Anatomy of an Era: Final Chapter/ PRACTICE INTENSITY/COMPETITION
Excerpted from Chapter 104, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 2 by Paul Koch
Anatomy of an Era: Final Chapter/ PRACTICE INTENSITY/COMPETITION
We’re now keenly informed and quite aware of:
1) the coaching staff’s diversity, fairness, preparation skills, methods of feedback and personal attention,
2) the three equally important modes of play via offense, defense and special teams,
3) the role of Husker fans and walk-ons,
4) the excellent support staff,
5) of player unity, motivations, dedication and leadership-types,
6) the practice organization, and
7) players’ physical development.
What we see next is how all of those elements then came together in the form of practice participation; this is where the blood, sweat and tears happened, something many spoke of.
Better yet, what seems to have mattered most was not merely full-scale practice participation by all members of the team, but the extra-spirited, ultra-competitive and combative forums inherent in that participation. This was where the rubber met the road, where they played “The best games never seen”.
It was 100% effort 100% of the time…
We had very, very physical and violent practices, and in turn, it made Saturday really easy… nobody practiced harder than we did. – Christian Peter
Christian was going against some redshirt right out of high school. Supposedly the freshman was intimidated and didn’t go hard against Christian. Well, Christian goes and just wallops him right upside the helmet, “Don’t you ever go half-assed against me, or I’ll kill you!” That’s what it took, you know? – Mike Roberts
…on the defensive side, it would have been Toby Wright. Holy cow, I think that guy’s helmet came off ten times a game with how hard he hit everybody. And I remember in practice, us DB’s, we’d hit each other in this cone drill, and every time I had to go up against (Toby Wright) I just dreaded it. My helmet went off a couple of times in just the half-speed, three-quarter speed drills… – David Alderman
We just played hard and didn’t worry about getting hurt. A lot of times kids that get hurt are always looking around worried about somebody going to come hit them. They just played hard and it didn’t happen that we got major injuries in those (practice) situations because the players went after each other 100 percent and didn’t back off. – Dan Young
No fear here…
…we practiced the way we played. Coach Osborne was very, very big on that. We practiced full-bore. And that led to a lot of hot heads and emotions and things when Coach would let them cut-block us and things like that. We were constantly fighting the offensive linemen. At times it was half-football and half-boxing, but that’s what got us ready for Saturday. – Jared Tomich
…it’s so crucial and critical to have good talent and good depth across the board in a program.’Cause if you can simulate game experience in a practice -whenever you get to the game that was the biggest thing for us- when we walked into a ball game we knew we had already faced our toughest opponents, and that was our teammates that week… you’d step on the field on Saturday and never felt like you were gonna lose. Saturday was a cake walk. It was an easy deal on Saturday. – Aaron Taylor
Tony Ortiz grabs an Iowa fumble.
We did the things that we did to football teams in that era because we practiced harder than anybody else. Our practices were harder than the games. Once we got to the game it was easy. A lot of us couldn’t believe how easy it was come game time because we went against each other so much… – Vershan Jackson
…one other thing I try to impress upon my guys here is the practice tempo… I say, ‘Guys, listen. Back in Nebraska we had to get them to gear down, because they were going so hard and so fast all the time.’ The tempo, that’s the thing that stood out. – Clayton Carlin
Photo by Al Tielemans /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images
Particularly if last Saturday’s result was a victory…
When we won, practices were hell the following week. When we lost, it was different. It was just kind of the reverse psychology. You would think that when you lose, when you got beat, they’d just tear you down, but they didn’t. They’d still push you. But when we were winning, they’d be harder on us when we were winning than when you were losing. – Kevin Ramaekers
You dared not let up, because Big Brother was always watching…
…practices were really well organized, every move we made was filmed, it was a complete practice. – Darren Schmadeke
Whether it was in position-specific sessions between the Offensive and Defensive linemen down in ‘The Pit’…
Remember the linemen would always go down to the (Schulte Fieldhouse) pit and do our one-on-ones? As linemen it’s one of those traditions. Don’t you remember how we used to beat the piss out of each other for an hour and a half before we’d come up and join the team? It would be literally offense against defensive line. We would have all-out fights. – Brian Nunns
Milt and I would get mad at each other and yell at each other… and the kids loved that. (laughs)…“They’re holding! You’re holding all the time!” It wasn’t anything where we’d get in each other’s face, but when that happened kids would start to get in a little tussle and push each other around a bit. And when you’d go one-on-one it would get a little heated. – Charlie McBride
…my favorite practice stories were always when the offensive line and defensive line did one-on-ones down in the pit in the north Fieldhouse. That’s when there was always a lot of bravado and testosterone pumping, yeah. – Bill Humphrey
In the scrimmage situations versus the scout teams…
…coming from where we went full contact and took people to the ground -we cut our defensive linemen and we cut linebackers at full speed- we did things like normal teams don’t do in practice. We basically practiced like it was a game tempo every day. Heck, we even went full pads on short yardage situations, in full pads some Thursdays. Days where some people thought it was like a walk-through, those days we would go ‘live’ on those days, too. It was just a different mentality and a different way to prepare, and I think it did well for us. – Chris Dishman
…the thing that set it apart, also, was that this behavior was done in scrimmages: the cut-blocking, the physicality. In practice. And not many programs do that. You can’t just turn it on on gameday, you have to do that all the time. It went into spring football, the Tuesday and Wednesday full pad practices. – Ryan Held
They practiced like sharks smelling blood in the water…
…we’d have the numbers of the star players of Oklahoma State or Colorado, we’d have that player on the field wearing that jersey so they could see where that player was going to be. We ran the offense, teams three and four, against the one and two defense… – Damon Schmadeke
I was like Linus of Peanuts with his blanket, you know what I mean? I looked at my (knee) brace and I looked around on the sidelines and no one else had braces on. And they were all moving so fast, so I wiped my tears and threw the brace away and said, ‘Here we go.’ – Toby Wright
Then there was the ultimate practice exam: the one-on-ones, where pride was put to the test and up for grabs…
…the number one offense would go against the number one defense in the goal line stand situation… It was so intense, it was live, one-on-one, heads up. – Clinton Childs
… going against the number one offense -speaking from the defense’s point of view- we were literally going against the number one offense in the country, and I wasn’t kidding that Saturdays slowed down a lot. It literally was like playing with your kids. It was almost silly… there was no green shirts, no redshirts, no padded practices… we just expected it. You were going to get hit. That comes at the modus operandi of what Nebraska was about… There was blood, tears, cussing, fighting, it was unbelievable. The coaches were right in our face and the offense is yelling at the defense, the defense was yelling at the offense. It was unbelievable. Then we’re all in the showers and were like, “Hey, that was a good practice.” – Phil Ellis
…every day felt like a game day with the intensity in practice. Just watching the way the team went about their business, when the ones took on the ones, they were playing like it was a regular football game out there. The competition was fierce. – Darin Erstad
I was there at a time when we had 200 guys on a roster… the way we were able to practice, prepare, and the number of reps we were able to get. And at Nebraska everything was physical, and we went ones-against-ones several times a week. Those were probably the best games never seen, were scrimmages against each other in the spring, in the summer and in the fall…
– Eric Stokes
…it was the goal line situations. When it was goal line time, it was like the most excited the team would ever get. On a Thursday we’d just have goal line defense time. It was number one offense versus number one defense and we knew it was the best we were gonna have to play all week. As a matter of fact, that used to be the highlight of my week. That’s when we’d really see the real competition, was the goal line. – Michael Booker
Clearing the way for Tommie
Spring ball was no cakewalk, either…
…the spring game… which was my first actual all-out football playing day at Nebraska. I believe there was a sweep and I was in at defensive tackle, and it was the opposite direction of where I was playing, so I was trying fight off the block and just run into the sideline to make a tackle. And I tell you, I thought I got hit by a Mack truck. I never saw the guy coming, but he hit me and completely de-cleated me. Wiped me out! And then he stood over me and said, “Welcome to Nebraska football.” And that was one of my fondest memories of joining the Nebraska football team… It was a trip. A lot of times the whistle would be blowing and the guys were still getting after each other. That was our competitive nature. Nobody wanted to give anything up to each other. You know what that’s like when a whistle blows and two guys are still getting after each other? Well, it was like that all the time… We were always just battling, man, always battling. – Jason Scott Jenkins
Sometimes it got ugly…
One of the things I do remember about playing there -and I think why we were so good- was there were fights between the offensive linemen and defensive linemen. And it wasn’t fighting because they were mad at each other, it was fights because somebody wasn’t trying hard enough. And I remember going, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen a fight because they were, “You’re slacking! You’re not going hard enough!“ Because they pushed the other guy to get better, also, because it’s gonna help the whole team out… It was like, ‘Wow, I’ve never been yelled at by my own teammate for not playing hard enough during practice.’ …Those guys made each other accountable to play like they were going to play in the game on Saturday.’Practice like you were going to play.’ And that’s what we did, we battled every day in practice… – Cory Schlesinger
…everyone is always asking us, “How the Hell did you and Christian live together? You guys beat the piss out of each other every day. You guys are always running extra because you’re fighting?” It’s part of football! We’re not playing tennis, you know what I mean? That’s what made us good: 90% of our practices were harder than most of our games …my ultimate favorite time of practice was live one-on-one goal line situations, every week. It was the end of practice, offense against defense on the goal line, live, whoever could hit the hardest. And everyone was fighting each other. – Brian Nunns
’92 Husker Freshman Class
…once or twice a week we’d all get together and do live one-on-ones, run blocking or pass blocking, and they used to get intense. About once a week or so there would just be a knock-down, drag-out fight between the O-line and the D-line, and Charlie and Milt certainly wouldn’t jump in to break it up. They let you work things out on your own. And you look back, and those were some of my best friends and here you’d be trying to knock their block off. There were some funny stuff used to happen, it was just so intense. It was a lot of fun… you better bring it 100% because the other guy was going to. You were playing for pride. You didn’t want to be the guy who lost the most battles consistently, because you’d hear about it. – Terry Connealy
… Leodis Flowers was in the running back spot and I was the next running back to go in. But then Leodis took a handoff and Pat Tyrance hit him so hard! The hardest hit I’d ever seen in college football. Then T.O. had the next play for me to run in and I stood back and said, ‘Nah, I’m not quite ready, Coach.’ (laughs) They hit hard, I tell you. And I think that was the time I made the decision to play wingback. – Corey Dixon
Even the elements would test their mettle…
…I went out to practice when it was, like, negative 20 degrees. I went out to practice with my ski parka on underneath my pads. They said, “Dude, you looked like this big black bear. Big abominable snow suit with pads on! Your arms were sticking straight out because you couldn’t put ‘em down because of too much padding.“ I’ll never forget, I walked on the field -and here’s this California kid, you know what I mean- and everybody else is used to this kind of weather. I walked out there and I was so tired of being cold, and I had that big old jacket and stuff on. I’ll never forget the whole practice -the whole team, 150 players and the coaches- even Coach Osborne laughed at me. The whole practice! And I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to be cold no more, you know? (laughing) – Larry Townsend
There were other, rare, lighter moments, too…
…we used to goof around in practice. I can remember sometimes when it would be special teams period and we’d be doing onside kick and the onside kick team would be out there. And I remember catching the ball and then running the option down the field, taking it all the way down the field. And it’s funny, because Tom Osborne never said anything about it, he just let us goof off about it. And I remember going, ‘Oh, that’s kind of strange.’ And we did it every week. I can remember us being out there dancing around and doing silly stuff on the practice field, guys doing the silliest things. Here we’re acting like goofballs out there, but the coaches never said anything. I guess they really wanted us to enjoy being out there, and I appreciated the fact they let us do the things they did. We knew when it was time to get serious, even though we did have fun sometimes. -Trumane Bell
Even the team clown had his game-face on for practice…
I felt like, “Hey, I’m just trying to make you all better, man.’…It was a competition. Practice was a competition… – Jacques Allen
And what did that extremely high level of practice intensity do for the team? It served as non-stop, top-tier competition to prove oneself worthy of depth chart status, deserving of playing time, of exposing weaknesses in technique, and most importantly, as a mental measuring stick toward total player development…where steel sharpened steel to a shiny, razor-sharp edge. This Culture of Competition started at the top…
…it’s something that I’ve always enjoyed, the competition… I’m sure some of my athletic competitive nature in competition may have had to do somewhat with my Dad. Still, it’s something that you either have it or you don’t. Some kids just naturally like to compete and challenge themselves and some people don’t. I always found that it’s something that was appealing to me, to test myself in competition. – Tom Osborne
The Leader of the Band
That competitive bent filtered out to the staffers, too…
…It became that each (strength coach) had a group, a position that you worked with, and you became their strength coach. It made it very competitive for all of us, which was a neat thing to do. Like the rest of them, I don’t want to lose. That’s what it’s all about. Everything was about competition… it’s all about competition …Kids like me because they know I’m a competitor and I’m going to put them in a position where I’m not only gonna make them better, I’m gonna make them the best. – Bryan Bailey
Fully immersing itself in the realm of the players…
…everything was a competition with us. Everything there. There was always a competition there to see who could do things the best. It was just pride. I mean, you could have done a running drill for those that lost, but by being the first guy (to finish), then you had bragging rights all the time. – Zach Wiegert
1993 running backs grouping
…the level of competition -just at your own position- it was very competitive… It was just the amount of competition, everybody was a tough guy, there was no wimping out. Obviously, that just wasn’t going to happen. Kevin Ramaekers, he was a tough guy. I don’t even think that guy ever had a pain threshold. John Parrella, too. There was David White. You remember David? That guy was just a killer. That guy used to play with bones sticking out of his body and covered in so much blood the referees would make him come off the field. He would have finger bones sticking out of the skin and would tape up and go back in. He was a tough em-effer! – Jon Pederson
…(growing up) in our house it was a competitive atmosphere. We were always trying to outdo one another. And at the time it probably drove our parents crazy, but it was probably a good part of our success, the constant competition… And even for guys like myself and Grant, you know, best friends. And I consider him a brother, but there is that friendly rivalry, that friendly competition that helps you push one another. – Jason Peter
…there was a level of competitiveness in our practices. That was one good thing about the way we practiced: practicing hard and the way we had our stations… So you had pressure from the front as far as the competition coming up, and you had pressure from behind from your own guys keeping you on your toes and not letting your guard down, so to speak. And it was just an admiration, too, and appreciation for the little guy. – Ed Stewart
Love of competition was etched into their innermost being…
Being a competitor means you’re not a quitter… And me being a competitor, that means I compete in everything I do. That means I have to compete in school as well as compete in practice and games, everything is part of the game. You can’t quit one and think you can compete in the other. I tell you what, if I would have quit playing football I probably would have quit school altogether. – Jacques Allen
…there was always competition. Always competition. If it came from the scout team, I mean, those guys gave it their all. It was competitive. It got heated sometimes. (laughs) They would score on us or make a play, and it was heated. But that’s a big part of why we were successful, though. From top to bottom there wasn’t any of one aspect of those teams where there was a weak link. You were getting it all the time. And if I was pushing Tony Veland, then Eric Warfield was pushing me, and Mike Minter was pushing Toby Wright and John Reece. So there was always a team, but there was always competition. There was always competition. That really, truly drives you to excel. – Eric Stokes
I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder when it came to Christian (Peter), because I didn’t want to be an offensive lineman at first and was made to go over there with encouragement from Tom. So I enjoyed it every day and tried to prove that he wasn’t anything better than I was. (laughs) I guess I’d like to think that I made Christian a better football player. – Bill Humphrey
I just tried to beat out the guys ahead of me in practice and keep the guys behind me as far as possible in the rearview mirror. Every day there was always something you can work on, you know? – Trumane Bell
This was where memories were made…
Jason (Peter) was such a great, well-rounded player… his repertoire of being strong, being fast, being quick, being a knowledgeable football player always made it difficult for an offensive lineman, by far the best at developing me as a player going against him than anything I was involved in in athletics… Then he said the same thing, “When we fight next time, let’s just not fight for so long.” – Aaron Taylor
…we had a scrimmage on Friday, ones against ones, twos against twos. That was the most physical practice that I’ve ever been a part of. You had Jamel Williams and Clinton Childs, they had one of the most ferocious hits in practice. It stopped practice, that’s how hard they hit. It was like two battering rams hitting up against each other. You could hear it all the way at the top of Memorial Stadium. It was the most aggressive, fireworks everywhere. It was just hitting, hitting, hitting …it was competitive. – Vershan Jackson
Coca-Cola Bowl, Tokyo: Husker D-Line and Charlie McBride
Boy oh boy, were those teams ready come Saturday!
It’s not something the average person seeks out: the non-stop, all-out pressure-boiler of competition. But these Nebraska Football competitors learned the value of it and embraced it, because they saw where it led them: to resultant victories. They played the game to their own standards and not the opposition’s, and maybe that’s the moral of the story: that no matter the competition we face in life, the real foe is complacency and self-satisfaction at the cost of diminished personal improvement.
Sadly, we will never know those Husker teams’ true potential, because it was a rarity the starters ever played an entire game. Rather than the scout teamers getting in their last quarter’s licks on the opponent’s first teams, I find it curious to speculate how dominant these young men truly were, what kind of scoring differentials they might have produced.
Short of knowing this, I rest firmly in the notion that the 1995 Nebraska team really was the best to ever trample a gridiron. And, might I add, 1994’s edition should not be far behind. I say this not because of a) lack of defeats and b) great margins of victory, but instead for c) not becoming defeated due to adversity, d) the margin of greatness in their victories, and e) their continued pursuit of perfection after it had already once been attained.
Therein lies the mark of a championship-styled life.
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Copyright @ 2013 Thermopylae Press. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Credits : Unknown Original Sources/Updates Welcomed
Author assumes no responsibility for interviewee errors or misstatements of fact.
Summary Chapter to be continued…..