkhorn South)
Henry Lutovsky, 6-6, 330, R-Fr., Crawfordsville, Iowa
Michael Lynn, 6-6, 295, Soph. Greenwood Village, Colo.
Joey Mancino, 6-3, 300, R-Fr., Holmdel, N.J.
Keegan Menning, 6-5, 335, R-Fr., Fremont (Fremont High)
Ezra Miller, 6-6, 315, Soph., Holstein, Iowa (Iowa)
Riley Moses, 6-2, 305, Soph., Fairmont
Beau Schaller, 6-2, 265, R-Fr., Waukee, Iowa
Noah Stafursky, 6-6, 330, Soph., York

Who’s new

Transfer portal or junior college transfer
Hunter Anthony, 6-6, 320, Jr., Tuttle, Okla. (Oklahoma State)
Kevin Williams, Jr., 6-5, 330, Sr., Omaha (North), Northern Colorado

Incoming freshmenJustin Evans-Jenkins, 6-2, 280, Fr., East Orange, N.J.
Eli Simonson, 6-5, 295, R-Fr., Fremont, Neb. (Fremont Bergan)

Departed contributor

Cameron Jurgens, opted for NFL Draft
Matt Sichterman

What to watch in the spring

This is the area of the offense that needs the most improvement. Yes, there are seven players who have started at some point during their Husker tenures, but all too often, it seemed, the quarterback was under duress and plays broke down because of pressure. Enter new offensive line coach Donovan Raiola and his no-nonsense approach to line play. He played at Wisconsin, so Raiola understands what it takes to be successful in the Big Ten. He also played parts of five seasons in the NFL and most recently coached for the Chicago Bears. He will have the attention of his charges. And, if you listened closely to his introductory press conference, he uttered the word “attack.” Yes, that sounded good and was probably music to the ears of the linemen.

Bold Prediction

The line won’t miss Jurgens, who left one season early for a shot at the NFL, as much as some fear. Raiola played center as a Badger. He will find someone capable. The arrival of Kevin Williams from Northern Colorado and Hunter Anthony from Oklahoma State will pay off. They both will add energy and will be solidly in the mix. Raiola has plenty of players to choose from; four of the seven returners with starting experience are sophomores. Competition will be fierce to impress the new boss.

 

TYROBINSON

Defensive Line

Who’s Back

Starting experience Ty Robinson, 6-6, 305, Soph., Gilbert, Ariz. Casey Rogers, 6-5, 295, Jr., Syracuse, N.Y. Other returners Marquis Black, 6-3, 315, R-FR., McDonough, Ga. Ru’Quan Buckley, 6-5, 290, R-Fr., Wyoming, Mich. Colton Feist, 6-2, 280, Jr., Yutan Nash Hutmacher, 6-4, 325, Soph., Oacoma, S.D. Mosai Newsom, 6-4, 285, So., Waverly, Iowa Jailen Weaver, 6-8, 320, R-Fr., Antioch, Calif. Tate Wildeman, 6-6, 280, Jr., Parker, Colo.

Who’s new

Transfer portal or junior college transfer None Incoming freshmen Brodie Tagaloa, 6-4, 260, Fr., Pittsburg, Calif. Departed contributor Damion Daniels Jordan Riley (transfer to Oregon) Ben Stille Deontre Thomas Chris Walker

What to watch in the spring

Being thin in the interior defensive line is not a good place to be in the Big Ten. As of now, that’s where Nebraska finds itself. Damion Daniels, Ben Stille and Deontre Thomas all were major contributors in 2021 but have moved on. Big-bodied Jordan Riley entered the portal. There is speculation that Nebraska isn’t done mining the portal and there could be a new arrival after the spring. As of this writing, that remains to be seen. So, it’s time for Nash Hutmacher to step up. He doesn’t lack potential, nor size. Marquis Black and Ru’Quan Buckley look the part and have received good practice reviews at times. Are they ready? Jailen Weaver is massive, but is still a mystery. Ty Robinson and Casey Rogers are solid and both have starting experience, Robinson with four starts in 2021 and Rogers with one in 2020. Both appear ready for breakout seasons, but neither play over the ball, hence the urgency for Hutmacher and/or a portal player and depth to develop. There are 10 D-linemen on the spring roster. Time to step up.

Bold Prediction

Robinson and Rogers will have strong years after playing behind three potential NFL draftees. Rogers missed the first five games last season with an injury but finished with 17 tackles in seven games. Robinson’s starts all came in conference games (Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa). Against Michigan Robinson notched his first sack and PBU. There will be urgency for the redshirt freshmen to leave their mark.

Inside Linebacker

Who’s Back

Starting experience Nick Henrich, 6-3, 225, Soph., Omaha (Burke) Luke Reimer, 6-1, 225, Jr., Lincoln (North Star) Other returners Jake Archer, 6-1, 215, Jr., Omaha (Skutt) Grant Buda, 6-0, 205, R-Fr., Lincoln (Southwest) Chris Cassidy, 6-1, 215, Jr., Lincoln (Pius X) Mikel Gbayor, 6-2, 220, R-Fr., Irvington, N.J. Braden Klover, 6-2, 230, R-Fr., Wymore Chris Kolarevic, 6-1, 230, Sr., Traverse City, Mich. (Northern Iowa) Randolph Kpai, 6-2, 210, R-Fr., Sioux Falls Seth Malcom, 6-4, 210, Tabor, Iowa Eteva Mauga-Clements, 6-1, 220, Sr., Pleasant Hill, Calif. Garrett Snodgrass, 6-3, 225, Soph., York Grant Tagge, 6-1, 205, Soph., Omaha (Westside)

Who’s new

Transfer portal or junior college transfer None Incoming freshmen Ernest Hausman, 6-3, 205, Fr., Columbus (Columbus High) Departed contributor Will Honas, graduate transfer to Kansas State

What to watch in the spring

Linebacker, whether it’s inside or outside, will be the strength of this defense. Heinrich and Reimer form a dynamic duo after setting career highs in tackles (Reimer 108, Heinrich 99) in 2021. That put both in the top six in the Big Ten. Depth needs to be developed during spring ball in case either starter is injured. Sophomores Snodgrass and Tagge are leading candidates to do that.

Bold Prediction

Reimer and Heinrich will both top their career highs in 2022, in part because the defensive line needs to find its stride early in the season. Tagge was a special teams standout last season and figures to take a step up to at least top reservestatus in the fall. The continuity in coaching will help this group continue to grow, much as they did last season.

Outside Linebacker

Who’s Back

Starting experience
Garrett Nelson, 6-3, 245, Jr., Scottsbluff
Caleb Tannor, 6-3, 225, Sr., Stone Mountain, Ga.

Other returners
John Bullock, 6-0, 215, Soph., Omaha (Creighton Prep)
Jimari Butler, 6-5, 245, R-Fr., Mobile, Ala.
Blaise Gunnerson, 6-6, 255, R-Fr., Carroll, Iowa
Damian Jackson, 6-2, 270, Sr., Las Vegas
Simon Otte, 6-2, 205, Jr., York
Pheldarius Payne, 6-3, 260, Sr., Suffolk, Va.
Ryan Schommer, 6-5, 260, Jr., Norfolk (Norfolk High)

Who’s new

Transfer portal or junior college transfer
None

Incoming freshmen
Jake Appleget, 6-4, 210, Fr., Lincoln (Southeast)

Departed contributor
JoJo Domann

What to watch in the spring

JoJo Domann leaves some big cleats to fill, but with returning talent like starters Garrett Nelson and Caleb Tannor, this group is not short on talent. Pheldarius Payne also saw plenty of action and decided to return for his senior season after dipping his toe in the transfer portal. His return is big for NU. Depth behind those three is what needs to be built during both spring and early fall ball.

Bold Prediction

Blaise Gunnerson will get plenty of chances to show he can be the next big-time guy. He’s one player fans will be buzzing about throughout the summer. Nelson has been the on-field leader of this group for the past two seasons. His energy is contagious, though his enthusiasm at times can be over-the-top. He will have a big season. Tannor can become even more effective if he cuts down on penalties, primarily those 15-yarders that extend opponent’s drives.

 

QNEWSOME

Cornerback Defensive Back

Who’s Back

Starting experience
Quinton Newsome, 6-1, 185, Jr., Suwanee, Ga.

Other returners
Michael Booker, 6-1, 195, R-Fr., Grand Prairie, Texas
Derek Branch, 5-11, 175, R-Fr., Lincoln (Southeast)
Marcus Buford, 5-11, 190, Soph., DeSoto, Texas
Koby Bretz, 6-2, 195, R-Fr., Omaha (Westside)
Braxton Clark, 6-4, 200, Jr., Orlando
Blake Closman, 5-10, 190, R-Fr., Omaha (Millard North)
AJ Collins, 5-10, 170, R-Fr., Omaha (Creighton Prep)
Ashton Hausmann, 5-11, 215, R-Fr., Roca (Norris)
Tyreke Johnson, 6-1, 190, Jr., Jacksonville (Ohio State)
Christian Lilenkamp, 6-0, 170, R-Fr., Bellevue (West)
Tamon Lynum, 6-2, 180, R-Fr., Orlando
Darius Moore, 6-1, 185, Sr., Tiffen, Iowa
Phalen Sanford, 5-11, 200, Jr., Benkelman (Hastings College)

Who’s new

Transfer portal or junior college transfer
Transfer portal or junior college transfer
Omar Brown, 6-1, 200, Jr., Minneapolis (Northern Iowa)
Tommi Hill, 6-0, 205, Soph., Orlando (Arizona State)
Javier Morton, 6-2, 185, So., Atlanta (Garden City CC)

Incoming freshmen
Jaeden Gould, 6-2, 190, Fr., Somerset, N.J.
Malcolm Hartzog, 5-10, 175, Fr., Silver Creek, Miss.
Cooper Hausman, 5-11, 185, Fr., Roca (Norris)
Blake Miller, 6-1, 195, Fr., Nebraska City (Lourdes)
Gage Stenger, 6-2, 200, Fr., Omaha (Millard South)

Departed contributor
Kyan Brumfield
Nadab Joseph
Cam Taylor-Britt

What to watch in the spring

Players in this group are listed either as cornerbacks or defensive backs. The goal was to recruit versatile guys who can play either CB or safety, even nickel. Having that versatility means finding players who are long, lean and fast. The spring roster features 14 players at the position who are 6-0 or taller. Those who can show they can cover not only wide receivers, but tight ends and even running backs who might occasionally line up wide, will have a leg up when fall ball begins.

Bold Prediction

Quintin Newsome is a terrific cornerstone to reshape a new-look secondary. The transfer portal brought in three players who can command playing time quickly, especially Arizona State transfer Tommi Hill. Incoming freshman Jaeden Gould was the New Jersey Player of the Year, a big accomplishment in a state that has always produced top cornerback talent. The graduation of Taylor-Britt is a big loss, but the coaching staff brought in plenty of tall, fast players who can step in early.

 

FARMER

Safety

Who’s Back

Starting experience
Myles Farmer, 6-1, 200, Soph., Atlanta

Other returners
Noa Pola-Gates, 6-0, 180, Soph., Gilbert, Ariz.
Isaac Gifford, 6-1, 205, Soph., Lincoln (Southeast)
Javin Wright, 6-4, 210, Soph., Chandler, Ariz.
Mason Nieman, 6-1, 195, R-Fr., Waverly

Who’s new

Transfer portal or junior college transfer
DeShon Singleton, 6-3, 205, Soph., Amite, La. (Hutchinson CC)

Incoming freshmen
Jalil Martin, 6-3, 190, Fr., Chicago

Departed contributor
Marquel Dismuke
Tyson Guzman
Lane McCallum
Deontai Williams

What to watch in the spring

Young group is thin on experience; there are no upperclassmen on the roster. Myles Farmer is the only player with starting experience, and those came in the final four games of 2021. DeShon Singleton and Jalil Martin are the only two newcomers and should have a good chance to be in the rotation as two of the top four.

Bold Prediction

Replacing Marquel Dismuke and Deontai Williams will prove difficult. Farmer will step up and be a leader of this group while players like Isaac Gifford and Noa Pola-Gates have a chance to earn more playing time than just on special teams. Pola-Gates is the nephew of NFL Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu. If he can stay healthy, he can turn potential into production in the second half of the season. Same for Singleton, who was the No. 4-ranked junior college safety in 2021.

 

CONTRERAZ

Kicker, Punter & Long Snapper

Who’s Back

Starting experience
Cameron Pieper, LS, 6-3, 260, Jr., Lincoln (Southwest)
Cade Mueller, LS, 6-0, 220, Jr., Gretna
Chase Contreraz, K, 6-1, 180, Jr., Missouri Valley, Iowa (Iowa Western CC)
Brendan Franke, K, 6-3, 215, Soph., Gretna (Morningside)

Other returners
Camden Witucki, LS, 6-2, 225, R-Fr., Grand Blanc, Mich.
Grant Detlefsen, P, 6-3, 210, Soph., Lincoln (Southwest)
Gabe Heins, K, 6-0, 185, Soph., Kearney (Kearney High)
Josh Jasek, K, 6-1, 175, R-Fr., Iowa City (Iowa Western CC)

Who’s new

Transfer portal or junior college transfer
Brady Weas, LS, 6-2, 260, Sr., Whitefish Bay, Wisc. (Georgetown)
Brian Buschini, P, 6-0, 215, Soph., Helena, Mont. (Montana)
Jacob Hohl, P, 6-2, 220, Soph., Lincoln (Southwest) Nebraska Wesleyan

Incoming freshmen
Charlie Weinrich, K, 5-11, 185, Fr., Leawood, Kan.

Departed contributor
Connor Culp
William Przystup (holder)

What to watch in the spring

Someone, anyone, needs to emerge as a consistent punter and placekicker. It needs to be one of each. Contreraz was good in the final four games of last season after Culp lost whatever touch he had that made him the 2020 Big Ten Kicker of the Year. Can Detlefsen, Buschini or Hohl emerge as the punter? Or will Weinrich win that spot when he gets to Lincoln? He handled all the kicking chores for Blue Valley but was most productive on PATs (40-of-41) and his seven field goals, including a long of 57 yards.

Bold Prediction

Buschini will emerge as the top punter, and no one will emerge as a clear-cut favorite to win the place kicking duties by the conclusion of spring ball. Contreraz needs to extend his range to become the field goal go-to option. Once Weinrich arrives on campus and shows he can handle the pressure, Nebraska just might have its kicking concerns calmed through the 2025 season. Having a dedicated special teams veteran like Bill Busch will help all challengers get better.