Like Father, Like Son

Sam Sledge and Maverick Noonan Are Headed to Nebraska; Their Dads Blazed the Trail

By Clark Grell

Bob Sledge and Danny Noonan were teammates at Nebraska for a couple of years in the 1980s. They made a living in the trenches – Sledge at offensive tackle, and Noonan on the defensive side at middle guard.

There may have been some moments of mixing it up, Sledge said. Some scuffles with teammates, but it was always fun.

“He was a very good nose guard and very powerful,” Sledge recalled of Noonan, who was a consensus All-American his senior year in 1986. “It was a lot of fun. You learned a lot going against him, I know that, because he was a tough dude.”

They were both tough dudes (Nebraska had a lot of them back then).

More than 30 years later, their last names are resurfacing. Bob and Danny each have sons in Nebraska’s 2023 recruiting class, and like their fathers, Maverick Noonan and Sam Sledge are tenacious and tough.

Maverick is a 6-foot-4, 235-pound rush end at Elkhorn South. Sam is a 6-4, 270-pound offensive tackle at Creighton Prep. They’ll be helping their high school teams this fall before tackling college football at Nebraska, a program they know very well through stories, VHS tapes, YouTube clips and old jerseys.

Maverick didn’t have a full understanding of his father’s impact at Nebraska until recent years when he started diving into the highlights.

“He just kicked the (crap) out of the center every time,” said Maverick, who committed to Nebraska in June. “He just bull-rushed everyone on every play for four quarters.”

Bob was a longtime offensive line coach at Omaha Gross so Sam grew up on football fields. But it wasn’t until Sam started playing the game around the sixth or seventh grade when he started to go down some YouTube rabbit holes.

Sam zeroed in on No. 62, a physical tackle who liked to get down the field and maybe take out a defensive back or two. By his senior year of 1988, Bob was an All-Big Eight lineman.

“Blocking a cornerback or a linebacker, he would always get into them and try to hit them as hard as he could,” Sam said. “I feel like I have that same kind of trait.”

A four-year starter, Sam is one of the state’s top offensive linemen, maybe the best. Funny thing is, he grew up with no interest in playing with his hand in the dirt.

When he tagged along with Dad to practice at Omaha Gross, Sam could always be found around the quarterbacks, wide receivers and kickers.

“He wanted to catch the balls and kick the balls and stuff like that,” Bob said.

Sam played quarterback when he was in the seventh grade. He played some tight end, too, before outgrowing that position. Maybe it was the work in the weight room, or the family DNA, but Sam was destined to play offensive tackle like his dad.

“I knew he had a lot of ability just watching him because there’s certain things that came easy for him,” said Bob, who is Creighton Prep’s O-line coach, giving him a chance to coach his son. “Football sense, I think that’s part of being around it a lot. As far as his physical ability, he could do a lot of things.”

Sam had a big junior year and he was offered a Husker scholarship in January. Committing to Nebraska was a “no-brainer,” he said.
“It was really special,” Sam said. “It was my decision, but (Dad) was in it the whole way, and my mom and so was the rest of my family. It was all of our decisions and they’re all happy with me going down there. I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.”
The Noonans experienced a similar feeling in June when Maverick and his family drove down to Lincoln to deliver Scott Frost the news that he’d be a future Husker.

Though his father remains one of the greatest Blackshirts to play the game, there was no guarantee that Maverick was going to follow in Dad’s footsteps.

In fact, “That probably hurt Nebraska more than it helped with me being a former player,” Danny said. “When people would come up to Maverick, (and ask), ‘You want to follow your dad down there?’ That’s the wrong thing to say to him if they were recruiting him. Not that he doesn’t like going there but he’s got to create his own path.

“It’s his own path, not mine.”

Nebraska was the first school to offer Maverick, and 10 more Division I offers followed, including Iowa, Stanford and Minnesota.
Wanting to be close to his family, including his 6-year-old sister Marisa, Maverick, who also plays offensive tackle at Elkhorn South, chose the Huskers.

“I was just going to do whatever felt best for me,” Maverick said when asked about going to the same school as his father. “Is it cool? Yeah. But is that any factor whatsoever? No.”

If anyone knows a great defensive player when he sees one, it’s Danny Noonan. He was the Big Eight Athlete of the Year as a senior before being drafted in the first round of the 1987 NFL Draft. He played seven years in the league, six of them with the Dallas Cowboys. He later served as an assistant strength and conditioning coach at NU where he worked with the Kelsey brothers, Grant Wistrom, Michael Rucker and others.

When Danny played, he relied on brute strength to dominate inside. In Maverick, Danny sees a player that has an array of moves to get around the edge and is a true student of the game.

“He does stuff that 95% of high school players don’t,” Danny said. “He watches film, he watches the tendencies of the offensive linemen, what they do, if they’re pass rushing, maybe their stance is a little wider when in passing … he picks up on little things.”

Danny and Bob are each in the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame. They are known names in Husker lore. They shared similar traits as players and followed identical approaches as fathers: support their kids and don’t push them to a certain sport or school.

In the end, Maverick and Sam became Nebraska legacy recruits, and their fathers couldn’t be more proud.

“I don’t know how to say it, just a lot of pride went through me,” Bob said of when Sam committed to NU. “It was fun to watch.”

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