Mike’l Severe goes through spring game highlights and dissapointments.
Huskers Have Plenty of Options to Fill Secondary Positions
By Shane G. Gilster • Photos by NU Sports Information
The Blackshirt defense made marked improvements in 2021 and had Nebraska at least in shouting distance of every opponent in a disappointing 3-9 season. One of the bright spots was the play of the secondary, which featured seasoned seniors at every spot but one.
Now the defensive backfield needs to reload, finding starters for one cornerback, two safeties and the nickel spot formerly manned by second-team All-American JoJo Domann.
“JoJo is gone, Deontai (Williams) is gone, Marquel (Dismuke) is gone, Cam (Taylor-Britt) is gone, but there were players last year that I feel good about along with the transfers and freshmen this year,” said Erik Chinander, NU’s defensive coordinator. “There will be a lot of battling (to) find out who will be the next player at that nickel position. Will it be Javin Wright, Isaac Gifford, or do we need to pull someone from a corner or safety, depending on who wins those battles on the outside?”
Another player who has put himself in contention at the nickel spot, basically a fifth defensive back on expected pass plays who can also play the run like a linebacker, is Chris Kolarevic. The senior played linebacker last season after transferring from Northern Iowa. He played in every game and showed the ability to replace Domann.
“Kolarevic can really run and has a chance to take over that position; he can play the run and blitz off the edge but I have to see what he can do in coverage,” Chinander said. “JoJo had a unique skillset where he was a big guy and could be physical in the run game and blitz off the edge. He had the movement skills to cover just about anybody we played. When we find someone for the position, we have to use his assets and whatever liabilities he has either in coverage or run fits to try and cover it up. Hopefully, we can find a player similar to JoJo but you can’t say this is the next JoJo.”
Kolarevic is confident he can be that next guy. He is the same size as Domann (6-foot-1, 230 pounds) and speedwise he looks just as fast or faster.
“I think I have the athletic ability to do it,” Kolarevic said. “I played a little bit of it in middle school and it’s a fun position. You could fly around playing space a lot.
“It’s a good thing to have (Domann) come before me. I see it as a good thing because I get to go watch his film and see what he did really well and look at and try to do some of the things he did.”
Kolarevic played mike and will linebacker and nickel at UNI. He never played nickel in a game, but that was the position he was practicing at in 2020 before COVID-19 canceled UNI’s season.
He said the hardest part of the position is covering a slot receiver in game situations. He has been working on that in practice and prepared for it in the offseason. In terms of schemes, he is learning from guys like Gifford, who played that position last year, and from Domann’s tape.
“He’s a bigger guy, but he understands how to play man-to-man, especially in space on tight ends and No. 2 receivers,” Kolarevic said of Domann. “That’s kind of the biggest thing for big guys that have to go out of the box, like figuring out how to use leverage outside the box. He also used physicality a lot when he got in the box, especially off the edge, using his big body to be physical.”
Gifford might be helping Kolarevic, but he’ll also be his biggest competition at nickel. Gifford, a sophomore, isn’t as big as Kolarevic, at 6-1, 205, but saw action as Nebraska’s nickel back in the last two games of 2021, filling in for Domann who was out with a hand injury.
“Isaac is close to JoJo skills wise; he played safety in high school but JoJo was better in coverage and Isaac is better around the ball,” Chinander said. “Isaac studied the game film and he knows where (the ball) is going to be but just needs to make that play a little bit quicker.”
Then there is Wright, who physically looks the part (6-4, 210) but has battled injuries since he arrived at NU in 2019.
“Javin has been so banged up, but sky’s the limit for his skill set. He started at corner for us and grew out of that,” Chinander said. “He’s 6-3 plus and has good weight on him; his coverage ability is really good for his size, which is an extreme plus.”
Besides the nickel spot, most of the secondary is up for grabs.
That’s why NU defensive backs coach Travis Fisher recruited seven new players. They include two portal transfers, Tommi Hill (Arizona State) and Omar Brown (Northern Iowa), along with junior college players Javier Morton and DeShon Singleton, giving his group added competition.
“I tell my players that when I was in the NFL, even if I was a starter, teams would bring someone in to take my spot. I had to beat those guys out. So, it is the same way here, I brought in guys to not be anyone’s backup,” said Fisher, who had an eight-year career in the NFL. “So, if I’m one of the guys who are already here, I have to be like, ‘It’s time to pick it up.'”
But Fisher has a core group of what he calls “true” Blackshirts and leaders in the secondary. He specifically named juniors Quinton Newsome, Braxton Clark and sophomore Myles Farmer. Newsome is the only returning starter for Fisher, while Clark and Farmer are favorites to land a cornerback and safety spot, respectively.
“It’s tough for guys to start for me for 12 games because I am asking them to do things that guys in the NFL do,” Fisher said. “But Quinton Newsome did, and if he keeps doing that, he will be another guy for us playing the NFL someday.”
While talking about some of the new guys who have a chance to make a move, Fisher named sophomore Marques Buford. In his first year in 2021, Buford played in every game, seeing most of his action on special teams coverage units.
“Marques Buford is my hidden gem,” Fisher said. “He can play any position in the secondary and he ain’t scared of nobody.”
Buford is one of the smaller players NU has at safety (5-11, 190) but has the attitude to excel.
“I’m not scared of anybody, and if you go out there with that dog mentality, it doesn’t matter whether you’re 4-11 or 5-11,” Buford said. “You have to show me you are better than me. If you come out with that mentality, then how do you lose? If you refuse to lose and put the work in not to lose, then at the end of the day more than likely you are going to be a winner.”
That is the mindset NU needs not only in its secondary but throughout the whole defense. If that becomes the case, expect the Blackshirts to hold their own again in 2022.
In the February edition of Huskers Illustrated, the name Paul Ohri popped up in a story about new Husker special teams coordinator Bill Busch. The lead anecdote told the story of how Bob Devaney once flew into the small town of Spencer, Nebraska, to recruit a young man named Paul Ohri.
The narrative said a lot about Ron Busch, Bill’s father. And it was classic Devaney, circa 1963, his second year at Nebraska. But I wondered, whatever happened to Ohri?
It took some time, but I found Ohri, now living in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.
We spoke by phone, and Paul was kind enough to dig deep into his memory as a senior in high school to fill in the blanks.
Ohri grew up on the family farm. At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, Ron Busch, his high school coach, felt Ohri had the size and strength to play Division I football. Spencer High did not film their games, so an issue arose over how to get the attention of Division I coaches.
So Busch hired a cameraman to film one game.
“We were supposed to play Springview on a Friday night,” Ohri remembered. “There was a blizzard, and the game was moved to the following Monday afternoon.”
Filming the game created a lot of buzz. The cameraman, hired from O’Neill, was hard to miss. He drove the 30 miles to Spencer, and Busch had a straight truck pull close to the field so the photographer could stand on the bed of the truck for an elevated position.
“Ron played me at four different positions in the Springview game,” Ohri said. “Looking back, Ron wanted to show that I was well-rounded and had a lot of capabilities.”
Busch sent the film to Lincoln to Shrine Bowl organizers in an effort to get Ohri into the game. That did not materialize.
The Spencer boys basketball team did not make the state tournament in the spring of 1963, but coach Busch took the team to the old Coliseum to watch some games. The football offices were on the second floor at that time, and Busch took Ohri up to see if they could visit with a coach.
Immediately they ran into football assistants John Melton and Jim Ross. Once Busch made the introductions, the coaches asked if there was any film of Ohri.
“We told them the film had been sent down to the Shrine Bowl committee,” Ohri said.
It so happened the coaches had the film in their offices because they helped the committee pick the players. The coaches said they would review the film and get back to Busch.
Busch and Ohri went back to their seats and continued to watch games.
“About an hour later the PA announcer asked for Ron Busch and Paul Ohri to return to the coaches office,” Ohri remembered. “We went back up, and Devaney came out.”
The conversation, as best Ohri can re- member, went something like this:
Devaney: “Want to come here and play for Nebraska?”
Ohri: “I would have to think about it.”
Devaney: “I do not know if you know what I am offering you. A full-ride scholarship. That’s the same scholarship Dennis Claridge has.”
Ohri remembered not knowing what to think.
“I was a farm boy from a little school,” he said. “I was pretty excited about it. It was all very surprising. We only had one game film, and all of this happened in a short time.”
In the end – and after Devaney’s plane trip to Spencer highlighted in the February article – Ohri accepted the offer and became a Cornhusker.
Back then, freshmen were not allowed to play varsity ball but instead played two freshman games and practiced against the varsity. Ohri was an offensive guard and started one freshman game and played in the other.
After the season, Devaney called Ohri into his office and asked him to redshirt his sophomore year. But Ohri was already tiring of the football grind. His heart just wasn’t in it.
“I told Devaney I was going to drop out of school and maybe I would come back.”
Alas, Ohri did not return to the team and dropped out.
“At that time, the program did not have the tutors to keep tabs on you and your classwork,” Ohri said. “I just did not go to class like I should have.”
Today, he’s philosophical about the decision he made back then.
“It was a good experience, just a different experience,” he said. “We all grow up at different times.”
Ohri has good memories of his time on the team. He remembers teammates from different backgrounds from all over the country.
“I made some good friends at Nebraska and for a small-town kid, I was starstruck that I got that scholarship,” he said. “Football at that stage is a different game. People were faster, the talent level was incredibly better.”
Ohri ended up moving to Omaha and marrying Janet Krupicka, who also was from Spencer. In 1969, they moved to Colorado where he owned a surveying company. They had two children, Brian and Paula. Life’s been good.
But every now and then, a nagging thought pops into Ohri’s head.
“I was not as excited about football as I should have been,” he said. “I have never regretted my decision, but from time to time I have thought, ‘What if?'”
Enthusiasm Over Changes Seems Warranted
By Shane G. Gilster • Photos by NU Sports Information
The Nebraska offense in 2021 averaged 447 total yards per game, good enough to rank 20th in the country. For the record, Georgia, the national champion, churned out about 443 yards a game and ranked 26th. The difference is that Georgia finished 14-1. Nebraska? 3-9.
How can this be? The answer floats in a horrid stew of abysmal special teams play, bad field position, turnover margin, red zone failures and untimely turnovers and penalties.
Regardless, Georgia, which had comparatively few of those problems, goes down in college football history books. Nebraska gets a total offensive overhaul.
It’s hard to guarantee Nebraska will gain more yards in 2022, but it’s clear the offense will be different.
New scheme, new offensive coordinator (Mark Whipple), new position coaches, new quarterback (likely Texas transfer Casey Thompson).
Whipple, with a 34-year resume, brings an NFL passing offense fueled by the performance of its quarterback. In his last job as offensive coordinator at Pittsburgh, Whipple developed his quarterback, Kenny Pickett, into who many project to be the first quarterback taken in the 2022 NFL Draft.
In Pickett’s final year as a Panther, the Heisman finalist recorded 4,319 passing yards, 42 passing touchdowns and a 67.2 completion percentage. Whipple’s offense, for the most part, uses its passing attack to set up the run game. This past season the Panthers ranked as the nation’s No. 8 passing offense with 337.4 yards per game.
How long it will take for Nebraska to approach those numbers is anyone’s guess. Based on the team’s limited media availability during spring drills, it seems the Huskers are acclimating to the scheme and have the parts to make it go.
Thompson has said the team is building better continuity and is playing at a faster pace. The learning curve might be the highest for Thompson, who has had to get to know his new teammates as well as a new scheme. Still, his enthusiasm speaks volumes about how he feels about the direction of the offense.
Thompson describes Whipple’s offense as aggressive and diverse with an ability to stretch the defense both vertically and horizontally with a fast tempo. It’s important to note that Thompson as the starter is not set in stone, but he has taken first-team reps this spring.
Whipple, in past interviews, has described the depth chart as fluid and that coaches won’t be able to see what their team will look like until around the Oklahoma game. That would be Week 4 of the season and the last non-conference game.
The Nebraska offense, at least on paper, moved the ball better than most in 2021. And it’s been well-documented that, despite the win-loss record, the team’s margin of defeat was less than a possession per game. Now, with multiple returners and new figures at key spots, including quarterback where the previous starter was much-maligned, at least some degree of enthusiasm seems warranted.
NU Junior Varsity Team Gave Huskers an Advantage
By Shane G. Gilster
The success of the Husker football program under Tom Osborne was due to many factors, but one of the major contributors was the junior varsity team.
“It was an advantage in terms of the development of players; for freshmen to come in and learn their position and system without being on the scout team,” said Shane Thorell, who was the NU JV head coach from 1987 to 1989. “They developed into better players and gained more confidence playing on the jayvee team. It was just a great system back then.”
The NU freshman-junior varsity team compiled a 120-17-1 record with 21 undefeated and untied seasons going back to 1956. But the JV team legacy stretches back even further. Nebraska has had a junior varsity, “B” or freshman team as far back as 1912.
While other schools eliminated JV programs because of expense or lack of commitment, Nebraska continued its program through 1990, playing a five-game schedule, the maximum allowed by the NCAA. Nebraska was the last Division I-A school to have a JV team other than the military academies – Army, Navy and Air Force.
NU used to play other Big Eight teams. The last season the Huskers played a conference JV team was 1985, a 56-0 victory over Iowa State.
“When I played on the jayvee team under Frank Solich, we played against Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Iowa State,” Thorell said. “Those teams discontinued their jayvee programs because they didn’t have the walk-on program like Nebraska did. Proposition 48 was coming into play so a lot of kids who didn’t qualify academically started going to junior colleges. We then started to play teams like Ellsworth, Waldorf, Snow and Coffeyville.”
Those colleges used Nebraska as a recruiting tool. The chance to play the Huskers at Memorial Stadium was attractive for their players. The Coffeyville teams especially had players who went on to play Division I football. Coffeyville blew out the Huskers in 1987, 49-14.
That was Thorell’s first season as head coach, and to be fair, he didn’t have the top freshmen on the JV team that finished the season 2-3.
Osborne started to play or redshirt his top recruits. That meant quarterback Mickey Joseph, running back Leodis Flowers and wingback Nate Turner all redshirted while safety Reggie Cooper, cornerback Tahaun Lewis and linebacker Mike Croel moved up to the varsity.
Scholarship recruit George Achola was one who didn’t redshirt in 1987 and played on the JV team until getting called up for one game with the varsity. Achola was a running back from Omaha Creighton Prep and was the JV leading rusher with more than 500 yards and six touchdowns.
“I knew at some point I was going to redshirt but wanted to play on the freshman team because it was an opportunity to help with the transition from high school to college,” Achola said. “Playing on the jayvee team eased you into that because you got to play against good competition with teams that had players that were older than you. When you played Coffeyville, you were in a sense playing against a low-level Division I team, and against Air Force you were playing a varsity team because they would pull down a bunch of their varsity players.”
Nebraska’s JV team was almost entirely composed of freshmen – scholarship recruits and around 40 to 50 walk-ons. They would practice separately from the varsity and had six graduate assistant coaches. In a sense, it was like another Division I football team in the state of Nebraska.
The team played on Fridays at 1 p.m. Games were not televised, but would draw a couple thousand fans in the stands along with the Husker varsity coaching staff.
“At that time the football offices were in the South Stadium so the coaches would come out and sit in the South Stadium stands,” Thorell said. “One time coach Osborne came to the sideline after seeing the way the other team’s defense was playing. He came up to me and said, ‘Run the 32-option,’ so he paid attention to what we were doing.”
Thorell’s best season was 1988 when his JV team went 5-0. It was quarterbacked by freshman Mike Grant who compiled 912 total yards of offense, the second highest stat in freshman/jayvee history, trailing only Turner Gill’s record of 979 yards in 1980. Grant rushed for seven touchdowns and passed for 11 TDs as NU averaged 53.4 points per game.
The JV team gave hardcore fans a chance to catch glimpses of the next rising Husker star – or not.
“There were always guys that came in and didn’t make an impact on the varsity. Some of the guys who were highly recruited didn’t pan out later because they had already peaked,” Thorell said. “But coach Osborne recruited a lot of walk-ons. So, if you get around 40 walk-ons and play them on the jayvee team, you are going to find some diamonds in the rough. The beauty of the jayvee program was those guys could show what they could do.”
Under Thorell, walk-ons like Tom Haase, Dan Pleasant, John Parrella, Lance Gray and Matt Penland starred on the JV squad and went on to make meaningful contributions on varsity. It also provided scholarship guys who weren’t highly rated a springboard to future greatness.
“You also are going to get some of the scholarship guys who aren’t redshirting or ready to play varsity a chance to get some reps in game action,” Thorell said. “Then they redshirt the next year and get more reps in practices on the scout team.”
Cory Schlesinger was an example. He found a home at fullback on the last JV team that played a five-game schedule in 1990 and then redshirted in 1991, playing on the scout team. He later became one of NU’s all-time greats at that position.
“When I came in, I was like the 11th fullback on the depth chart, so this gave me the opportunity to play as a freshman,” said Schlesinger who was second on the team in rushing (229 yards). “My running backs coach was Turner Gill and I got to see where I stacked up against other freshmen. There was nothing better than having that freshman team, I’m glad I got to play on it. We were playing smaller colleges but you get a chance to play a game instead of practice stuff and also learn the system at a slower pace.”
But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. With a reduction in coaching staff sizes that began in August of 1992, Nebraska’s JV program ended after the 1990 season. Division I staffs were allowed 13 on-field coaches instead of 16, requiring the elimination of one full-time assistant coach, one non-salaried part-time assistant and one graduate assistant.
“We’ll be limited to 13 and possibly 12 on-field coaches by then (August 1992) and we think we stretch it to run a varsity and junior varsity program with 16 on-field coaches now,” said NU head coach Tom Osborne in 1991, when he announced the decision to discontinue the JV program.
“Most coaches, including me, always thought the freshman team was the healthiest way to get freshmen into football,” he said. “Even though we still had a year that we could play before the new restrictions, we figured we better start gearing down now.”
Thorell, a financial adviser for Edward Jones in Aurora, Nebraska, for the past 27 years, was a little surprised he was contacted to talk about the Husker JV program. He said it has been 10 years or more since he was interviewed about it.
He was a player and coach at Nebraska from 1981 to 1991. After his final head coaching gig with the JV team, he coached the varsity cornerbacks for two years. He was then defensive coordinator at South Dakota State in 1992 and 1993.
The JV team went 4-1 under Bill Weber in 1990, the final full-schedule season. The loss was to the Air Force jayvees.
The JV team was briefly resurrected in October of 1993 as a favor from Osborne to Air Force head coach Fisher DeBerry. Graduate assistants Gerry Gdowski and Bill Busch coached the Nebraska jayvees as the Huskers with quarterback Matt Turman defeated the Falcons 49-20 in Lincoln. The teams were scheduled for a rematch in Colorado Springs later in the year, but bad weather canceled it.
Thus, the Husker JV program officially ended. It was the end of an era, but one that shouldn’t be forgotten. It gave Nebraska an advantage and contributed to its winning tradition.
By Paul Hammel Nebraska Examiner
A small Nebraska town has won approval to memorialize a local football hero.
A portion of Nebraska Highway 56 near Greeley has now been officially designated as the “Sam Foltz Memorial Highway.”
Foltz, whose family is from the Greeley area, was a star punter for the Huskers until being tragically killed in a vehicle accident in Wisconsin in July 2016.
Foltz attended Grand Island High School and joined the Nebraska football team as a walk-on. But he eventually earned a scholarship and blossomed into the Big Ten Punter of the Year in 2015. Foltz was seen as a prime prospect for the NFL.
Gov. Pete Ricketts recently signed a resolution naming a 12.9-mile segment of Highway 56 after Foltz. Five generations of the Foltz family have farmed along that stretch of highway, including Sam’s parents, Gerald and Jill Foltz.
The Greeley Citizen reported that the naming project was launched by a local committee of citizens led by Mary Ann McQuillan of Greeley. A fundraising campaign has been launched through the First National Bank in Greeley to defray costs of signage along the highway.
The State Highway Commission, which governs the naming of highways, approved the request in December.
Top Recruit Has Started Every Game for Huskers in Second Year
By Steve Beideck • Photos by NU Sports Information
Staying in familiar surroundings has helped Abbie Squier become a mainstay in the Nebraska softball starting lineup.
The sophomore from Lincoln Southwest had an enticing scholarship offer from Minnesota to consider. The Gophers had established themselves as one of the Big Ten’s best softball programs, never finishing lower than third place since 2013.
Minnesota also had made six consecutive NCAA regional tournaments since 2013, including a Super Regional appearance in 2014. When the Gophers were pursing Squier, they finished 56-5 and won the Big Ten in 2017 before going 41-17 the following season and finishing second in conference play.
But before Minnesota made its first-ever appearance in the Women’s College World Series in 2019, Squier had already committed to play for the Huskers. Those are the kinds of options you have when you’re the No. 95-ranked player nationally in your signing class.
Though the program was in turmoil and the Huskers hadn’t – and still haven’t – been to an NCAA Regional since 2016, for Squier there was no place like home.
What Squier said in a 2019 interview about choosing the Huskers over Minnesota and South Dakota State was remarkably similar to her comments before the start of Big Ten play less than three days before the start of the 2022 conference season.
“For me it was more just Nebraska’s home for me,” Squier said before her senior season at Southwest. “I knew the coaching staff so well, and the vibe down there, I’m so used to it. Everyone is cheering for Nebraska.”
Squier’s recent reflections on the recruiting process reinforced her initial thoughts about becoming a Husker and being able to play home games in front of family and friends.
“At the time, my recruiting process was really hard,” Squier said. “Some kids love it and found it to be a lot of fun. I remember it being a super stressful period of time. I just had a gut feeling about Nebraska. I loved the people from the top down.
“On my unofficial visit, I got to meet with the current team, and that reminded me of what set Nebraska apart was the people. It also was huge for me to be able to have my family close. Whenever I get time I can go home and see them.”
Squier’s patience during her freshman season paid off this season with a starting role. At first it looked like Squier would be patrolling center field at Bowlin Stadium and the road venues in six other states.
That changed right before the start of the season when Squier was moved to left field. Nebraska coaches tweaked the lineup to put Sydney Gray back at third base after she’d fully recovered from the knee injury she suffered early in the 2021 season.
Brooke Andrews has started all but six games in center field after taking over for Gray at third base following her injury.
Not only is Squier firmly ensconced in left field, she’s one of only three Huskers who has started every game this season in the same position. Squier played in 28 games with 10 starts as a freshman, including seven in left field, two in right field and one as the designated player.
With Billie Andrews, the nation’s leading home run hitter at shortstop, and Gray at third, the left side of the NU defense is one of the Big Ten’s best. The trio has committed just nine errors through the first 28 games.
Squier said there weren’t many last-minute adjustments needed to make the position switch.
“In center field I was always able to play the hitters straight up,” Squier said. “In left I sometimes have to go way up and way toward the line on certain batters. With others I need to move over and fill the gap between center and left.”
Those three also rank among Nebraska’s top five hitters. Andrews leads the way with a .415 average, with Gray in third at .369 and Squier fifth at .329. All three also have been named a Big Ten Player of the Week during the non-conference portion of the season.
In her first weekend as a full-time starter, Squier was named the Co-Big Ten Player of the Week. At the UNI-Dome Classic in Cedar Falls, Iowa, Squier hit .500 in five games with one double, two home runs and five RBIs.
After battling through a slump in early March, Squier bounced back with another big weekend as the Huskers went 4-0 at the Rock Chalk Challenge in Lawrence, Kansas. Squier had two home runs and drove in three runs to lead Nebraska to a 9-3 win over South Dakota.
Entering conference play with a three-game series at Michigan, Squier is second on the team in runs scored (22), fourth in total bases (53) and fifth in RBIs (12) to go with her four doubles and four home runs.
The 35 at-bats she got as a freshman helped Squier realize what she needed to work on during the off-season to be better prepared for 2022.
“I just built confidence throughout the off-season working on things and spending the summer in the weight room on conditioning,” Squier said. “I’ve continued working on pitch selection early in the count and being aggressive, knowing my scouting chart so I know where I’ll be pitched.”
That higher level of self-awareness in the batter’s box is helping Squier become the better all-around player the Huskers need to regain their winning ways.
“Knowing where I’m getting out and how to adjust my approach to counter that has been a big area of improvement for me,” Squier said. “I was either taking too many strikes off early in the count or fouling pitches out.
“At this level with two strikes its tough, people can nip at the zone, get you to swing at a bad pitch. Now I’m driving those pitches I was fouling off. It’s awesome.”
Nebraska’s New Running Backs Coach Plans to Instill a Hard Edge And Return Nebraska to ‘RBU’
By Jansen Coburn
Bryan Applewhite sat down with Scott Frost during his Nebraska interview and watched film of the Huskers’ 2021 season. After four or five rounds of game tape, he came to a realization: Frost’s program is not far from getting back to doing what Husker fans expect.
“It’s a tweak here, it’s a tweak there,” Applewhite said. “Places that have a tradition of winning tend to get back to that.”
Another thing Applewhite picked up during his interview: Other coaches believe it, too.
Applewhite finds himself part of a revamped offensive staff that replaces four of five assistants from last season.
Applewhite, who joins Nebraska after two years as running backs coach at TCU, has coached just about every offensive position somewhere at some point. Seeing the game through other coaches’ perspectives makes him a good partner, at least on paper.
Other nuggets that can be gleaned from his online bio and his one media appearance with the Huskers so far:
• Coaching other positions has broadened his knowledge of the game.
• For a young coach, he’s been around football for a long time and with a lot of teams. Prior to TCU, stops include Colorado State, Louisiana-Monroe, Montana State, Wyoming and Northern Colorado.
• He touts the importance of physicality and running the football.
• He knows a good team when he sees one.
• He believes Frost has assembled a good team.
And, while it’s way too early to put forward much proof, there seems to be a bent toward some power football on the horizon.
“Tough still wins,” Applewhite said. “You can’t build a dynasty without being nasty.”
He may be from TCU, but that sounds like Big Ten talk.
And it fits right in with the vibes from Mark Whipple, the new offensive coordinator, and Donovan Raiola, the new offensive line coach.
Whipple has said he likes to impose his will on defenses and run the ball even when the defense knows it’s coming.
Raiola has made it clear that toughness and discipline are his calling cards.
And here is some evidence that it’s not just talk.
NU linebacker Nick Henrich immediately noticed a difference in the rushing attack on just the first day of spring ball. “A lot more downhill running,” he said when asked what was different about the new offense.
It’s what old-school Nebraska was built on, and Applewhite will bear the brunt of preparing the players expected to bring it back.
He’ll have no shortage of candidates as he looks to establish his top guys. There currently are 14 running backs – seven on scholarship – on the Husker roster, including three who signed before spring drills. Some among the group have lots of stars after their names. But that is nothing new, and yet Nebraska has not produced a 1,000-yard rusher since Devine Ozigbo in 2018.
Under Frost, much of the running burden has been placed on the quarterback position, which has consistently led the team in rushing yards. The feeling is that is about to change. Running backs are there for a reason. Time to let the horses out of the stable.
Applewhite is all in on saddling up. In both his seasons at TCU, the Horned Frogs ranked in the top 30 nationally in rushing.
“He’s energetic,” said sophomore running back Rahmir Johnson, who started seven games for the Huskers in 2021. “He’s going to get on you.”
Competition at running back will play out this spring and into the fall. By then, Applewhite will have a depth chart. The No. 1 thing he’ll be looking for?
“Toughness,” he said, adding that he likes guys who are ultracompetitive and multi-sport athletes.
Under Applewhite, some of his charges might even find some hidden talents.
“Part of my job is also bringing out those traits that they don’t have,” he said.
His job doesn’t end at developing talent. It also includes recruiting it, which he looks forward to at Nebraska.
He is expected to be key in the Huskers regaining a foothold in talent-rich Texas.
He says the Nebraska brand still holds sway in the Lonestar State despite the Huskers leaving the Big 12 more than a decade ago.
Applewhite said coaches down South have shared a common sentiment when he walks through their buildings wearing an NU hat: “Nebraska’s back.”
“People have not forgotten that this is the University of Nebraska,” Applewhite said. “This is the original RBU.”
And Applewhite is thrilled to be part of it.
Dave Rimington Says the Huskers Need to Start Winning, Pronto
By Mike Malloy
The future of Husker football, global travel, what it takes to be an athletic director and too-small stadium seats.
Nebraska football legend Dave Rimington, 61, discussed those topics and more in a recent interview with Huskers Illustrated. The Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award winner recently transitioned into a part-time role with the Boomer Esiason Foundation, an organization he’s been president of since 1995. Rimington took a brief break from the foundation in the fall of 2017 to become Nebraska’s interim athletic director, but that brief stint was long enough, he assures.
When Rimington was introduced in September 2017 as the Huskers’ interim AD, he was asked if he was a candidate for the permanent job. He said “no,” but then added that when he retired in two years, he’d consider returning to Lincoln. “It’d be great to be able to come back,” he said at the time.
That retirement date wasn’t the only thing that’s changed for Rimington, who lives on Long Island, New York. He recalled a lengthy meeting he sat through with the Big Ten’s other athletic directors that made him thankful he was working on a short-term contract. The discussion was about players kneeling during the national anthem.
“I thought, ‘You gotta be kidding me. We’re spending two hours talking about this?’ You need somebody with more patience than I have,” he said. “You have to have somebody who’s more woke than me. I have a tendency to tell you how it is and not how everyone wants it to be.”
Rimington, Nebraska’s starting center from 1980 through 1982, was just as blunt about the current state of Husker football. Nebraska lost eight games in Rimington’s four years – all but one to ranked opponents – and won two bowl games and one Big Eight championship. The past four years, Nebraska has lost 29 games and hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent or played in a bowl game.
“It’s sad to see,” he said. “There have been just too many mistakes. You look at special teams last year, if they would have been special instead of what we got, we could have won four more games; at least could have gone to a bowl game.”
Rimington also lamented a lack of player development. Despite being a future All-American, Rimington saw the field for one series his freshman year.
“We were up by 40 points, so I couldn’t screw it up too badly,” he said. “I went out there for five plays, and three of them I went the wrong way.”
That reflects the problem of playing guys too early, he noted. Freshmen and sophomores must play now because there’s nobody else behind them, but those freshmen and sophomores, even if they’re physically ready, aren’t mentally so.
“A lot of players in my day didn’t touch the field, possibly, until their third year,” Rimington said. “Offensive line is a skill position. We had guys that were seasoned; they’d seen everything defensively, and they were able to pick it up.”
Rimington said he believes coach Scott Frost is capable of winning games, but winning needs to happen now.
“He’s got to win early or he won’t survive. It’s that simple, and the sad thing is, everybody knows it,” he said.
Rimington relished watching his first pro team, the Cincinnati Bengals, make a run to this year’s Super Bowl under former Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor.
Taylor, who was born a month after the Bengals drafted Rimington, started at Nebraska in 2005 and 2006 under coach Bill Callahan. Nebraska went 17-9 those two years, losing in the 2006 Big 12 championship game to Oklahoma.
“The Callahan years are the forgotten years,” Rimington said. “Anybody who’s sat through the last few years would take that.”
During that era, Nebraska scrapped its run-heavy option attack that led it to five national championships and a perennial spot in the national rankings in favor of the more modern West Coast offense. It’s a change that still makes Rimington wince. “It made sense, probably, but it sure hasn’t turned out well for us,” he said. “We went in a direction everyone else was going, and suddenly we were recruiting against everyone else.”
How does Nebraska compete in that landscape?
“Right now, you don’t have a record to recruit on, and I’ll tell you, facilities are a dime a dozen. Everybody’s got facilities. Everybody’s got the same equipment and they’ve all got crazy strength coaches – some overachiever guy who’s screaming at you,” Rimington said. “You have to think outside the box.”
Rimington, whose No. 50 was retired by the university, still watches many Nebraska games from the comfort of his couch. (“Where there’s unlimited popcorn,” he said.) And though he’s a loyal Husker, you won’t spot him at Memorial Stadium anytime soon.
“Sitting in a seat that’s built for an 18-inch rear end, and I’ve got a 24-inch rear end; it’s not fair for me, or the person sitting next to me,” he said.
Rimington plans to travel in his newly found free time. That’s a common answer for those entering retirement, but Rimington has a plan. He’s visited 105 countries and hopes to add to that number as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic abates. He’s eyeing an African cruise, beginning in Cape Town, South Africa, with a stop in Namibia (country No. 106) and other west African nations before docking in Lisbon, Portugal.
Rimington held a youth football camp in Omaha for 20 years, but he hung up his whistle for good in 2019. The ravages of his former profession were too great.
“Offensive line’s not a longevity position,” he said. “I really couldn’t demo anymore. I could hardly get in a stance.”
Rimington had both of his knees replaced in September, but that hasn’t changed his decision.
“It’s time for the young’uns to take over,” he said.
So, too, for his current employer, named for the quarterback Rimington played with in Cincinnati. Esiason formed the foundation after son, Gunnar, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at age 2. Those suffering from the condition can experience decreased lung capacity, greater vulnerability to infection, infertility, poor growth in childhood and other symptoms. Gunnar, though, has now graduated from Boston College and is pursuing a doctorate at Dartmouth. He’s married, has a child and is ready to take on an active role with the foundation.
“Everything Boomer was dreaming about his son being able to do, he’s doing it,” Rimington said.
Joe Burrow Was Destined to Be a Cornhusker, but His Path Led Him To Lousiana and Eventually to the Super Bowl
By Michael Kelly
Yes, it would have been really cool if Joe Cool – aka Joe Burrow – had become a Husker, as he and his family long hoped. But things worked out very well for him anyway, and lots of Nebraskans rooted for him throughout the NFL playoffs and in the 2022 Super Bowl.
Burrow, after winning the Heisman Trophy and leading LSU to a national championship, surprised many by lifting the Cincinnati Bengals to an AFC championship two years after going 2-14. His head coach is another reason Nebraskans pulled for the Bengals – Zac Taylor, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year as the Husker quarterback in 2006.
Joe never played for the Huskers, but the arc of his family story is truly a Nebraska tale.
“He grew up a Nebraska fan and always wanted to go to Nebraska,” dad Jimmy Burrow said in a Huskers Illustrated interview. “His brothers, Jamie and Dan, played there. I played there. And Joe’s mom, Robin, is from Nebraska. He learned to ride a bike at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.”
As a former longtime assistant coach, the elder Burrow said he totally understands the complications and nuances of fitting players into a college football program and has no hard feelings about Nebraska. On the contrary, he said, he supports NU and coach Scott Frost. “I put on my Husker jacket just the other day for a video for Tom Osborne’s 85th birthday.”
The fact is, few if any predicted that Joe would blossom into the Joe Burrow that he became. But apparently he sensed it, and now he’s shown he has the “it” factor – he’s it.
So where does generational talent like Burrow’s originate? He certainly worked hard on his game, but his fans also can thank generations of DNA from the Burrow, Ford, Parde and Poppe families for producing this specimen of athleticism, smarts and unflappability.
As with many Nebraska football stories, the Burrow connection goes back to – guess who? – Bob Devaney.
Jimmy grew up in Amory, Mississippi, where his father, assistant school superintendent James Burrow, helped hire Jim Walden as the Amory High football coach. Walden had played quarterback for Devaney at Wyoming in the late 1950s.
In the late ’60s, Devaney hired Walden away from Amory to be an assistant coach at Nebraska. Walden later called Jimmy Burrow – an Amory High alum and a walk-on at Ole Miss – and offered a scholarship. Jimmy became a scout team quarterback for the Huskers before switching to defensive back.
His athletic genes came not just from his dad, the starting point guard in the early 1950s at Mississippi State, but also from Jimmy’s mom. As Dot Ford, she once scored 82 points in a Mississippi high school basketball game. (When Jimmy scored 45, she teased that he needed only 27 more to match her.)
Besides playing tough defense for the Huskers, Jimmy was a sure-handed, sure-footed punt returner and ran one back for a 67-yard touchdown against Minnesota. But his biggest play came in the Sugar Bowl after the 1974 season.
The No. 8-ranked Huskers trailed No. 18 Florida 10-0 midway through the third quarter, and the Gators drove to the half-yard line. On fourth down, a running back swept left – and Burrow nailed him at the 1. “Nebraska holds ’em!” exuded ABC’s Keith Jackson. “Jim Burrow, No. 2, got his man!” Added commentator Barry Switzer: “Boy, that was a great play.”
It was the turning point of the game. The Huskers, handing off to Tony Davis and Monte Anthony, drove 99 yards to score and then made two field goals to win 13-10.
A year later, the Green Bay Packers drafted Burrow in the eighth round. After a year in the NFL, he played five seasons in the Canadian Football League, mainly for the Montreal Alouettes. He intercepted 17 passes, played in three Grey Cup championship games, winning one, and was named All-CFL. Then he got into coaching.
Joe’s mother grew up as Robin Parde on a farm near the southeast Nebraska town of Cook, population 300. The second of four children and the only girl, she did typical farm-kid chores. “We had cows and pigs,” she said. “I walked beans and helped with baling hay, driving a tractor a little.”
With butchering on the farm, she said, “You learn the hard lessons of life pretty quickly – life is short and you need to make the most of it.”
Her father, Wayne Parde, 77, once owned a quarter-section of land and rented more, but says he now lives on the acreage where Robin and her brothers grew up. When he took a phone call for this article at the beginning of March, it was calving season and he was watching his cows.
His family came from Germany in 1890, settling around Sterling, Nebraska. Wayne grew up close to the village of Burr, and he knew the parents of Dean Steinkuhler, Husker All-America offensive lineman and 1983 Outland Trophy winner from Burr.
Wayne himself played football and basketball in high school and hopes his 6-foot-2 height contributed to the stature of his famous grandson, 6-4. He attended Husker games when Jimmy played in the ’70s. “He was really small (listed at 165 pounds), but he was quick and he enjoyed hitting people.”
Earlier, Wayne married Marianne Poppe, and they lived in Lincoln when Robin and her brother, Ross, were born. Robin, her dad said, grew up in Cook, always wanting to help people, even inviting a troubled friend to stay for a while with the Pardes.
In a class of 21 at Nemaha Valley High School, Robin played volleyball and basketball and ran track. The town of Tecumseh, population 1,700, sits to the south of Cook, and a merged high school today is called Johnson County Central.
At Northwest Missouri State, Robin earned a degree in fashion merchandising, which led to management jobs in women’s clothing stores. She was working in Ames, Iowa, when she met Jimmy, then coaching at Ames High.
He previously had coached under Walden at Washington State and Iowa State, and at Ames coached sons from his first marriage, future Huskers Jamie and Dan. Getting his feet back into college coaching, Jimmy joined the Nebraska staff as a graduate assistant under Frank Solich in 2001 and 2002. (That’s when, at Memorial Stadium, 5-year-old Joey first showed off his wheels.)
Jimmy then served as assistant coach for two years at North Dakota State before joining Solich at Ohio University in Athens, serving as defensive coordinator for the next 14 years.
After that move, Robin changed careers – earning an education degree at Ohio U. and teaching for eight years. She is now in her sixth year as principal of a K-6 school. Jimmy isn’t the only coach in the family. “I love coaching the teachers,” she said, “and building our relationships with students.”
People noticed Joey’s athletic talent early. Grandpa Parde said he could punt as a toddler. “When he was a little-bitty,” Robin added, “he tried and tried to do everything perfectly.” Dr. Tom Heiser, a Husker teammate of Jimmy’s, recalled little Joey diving over a couch at the Heiser home in Lincoln and catching Nerf footballs.
Joey excelled in baseball and basketball, but his football talent became apparent by his sophomore season in high school. Jimmy took him on an unofficial visit to Lincoln, where he posed with Athletic Director Tom Osborne and hoped he would become a Nebraska Cornhusker.
“That was absolutely our 100% dream for him from the time he was born,” Robin said. “Even before he was born.”
Husker fans know the story. Head coach Bo Pelini and offensive coordinator Tim Beck weren’t sure of his arm strength and didn’t offer a scholarship. Twice named “Mr Football” in Ohio, Joe first committed to Ohio State in May 2014, the end of his junior year, and “100%” recommitted as a senior in January 2015.
Mike Riley had been hired as NU head coach, and Jimmy remembered: “Riley called on his first day and offered, but it was too late.”
Joe earned a college degree in three years but had broken a hand. Those years were difficult. Robin would drive 70 miles from The Plains, Ohio, to Columbus on weekends to trade out his laundry, deliver a meal for him and his buddies and take him out for ice cream.
In the spring of 2018, after not winning the starting quarterback job at Ohio State under Urban Meyer, Joe announced he would transfer. His eyes again turned to Lincoln – and this part of the Joe Burrow-Nebraska story will long be debated.
Frost had become the Husker head coach and recruited Adrian Martinez. When asked why he didn’t take Burrow, Frost replied: “You think he’s better than what we’ve got?”
So Burrow narrowed his choices to Cincinnati and LSU, and on a trip to Louisiana took a liking to crawfish, gumbo and jambalaya.
In 2018, freshman Martinez and junior Burrow posted strikingly similar stats.
Martinez completed 64.6% of his passes for 2,617 yards and 17 touchdowns and ran for 629 yards and eight touchdowns. Burrow completed 57.8% for 2,894 yards and 16 touchdowns and ran for 399 yards and seven touchdowns. (Total yards were virtually the same – 3,293 for Burrow, 3,246 for Martinez.)
“The numbers don’t lie,” wrote Sam McKewon, now sports editor of the Omaha World-Herald. “Passing on Burrow and sticking with Martinez seemed like not only a good decision, but the right one. … You’ll take Martinez’s statistics heading into his true sophomore year over Burrow’s heading into his senior year.”
Their startling differences in 2019, McKewon wrote, don’t change the original decision. Yes, startling. Burrow played one of the greatest college seasons ever, some say the best, with 60 touchdown passes and – well, you know the rest. Joe Burreaux was the toast of Cajun Country. Geaux, Tigers.
In Nebraska, the debate may never end.
“Man, was I wrong about Joe Burrow,” World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel wrote this January. “I was in the camp that said it was OK for Scott Frost to pass on the grad transfer in 2018. … Burrow is extraordinary, a generational talent. So good he would have made a huge difference in that season. That will go down as one of the great misses in Nebraska history. Says one who missed.”
Joe Cool was drafted No. 1 overall by Cincinnati but suffered a severe knee injury just past mid-season in 2020. He had surgery, rehabbed and returned for 2021.
With no Bengals game last Labor Day weekend, Jimmy and Robin of The Plains (pop. 2,946), Ohio, traveled to Nebraska for a tradition that, because of his decades of coaching jobs, he had missed – an annual picnic north of Lincoln with Husker teammates and their families at the farm home of Bob Martin and wife, Sheri.
“It started with teammates, but our families are now grown and our grandkids come,” said Martin, who grew up in David City (pop. 2,800), made All-American at Nebraska and played for the New York Jets. “Last year we had 75 people.”
Naturally, some of the conversation related to their teammate and his now-famous son. Martin and Heiser once watched Joe play in a high school playoff game that was streamed online.
Heiser remembered Jimmy’s big tackle at the goal line in the Sugar Bowl. “Without that play, we wouldn’t have had a chance to win. He was a competitor.” As for Joe not getting to play for Nebraska: “Very disappointing. He would have flourished here.”
Rik Bonness, an Omaha attorney who was an All-America center for the Huskers, for years has given an inspirational speech to various groups that uses the 1974 Sugar Bowl comeback victory as a metaphor: When it looks like you might lose, make a stand – and start your own 99-yard drive.
Sure, Jimmy remembered his big play. (You can find a video online.) But his proudest moment, he said, was when he received a Blackshirt practice jersey, given to members of the first-team defense.
No one at the picnic could have predicted how far the once-lowly Bengals would go in 2021. It was just good to be around old friends and catch up. For Robin, it meant a trip back home.
The past four seasons have been a whirlwind. A highlight was not just the Heisman Trophy, but Joe’s speech that night in New York, where he choked up talking about the poverty in southeast Ohio. A friend back home started a GoFundMe page for a local pantry, which soon turned into the Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund.
“His speech was just unbelievable, so authentic,” proud mom Robin said. “He spoke from his heart.”
Joe’s personality also comes through on “NFL Mic’d Up” videos. At one game he extended his hand to the referee and said, “What’s your name again? I don’t want to just call your Mister Ref the whole game.”
Between plays in the Super Bowl, Joe, 25, turned to LA Rams defensive back Eric Weddle, 37, who had returned from two years’ retirement, and said, “Hey Eric. I’m Joe … I loved watching you growing up.” And to defensive lineman Von Miller: “Hey Von. Hey Von. (It’s) Joe. Nice to meet you, brother.”
At another game, he urged the defense to stop the opponent near the end of a game. “Put the ball in my hands!”
It’s not an act. Friendly or intense, it’s just Joe.
Like all of us, he inherits traits from forebears. The athletic side, Robin said, comes mostly from the Burrows. How is he like his mom, the school principal? “I would say he takes after me in the way he is very level-headed and thoughtful about his decisions. I can see that his leadership style is similar to mine.”
Joe also has created excitement. Louisiana had fun with its Joe “Burreaux.” In the run-up to the Super Bowl (a game the Bengals lost in the last minute and a half), southern Ohio towns Hillsboro and Springboro changed their welcome signs to “Hillsburrow” and “SpringBurrow.”
At Ohio State in 2017, Joe met his girlfriend, Olivia Holzmacher, now a data analyst for a Fortune 500 company in Cincinnati. A former high school volleyball player in the Cincinnati suburb of Mason, she cheers at Joe’s games alongside his parents.
Lots of relatives on both sides of his family traveled to the Super Bowl, and Grandpa Parde said Joe provided game tickets for aunts, uncles, cousins and more. Not attending was one of his biggest fans – Wayne’s wife, Marianne, who died of a heart attack last May.
At the Harvest Bowl in Tecumseh, where just about everyone goes for a meal or for bowling on one of the eight lanes, she was often greeted as “Grandma Heisman.”
Wayne, who has attended a number of Joe’s games in recent years, said he’s enjoyed farm life. For years he also had a construction company with six or seven employees. He wore out his shoulders and knees, he said, and has had some replacement surgeries.
Work ethic? It’s a family given, part of the DNA. Grandpa Parde, the patriarch of the Nebraska branch of Joe Burrow’s family, still works his acreage, and he’s enjoying his ride aboard what he calls “the Joe train.”
Though his grandson didn’t become a Husker, it’s been a very cool ride with Joe Cool – from the Harvest Bowl to the Super Bowl.
Mike Kelly retired in 2018 after 48 years at the Omaha World-Herald, including 1981-91 as sports editor and sports columnist.