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?'”