H U S K E R D A N
February 18, 2010
This year, for the first time in nearly a decade, a Husker football coaching staff was able to carry a simple but important message to each and every Husker prospect: Come to Nebraska and you'll have a very real chance of competing for and winning conference and national championships.
Think about that for a minute. Just two seasons ago, the Nebraska football program ended the 2007 season with a 5-7 record, fielded a defense that was ranked 112th in total defense and surrendered an amazing 455 points for an arena football league like per game average of almost 38 points.
For many Husker fans, the bottom in '07 was the Oklahoma State game in Lincoln when a so-so Cowboy team led the Huskers at the half, 38-0. Everyone sat in stunned silence as the Huskers walked off the field that afternoon.
The Cowboys were the iceberg and the Husker football program was Titanic. If major changes happen soon, the Husker football program was in danger of sinking.
And now we know that Ndamukong Suh, the most highly decorated defensive player in Husker history, had strongly considered transferring after that tumultuous '07 season.
And as every Husker fan knows, Tom Osborne came to the rescue in October of '07 as the interim A.D. At season's end, Osborne fired Bill Callahan and most of his staff and in December of 2007 hired defensive guru Bo Pelini from LSU.
Pelini had shown in 2003, when he served as Frank Solich's defensive coordinator, that he knew a thing or two about defense. After his one year at Nebraska, Pelini spent a year as an assistant at Oklahoma and then worked his magic as the defensive coordinator at LSU under head coach Les Miles. And in his third and final year (2007) at LSU, Pelini helped the Tigers win a national championship.
When he got the head coaching job at Nebraska, Bo quickly assembled a great group of assistants who could coach. Pelini's staff hit the ground running and were able to get the Nebraska football program back on the winning track.
But what's all this have to do with recruiting? Plenty.
Recruiting Rule #1
Thou shalt win. And keep winning. And Bo's staff put the football team in position to do just that.
In his first year as the Husker head coach, Bo's Huskers won nine games and topped that this year with ten wins. His first two seasons included bowl victories over Clemson in '08 and the Huskers' first shutout bowl victory in school history, over the Arizona Wildcats in the '09 Holiday Bowl.
Last year's record included beating Oklahoma, winning the Big 12 North title and coming within one second of upsetting the Texas Longhorns in the Big 12 Championship game. Nebraska should be in a great position in the coming years to attract and retain even better talent.
Recruiting Rule #2
Thou shall keep your staff together. Bo's staff is one of only 12 D-1 football programs in the nation that looks this fall to return its entire staff for the third straight year. For decades, Tom Osborne used the tenure of his staff to keep the Nebraska football program at or near the top of the college football world.
Keep repeating Rules #1 & #2.
I think this year's crop of Husker recruits is a really good one. However, I find it difficult and confusing for a lay person (such as I am) to make much sense out of watching video, some of which is so grainy it makes the Zapruder film look like an IMAX classic. And to top it off, there's this little yellow arrow that that points to the recruit we're supposed to go ga-ga over. But there's no way of telling if the defenses "Mr. Big" is running through like a banshee are any good. And does the kid who is being slammed deep into the Friday night turf by the 6' 5" 325 pound O-lineman play like Broderick Thomas or more like Marlo Thomas?
What makes the loss of defensive end recruit Owamagbe Odighizuwa to Skippy Neuweasle at UCLA is that I had miraculously managed to learn how to pronounce Owa's name correctly. And for what? Sigh...
HUNTING WITH THE HUSKERS
Gerry Gray wants to invite you to a "Hunt With The Huskers" event he is sponsoring next month that gives Husker fans an opportunity to go pheasant hunting with about 18 former Husker football greats. Mark down Saturday, March 20th at the Oak Creek Sporting Club in Brainard, Nebraska in your calendar. (BTW, Brainard is only about 52 miles west of Omaha.)
Past Husker greats who have participated in the hunt include Joel Makovicka, Brenden Stai, Terry Connealy, Matt Hoskinson, Adrian Fiala, Matt Davison, Erik and Zach Wiegert, Rob Zatechka, and Aaron Graham. Several spots are still available, but you are encouraged to register quickly. All payments must be received in full by March 1.
And yes, yours truly will be there.
For more information go to www.greatplainsmktg.com or www.oak-creek-club.com Or you can call Gerry Gray at 402-393-0492.
I had a chance to visit recently with former Husker safety Matt O'Hanlon, who came to Nebraska (after a brief stop at the University of South Dakota) as a walk-on from Bellevue East High School in Bellevue, Nebraska. He is one of the nicest, most unassuming people you'll ever meet. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about him is that most parents would like their daughters to marry someone like Matt. (Matt's wife, Abby, who is a nurse in Lincoln, wants you to know that Matt ain't available!)
I asked Matt about his up-and-down senior season and what it was like after the loss to Virginia Tech in September.
"I couldn't believe people could say such things about someone they don't even know," he lamented.
"Was it email messages or phone calls?" I asked.
"Facebook was the worst."
I also asked him what it was like after the Oklahoma game where he made 12 tackles and had 3 interceptions to earn Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week and was named National Player of the Week by the Football Writers Association of America.
"As I came off the field after the game, I had tears in my eyes. For me, it was redemption. Not a day went by that I didn't think about the Virginia Tech game. This game kinda made up for that one."
In addition, Matt went on to win the Holiday Bowl Defensive MVP honors after he had five tackles and a pass breakup and returned an interception 37 yards that set up the Huskers' first touchdown.
Matt hopes to get a tryout with an NFL team, but if that doesn't work, he has Plan B to fall back on.
"I want to be a Social Studies teacher in high school or teach special education. I'd also like to do some coaching," he said.
On a side note, it was fate that Abby and Matt met. "We had lockers next to each other in high school," she confessed.
"Was it love at first sight?" I asked.
"It was for me!" she grinned.
Needless to say, Abby's parents, Dale and Karen Nye of Bellevue are also happy that Matt and Abby met.
It was unfortunate to learn that longtime Husker broadcaster and former Husker player Adrian Fiala was let go from the Husker football broadcast team. Although we've never met, I've always had a great deal of respect and admiration for Adrian. Good luck, my friend. You have many Husker fans who are rooting for you.
We leave you with highlights of last year's Husker football season.