Anatomy of an Era: Adam Treu, Part 2
Excerpted from Chapter 16, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 1 by Paul Koch
Adam Treu, Part 2
Q: As far as motivation, how did you guys get motivated? Was it personal, was it the coaches?
AT: It started with the coaches, and I think through the recruiting and the homework they did, making sure that they got the right guys in there. There weren’t many who didn’t have the right frame of mind.
Coach Osborne, if he said “Darnit!” you knew he was mad, that was a motivation. And his assistants were the motivators; he didn’t have to do a lot. That fear, that brotherhood, of not letting one another down, that was motivation for sure, too. The older guys on the team, they were the police, watching their own, grabbing a guy around the neck if they had to and setting them straight. (laughs)
Q: Where would that usually happen?
AT: Maybe over in the Hewitt Center, in the locker room, in a one-on-one basis where you didn’t have to embarrass anybody. You were in awe of those older guys and you had to feel them out and act the right way. You were afraid to upset them because you didn’t know what they would do. After you earned your stripes, so to speak, then they would welcome you with open arms.
Q: Anybody behind the scenes who you feel was a huge asset to the team?
AT: There’s a handful of guys. Dennis (Leblanc) and Keith (Zimmer) in the Academic Center worked their knuckles to the bone helping guys out and making sure they were doing what Coach Osborne told their parents they would be doing. And obviously you guys -like Mike Arthur and Bryan Bailey and Randy Gobel- those guys in the weight room, where you could be a sounding board and have conversations with. It was a family, you know? You make nice with everybody, you know? I remember the strength coach in Oakland once said, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” So that’s one thing that I kind of live by, and a ‘thank you’ goes a long way to those people behind the scenes.
When you’re in a position to have success and actually do it? Well damn it, you better be smart enough to know how you were given that opportunity and understand there’s a lot that goes into it. Even Norma Knobel (who used to give scholarship checks), Chris Anderson, Don Bryant in Sports Info, everybody had one common goal and they knew it, they did everything they could to achieve it.
Q: Any special moments with Coach Osborne stick out to you?
AT: Not really. I guess I never had to go to his office because I stayed out of trouble. (laughs)
And people always talk about his dry sense of humor. I was good friends with (Trainer) Doak (Ostergard). He and I played on the Hoop it Up tournament there in the summer, and we played on the intramural team a couple of years there at the Rec Center. And Doak was another guy that was instrumental, liked to have a good time, play jokes on Coach Osborne and vice versa. Oh yeah, sometimes you’d be getting in the elevator and there would be Mary Lynn (Coach Osborne’s secretary) coming out. And you’d look up on the wall of the elevator and there would be some old picture of Doak that was photocopied from his old high school yearbook or something like that, things of that nature.
And I’d go in the training room in the mornings and I’d work on the Daily Nebraskan crossword puzzle and just talk about things with trainers Jack Nickolite and Jerry Weber.
Q: You talked about “just getting out of the way of Lawrence”. What are your recollections of him?
AT: Just a gifted human being. I don’t know if he ever got his lifting card signed in the weight room, but he was a monster, years ahead of his development level physically.
Q: What was it like blocking for a guy like that?
AT: Not like we were bent on winning him the Heisman, but you had to make sure we were up there leading the nation in rushing. It was just absurd the amount of yards we were rushing for back then, and just to have him, you wanted to make him look good.
Q: Then you’d also look good in the process, right?
AT: Exactly, that meant you were doing your job. The offensive line doesn’t want to be in the paper because that meant you weren’t doing something right. (laughs)
Q: What were the favorite methods of feedback you guys received?
AT: The daily film sessions, correcting things that needed correcting. We’d watch all the practices on film and take notes and talk through issues if there was any of that, about certain plays.
By the end of the week we’d have a test that Milt and Dan would give us for that week’s opponent. (A lot of the time we were all circled around Matt Vrzal, he had all the answers.) (laughs) The x’s and o’s were drawn in and you just had to draw the assignments of where you were going. There must have been twenty plays and probably four looks against them, so you had about a hundred little boxes to do that. We’d take it Friday afternoon and hand it in, and Friday night we’d stay at the Kellogg Center until Saturday morning. And then we’d eat breakfast and talk about things before the game.
Q: Adam, anything else that I haven’t touched upon that set those teams apart?
AT: Some guys learned ‘nastiness’ a little bit. Milt talked about being nasty. He kept track of knockdowns, pancakes, something that was recorded week to week.
And Coach would recognize Players of The Game: they’d put little plaques in the hallway from the locker room to the training room down there. And there was the Scout Team Players of the Week Award, too, and that plaque on the wall there.
And then walking underneath the old horseshoe there, and seeing the big, red signs that had the record of every season and every bowl game -obviously it started before Coach Osborne and it was Devaney’s era, even- and Coach Osborne built it even more and we wanted to keep it rolling.
Q: Did you know Bob Devaney very well?
AT: I didn’t. I’d see him down in the training room in the mornings riding the stationary bike and he liked to watch Kiana Tom and her workout show on ESPN there. (laughs) Other times you’d see his secretary come down to the training room after lunch to get a bag of ice, and I don’t think it was for rehab purposes. It was time to relax, you know? (laughs)
Q: Any lasting remarks the Husker fans should know about, from your perspective?
AT: You’ve got to tip your hat to the average Nebraska fan because they know what it takes. Between you and I, when Callahan called and asked me to put in a good word for him to Steve Pederson, I told him before he went there (and I knew he coached under Barry Alvarez at the University of Wisconsin, and Barry’s a Nebraska guy), I told Bill, ‘Make sure you understand the special tradition.’ And he said “Oh, I understand it.”
He didn’t understand it. I said, ‘You need to go to through the state and sit in the Legion club in Kimball, Nebraska, or Scottsbluff or Minden or Niobrara. You need to go to these watering holes and meet the state.’ He didn’t, and I don’t think he understood that aspect of it.
And Coach Osborne, growing up there, he ‘got’ it. And Doak, he was a lot more than a trainer; he had a feel for the shit that was being flung around the training room, and if he felt something was pertinent he’d go share it with Coach Osborne. He was great at keeping a finger on the pulse of the team.
Q: Who did you hang around with during those days?
AT: Joel Wilks, I used to hang out with that group. It was (Brenden) Stai and (Tom) Seiler and Wilks and Mark Gilman. Seiler and Gilman and Stai were roommates and we used to go out together, when I was a sophomore, I guess. And they accepted me, so that was good for my psyche.
Q: Any Christian Peter stories?
AT: We played Michigan State my junior year in East Lansing and he’s talking to the team in the locker room before the game along with the other captains -Phil Ellis and Aaron Graham and Ed Stewart- and he grabs a clock off the wall, and he punted it! And then he had a 4 inch Christmas ornament and he just smashed it against his face… and after about 2 seconds he had about 40 lacerations on his face from the glass, there was blood just running down his face. (laughs) I remember looking around and thinking to myself, ‘Holy cow, what is wrong with this guy?’ And (Bryan) Pruitt, did he tell you about his dance moves down in South Beach?
Q: No, (laughs) give me some dirt, man.
AT: We all got false ID’s before those Orange Bowl trips, and somebody had a friend that had a lamination machine and had their artist-friend draw the state of Nebraska on a poster board and cut the corner out of it so we could stand there and take our picture with a Polaroid. (laughs) And half of us, our heads were tilted to the side on the ID’s because our shoulders were too big to fit in the cut-out. And if we were too far behind the cut-out it would cast a shadow on your forehead! (laughs)
We had fun. Everybody stayed out of the papers, so it was good. The bars were open until 5 a.m., so it was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ If you were dumb enough or brave enough the first couple nights when we didn’t have a curfew down there, until practice started the next day we had a little fun.
Q: So it wasn’t entirely all business?
AT: Oh no. You have a bunch of twenty-year-old kids, it’s amazing there wasn’t more stuff with all those guys. If you took those ID’s we had made back to Lincoln they’d get taken. They’d look at ’em and just laugh at you.
I can’t believe Pruitt didn’t tell you about his dancing skills in the clubs down there. (laughs) I remember how he used to run. His arms would be going 100 miles per hour sideways. He was a tough son of a gun, that guy. I think he was a wedgebuster on kickoffs. He had no fear.
Q: Well, Adam, I can’t thank you enough for your time. I ask so many questions because back in those days I was often working with the other teams when you guys were doing your thing. Like the volleyball girls…
AT: We were all jealous of you because you got to work with volleyball. That’s when they started wearing those spandex shorts, too. (laughs) We were sitting over there behind the training table window and Rolan, the training table guy, he would keep plates of food aside for us guys, because sometimes we’d be late to eat because we spent too much time sitting by the bench over there watching you do your work with those girls… (laughs)
Do you remember the earlier conversation with Brenden Stai and my introduction of the N Factor? How some small, seemingly minor detail played a large role in making those teams into what they were? Well, Adam brought up the name of a location that was known in football circles by the simple name of ‘The Pit’. The Pit was in the former Schulte Fieldhouse, an indoor facility encased in the North Stadium behind the old scoreboard past the old north endzone. The present-day Tom and Nancy Osborne Complex sits atop that site, now serving as its foundation, so it’s impossible to visit anymore, banished hereafter to sweat-stained, bruised, and fading memories.
The place was a lower level, basement-kind of room about 25 feet by 40 feet in dimension and covered wall to wall with old, green Astroturf. This was where all the blocking dummies and assorted knick-knacks were stored until the student managers removed them for practice time. It was a ‘man cave’ in some respects: not much air flow, dark (save for a few naked lightbulbs dripping from naked conduit in the low-slung concrete ceiling), with a few scattered spider webs collecting dirt here and there for maximum testosterone-boosting effect. It was the perfect training grounds for trench warfare.
This was where epic battles were waged: offensive linemen versus defensive linemen. Every day. Out of Coach Tom Osborne’s eyesight and earshot, Charlie and Milt’s boys waged hell on each other, relentless in their attacks, cajoling and spitting and cursing, with occasional fists flying. This was the place you lost your high school football cherry and stepped into manhood. The weekly combat among the Clydesdales eliminated a minuscule touch of their ‘piss ’n’ vinegar,’ assisting with alleviating the edginess that comes with the anxiousness of an impending game. Those hand-to-hand encounters left them spent just enough to not retaliate or physically lash out at an opponent during the course of a game, thus limiting penalties of aggression. It turned boys into men and men into warriors.
Adam said it perfectly when he stated, “Some guys learned ‘nastiness’ a little bit.“ Case in point was the story that a freshman lineman in those years had experienced his very first practice down in the Pit when a player ripped his opponent’s helmet clean off and proceeded to bash his adversary over the head with it, an open gash and bloody mess resulting. Aghast and still reeling from the barbary, the greenhorn telephoned his father from his dormitory room later that night and said, “Dad, I don’t think I’m gonna make it. I’m not man enough to play here.” His father convinced him otherwise, and the youngster went on to have a nice career in professional football after fruitful Husker seasons.
Adam also mentioned another N Factor, (which was by no means unique to the University, but helped by providing consistent, little nudges all the same) and that was the weekly recognition of Players of the Game both on offense and defense, as well as special teams. There was even recognition for that previous week’s practices with the Scout Team Players of the Week Award. Let’s face it, human nature desires public recognition for our efforts along with the sense of pride that comes with contributing to something larger than yourself. Unlike the Ohio States and many like programs, the University of Nebraska never awarded helmet stickers as outward displays of accomplishment (calling attention to yourself apart from the team), but inside the troupe everyone knew who was stepping up on a consistent basis, constantly setting the bar for future peer performance. Unity, Belief, Respect: that’s what it was all about. Just know that respect was earned rather than given.
Notable quote #2:
Adam Treu on maintaining the legacy: “With the tradition being what it was, you didn’t want to be that team that didn’t win 9 games a year.”
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