H U S K E R D A N
March 17, 2011
MORE OF THE DANNO AWARDS OF THE PAST DECADE (PLUS ONE) OF HUSKER FOOTBALL
Okay, so these awards are taking a bit longer than I thought. But when you have 11 years of Husker football to review, it's bound to take a little time, right? Right! So gimme a break.
Now, where was I? Right. As some of you know, the Danno Awards have been given annually to recognize outstanding performances and great moments in the world of Nebraska football.
But this year, we are looking back at the years 2000 to 2010 (the Decade Plus One) of Husker football. Why 11 instead of 10 years? Because we wanted to include the last year of the Huskers' affiliation with the Big 12 Conference in our extended decade.
In Part II, we looked at the Offense. In this segment, we're going to look at the Defense and Special Teams and present some miscellaneous awards.
THE 2010 BETTY WALKER AWARD
LARRY THE CABLE GUY
This award has been given each year to the person who best represents the spirit of the late Betty "Big Red Betty" Walker. Betty was a huge Husker fan and was an loyal supporter of our military. In fact, she was the first donor to Husker Dan's Army. Even as she was losing her battle with cancer a couple of years ago, she continued to support the men and women in our armed forces.
Because this award started just a couple of years ago, we thought it best to make this award cover just one year, 2010, instead of extending it to include the past eleven years.
Larry The Cable Guy (aka Dan Whitney) who grew up in Pawnee, Nebraska is a long time Husker fan and a strong supporter of American veterans and the US military. Larry was one of our sponsors for last fall's "Husker Fans' Salute To The Troops" celebration held at the Cornhusker Marriott Hotel in Lincoln. Betty would be proud to have Larry's name added to the list of winners. Larry, we salute you and all you do!
BEST HUSKER DEFENSIVE TEAM
Led by Outland winner and Heisman runner-up, DT Ndamukong Suh, the Blackshirts ended the '09 season as the nation's number one team in scoring defense allowing just 10 points a game. The '09 Blackshirts' roster was filled with great players like Jared Crick, Eric Hagg, Matt O'Hanlon, Prince Amukamara, DeJon Gomes, Alfonzo Dennard, to name just a few. Toward the end of the season, this group of Blackshirts seemed to get better with every game. They held Colt McCoy and the Texas Longhorns to 13 points in the Big 12 Championship game that year and ended the season with a 33-0 pasting of the Arizona Wildcats in the Holiday Bowl.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Ndamukong Suh DT (2006-2009)
Of course, the award goes to Suh. We'd be foolish to even suggest someone else. You have to go back to the days of Rich Glover (1970-1972) to find a defensive lineman as dominating as Ndamukong Suh was, especially in his last two years at Nebraska. Suh might well be the best defensive lineman the game of college football has ever seen. Suh won the Outland Trophy, Lombardi Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Bednarik Award, was a finalist for the Heisman and ended up being the second player chosen in the 2010 NFL draft. At Nebraska, he brutalized quarterbacks, intercepted passes, caught TD passes and was even used as a blocking back in goal line situations. Congratulations, Suh-perman!
BEST DEFENSIVE LINEMAN
Ndamukong Suh (2006-2009)
See above. 'Nuff said.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAY
Ndamukong Suh in the 2009 Oklahoma game
It's no surprise that the best defensive player of the DPO would be also be involved in the DPO's best defensive play. There were many great moments in Suh's career, but none better than when he blasted through the Sooners' O-line in that game, shoving the Sooner O-lineman into QB Landry Jones who also was knocked down on the play. You have to see it to believe it.
Barrett Ruud (2001-2004)
Ruud was a 2004 All-Big 12 Player (AP and Coaches), the 2004 Nebraska Defensive MVP and a three time First Team Academic All Big 12 ('02-'04). He held the Nebraska single season record (149) for tackles that stood until last year when Lavonte David broke it.
Josh Bullocks (2002-2004)
Because there are two different kinds of safeties (and some hybrids, too), choosing just one at that position was challenging. To be sure, there have been some very good safeties during those 11 years including Matt O'Hanlon, Daniel Bullocks (Josh's brother) and Eric Hagg. Josh, chosen in the second round of the '05 NFL draft, held the school and Big 12 Conference records for most interceptions in a season (10) and was second nationally in interceptions per game (.77 pg). He was also Sporting News 2003 First Team All American.
Prince Amukamara (2007-2010)
Although his defensive numbers dropped off his last year at Nebraska, it was because throwing in Amukamara's direction wasn't a wise thing for opposing quarterbacks to do. Amukamara, a 2010 First Team All-American and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year (coaches poll), will be sorely missed next year as Nebraska enters Big 10 play.
BEST OPEN-FIELD TACKLER
Matt O'Hanlon (2006-2009)
Not since Husker safety Mike Brown has there been a better open field tackler than Matt O'Hanlon. Once Matt had a ball carrier in his sight, the player was down. One of his best games was the Oklahoma game in Lincoln in 2009. Matt had 12 tackles, 3 interceptions and was name Big 12 Defensive Player and the National Defensive Player of the week for his effort. Not bad for a walk-on quarterback/soccer player from Bellevue, Nebraska. We love Matt's determination, desire, demeanor and his intense competitive spirit.
BEST KICKOFF RETURNER
Josh Davis (2001-2003)
Josh, son of former Husker running back, Tony Davis (1973-1975), excelled as a running back as well as a kick returner. But he is being honored here as the DPO's best kickoff returner. During his career at Nebraska, he set school and Big 12 records for Career Kickoff Return Yards with 2,265 yards. Josh also set the Nebraska record for Kickoff Return Yards in a Season with 994 yards. And he set the school Single Game Kickoff Return Yard record with 186 yards vs Kansas State in 2002.
BEST PUNT RETURNER
DeJuan Groce (1999-2002)
In his senior year at Nebraska, DeJuan was named AFCA's First Team All-American Return Specialist, CNNSI.com's First Team All-American Punt Returner and Sporting News' Third Team All-American Kick Returner. In gathering all his hardware, he managed to join former legend, Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers as the only two players in NU history to go over 1,000 career punt return yards. Groce ranks second in school history with 1,218 yards and in his 732 yards in his senior year, broke Johnny Rodgers' single-season record of 618 set during Rodgers' Heisman season in 1972.
LONGEST PUNT RETURN
95 yards by Eric Hagg 2010 (2007-2010)
Hagg's return beat Bobby Newcombe's 94 yarder in 2000 at home against Missouri. Hagg, not normally used as a punt returner was in the game only because the Nebraska coaches didn't think the 'Horns were going to punt on the play. But Texas got off a pooch punt that rolled into the hands of Hagg who took it to the house. Unfortunately for Nebraska, it was the only touchdown the Huskers scored in a 20-10 loss to Texas.
LONGEST KICK RETURN FOR A TOUCHDOWN
Niles Paul 100 yards (2010) vs Oklahoma State
Not since Ron Clark returned a kickoff 100 yards for a TD At Kansas State in 1949 had a Husker returned one that distance.
BEST PUNT RETURN FOR A TOUCHDOWN
Nate Swift Virginia Tech at Nebraska 2008
So what else did the DPO Best Receiver do to prove his greatness while at Nebraska?
Alex Henery 2007-2010
Alex would also win this award if it were for the Best Placekicker in school history and may also garner serious attention as the best place-kicker in college football history. But we'll leave it at the DPO level for now. Through the past 40 plus years of watching Husker football, I've never seen a better kicker than #90-either for Nebraska or for any of the opposing teams. Henery's biggest field goal and the longest in school history (57 yards) came in the 2008 Colorado game in Lincoln. What an amazing play made by an amazing player. That Alex wasn't chosen as first team All-Big 12 this year is a travesty. And not winning the 2010 Lou Groza Award is also stunning.
Iowa State @Nebraska (2007)
Adi got a standing ovation when his wind assisted kickoff sailed straight through the Cyclone uprights with plenty of room to spare. There have been a lot of kickoffs at Memorial Stadium, but none as awesome as this one.
Alex Henery (2007-2010)
Henery took over the punting duties his junior and senior years at Nebraska. His punts seemed to be radio controlled, carefully bouncing out of bounds, often within the opponents' 10 yard line.
BEST KICKOFF SPECIALIST
Adi Kunalic (2007-2010)
Adi finished his career at Nebraska with an unbelievable 125 touchbacks, with 39 of them in his senior season. As a freshman against Nevada in 2007, he had an amazing 6 touchbacks. Because of the new kickoff rules initiated in college football, Kunalic's powerful leg became a huge tool for the defense and often forced opposing teams to go 80 yards to score.
BEST JIMMY CHITWOOD MOMENT
Alex Henery's 57 yard field goal (Colorado @Nebraska 2008)
The Huskers facing a 4th and 18 from the Colorado 27 yard line with less than two minutes to go in the game and trailing, called a time out. Would the Huskers try a play to get a first down, or try a 57 yard (!) field goal? No one in Husker history had ever made, let alone even attempted such a kick. Who would try it? Adi Kunalic, the Huskers' kickoff specialist, or Alex Henery, the place kicker? Coach Bo called a time out. And in typical "Hoosiers" fashion, Bo Pelini asked Henery if he thought he could kick it from that distance. "Coach, I'll make it," Alex says. And the rest is history.
BEST BOWL WIN
2005 Alamo Bowl (NU 33-Michigan 28)
There were only 9 total bowl games and only 5 Husker bowl wins during those 11 years, but of those, we think the '05 Alamo Bowl may have been the best.
The story of the game was that the unranked 7-3 Huskers wanted to be at the game more than the 20th ranked 7-4 Wolverines did. Nebraska was hungry for a win, but things didn't look too good for the them as Nebraska stared down the barrel of a fourth quarter 28-17 deficit. NU answered with a Cory Ross 31-yard TD run, a two-point conversion and a 13-yard TD catch by Terrence Nunn and an extra point by Jordan Congdon to take the lead with 4:29 to go. The game ended with one of the most bizarre plays in Husker football history. Nebraska players stormed the field thinking the Wolverine player had been tackled. Wrongo. Fortunately for Nebraska, the runner was tackled at the Husker 15 yard line as time ran out.
On a side note, this win was only the Huskers' second win over Michigan in school history. The first came during Bob Devaney's inaugural year (1962) as NU's head coach when the Huskers beat the Wolverines 25-13 at Ann Arbor, Michigan. Let's hope that as the Huskers begin play this fall in the Big 10 Conference, that the Nebraska will enjoy many more wins over Michigan.
BEST WALK-ON PLAYER
Alex Henery (2007-2010)
There have been many talented players who have come to Lincoln as walk-ons during the DPO (i.e. Matt O'Hanlon-2006-2009 and Stewart Bradley-2003-2006), but none better than Alex Henery from Omaha Burke High School. In fact, Alex Henery is probably the best place kicker in Husker history and just may be the best ever in the history of college football. What's even more interesting is that he turned down a soccer scholarship from Creighton to walk on at Nebraska. In his last two years, Alex also took over the punting duties and became one of the best punters in school history.
BEST DEFENSIVE RECRUIT
Ndamukong Suh (2006-2009)
As we said, Suh may go down as the best defensive linemen not only in school history, but in the history of college football as well. Suh helped put Nebraska back on the map defensively. As long as Nebraska fields a football team, people will be talking about what an incredible talent Suh was.
BEST OFFENSIVE RECRUIT
Zac Taylor QB (2005-2006)
This is a tough one. The player had to be recruited during the DPO and played during that time. Our vote goes to quarterback Zac Taylor. Although he played only two years at Nebraska, he was a kid who gave everything he had, every play and in every game. And his first year, he had to operate behind a very inexperienced offensive line. He got sacked more than a bag of groceries at Hy Vee. He never complained, he just picked himself up off the turf and went back to the huddle for the next play. Zac wasn't the most talented QB to play for Nebraska, but for those two years, NU won one Big 12 North Division, played in one Big 12 Championship game and went to two bowl games. He established the school single-season record for passing yards (2,486), completions (233) and attempts (399). He also set the single game record for passing yards (431), completions (36) and total offense (433). Zac also won the 2006 Brook Berringer Citizenship Award. Not bad for a kid from Oklahoma who wasn't heavily recruited.
PLAYER WHO SHOULD HAVE BEEN A HUSKER BUT WASN'T
Danny Woodhead (2004-2007)
Why this five-foot-nothin' wunderkind from North Platte, Nebraska didn't receive a single scholarship offer from Nebraska (or any other D-1 school) is baffling. Talk about a kid who would have been fun to watch and who would have represented the state, the Husker football program and its fans, Danny was the guy. All he did while he was at North Platte High School, was help lead his team his senior year to its first undefeated regular season in 40 years. He finished his HS career as Nebraska's Class A all-time leading rusher with 4,891 yards. Danny also ran track and broke the school record for the 100 meter dash with a 10.5 time.
At Chadron State College, he received the school's first full ride scholarship in its 96 year history. He finished his career at CSC with 7,441 rushing yards for an average of 190.8 yards a game Danny rushed for more than 200 yards on 19 of his 39 appearances. He also was the only two time recipient of the Harlan Hill Trophy-the equivalent of the Heisman in D-1.
And as everybody knows, Danny Woodhead is now starring in the NFL with the New England Patriots.
I promise you, Part IV will be the LAST of these awards! But don't miss that one. We'll announce the awards for Best Sports Writer, Best Offensive and Defensive Newbies, Best Husker Book, Best Cheers to Tears Game, Best Tears to Cheers Game, Best Husker TV Show, Best Radio Show, Most Pivotal Game (Positive Result), Most Pivotal Game (Negative Result), Worst Quarter of Football etc. Don't miss Part IV, "The Final Episode"!