Stryker: All-Underrated team deserves renewed esteem
Underrated does not necessarily mean underappreciated, at least when it comes to Nebraska football. Most Cornhusker fans know the two-deep lineup like the back of their hand, so it stands to reason they never let a solid performer escape their notice, even if he doesn’t get high postseason honors.
This is my Husker All-Underrated Team, starting with 1962, the beginning of the Bob Devaney era. The only criteria are that they started for at least one season and were not selected first-team all-conference by a national organization.
There were a lot of tough choices, especially on the offensive line, at linebacker, defensive back and on special teams, which for decades were solid.
Who are your favorite underrated players in Husker history? Here are mine. They illustrate the widespread talent, development and depth that was a Nebraska trademark until recently, and hopefully, in the not-too-distant future.
QB — Tommy Armstrong Jr. This is the easiest choice on the whole team. The Huskers’ career leader in total offense and touchdown passes, Armstrong started at quarterback for 30 wins on teams that lacked enough talent to win a division title.
RB — Roger Craig Amazingly, the future All-Pro and three-time Super Bowl champ was never selected first-team All-Big Eight by anyone beyond the Omaha World-Herald. Bad timing (he played alongside Mike Rozier) and injuries were mainly to blame. A 1,000-yard rusher as a junior, he was No. 4 on Nebraska’s career rushing chart when he ended his career in 1982.
FB — Phil Bates It was tough to choose Bates over Jeff Makovicka, but Bates had the most rushing touchdowns of any Husker in 1981, including a 3-yard plunge in the final minute to beat Missouri, 6-0, in a blitz-filled baptism by fire for Turner Gill.
C — Doug Dumler I seriously considered 2012 converted defensive lineman one-year wonder Justin Jackson, but Dumler was a three-year starter, a solid performer for the 1970 and 71 national champions. A third-team All-American, Dumler was overshadowed by Oklahoma All-American center Tom Brahaney.
G — Tanner Farmer Before he began his All-America wrestling career, Farmer was a solid part of coach Scott Frost’s first offensive line, plus a capable team spokesman during a hellish 0-6 start to the season, and he was sorely missed in 2019.
G — Joel Wilks The only member of the original “Pipeline” who did not make at least second-team All Big Eight in 1994, Wilks had the trap block assignment on Cory Schlesinger’s winning touchdown in the 1995 Orange Bowl against Miami.
T — Rob Zatechka Playing alongside three eventual All-American offensive linemen, the Lincoln East graduate won all kinds of academic awards but never made first-team All Big Eight.
T — Dave Volk Like Zatechka, Volk was highly decorated academically. A 2001 team captain, the Battle Creek native played at the tail end of the Huskers’ massive run of top-quality offensive linemen.
TE — Kyler Reed Reed had eight TD receptions as a sophomore in 2010 to break single-season record and his 67 receptions are second on the Huskers’ all-time list for tight ends. This one was a tough choice, but Reed’s versatility as a bona fide deep threat made the difference. Mike McNeill moved to wide receiver as a senior in 2010, but finished his career with most TE pass receptions. Jerry List was solid for the 1970 and 1971 national champions; he had 47 catches and 5 TDs over his last two seasons.
WR — Todd Peterson The Grand Island native finished his career in 2008 third on Nebraska’s all-time pass receptions list with 108.
WR — Brandon Reilly A consistent big-play threat, Reilly had 13 receptions of at least 30 yards as a junior and senior, and finished his career in 2016 with 70 receptions.
DE — Dwayne Harris Harris had 10 sacks his senior year, including one of the biggest in the program’s history: he tackled Frank Costa for a third-quarter safety that pulled NU to within eight points against Miami in the 1995 Orange Bowl.
DT — Lawrence Pete In 1988, Pete clinched Steve Taylor’s only Big Eight championship with a game-ending sack of OU”s Charles Thompson, who suffered a broken leg on the play as the Blackshirts held the Oklahoma option attack to under 100 yards rushing in a 7-3 victory. As a senior, Pete played a lot of nose tackle and still got seven sacks while missing two games.
DT — Baker Steinkuhler His value was shown during the 2012 Big Ten Championship, when Wisconsin exploited his absence caused by a knee injury in Iowa City. “Baby Steinkuhler” is one of just 12 Husker interior defensive linemen to reach 150 career tackles.
DE — Mike Rucker Rucker made big plays. Still in the Husker all-time top 10 for tackles for loss, he teamed up with Grant Wistrom on a sack of Missouri quarterback Corby Jones to end the Huskers’ 45-38 overtime victory in 1997, and in 1998, he crashed hard off right end to stuff Oklahoma State running back Nathan Simmons at the 1-yard line on the game’s final play to save NU’s 24-17 win over the Cowboys in Arrowhead Stadium.
LB — Bob Terrio Forever known as the man who clinched Nebraska’s first national title with a game-ending interception in 1971 Orange Bowl win over LSU, Terrio did all right in regular-season games, accounting for 79 tackles and three interceptions as a junior and leading the 1971 defense (possibly the best Blackshirt unit ever) in tackles with 104, plus five more interceptions.
LB — Lee Kunz Currently ranked No. 6 on Nebraska’s all-time tackles chart, one place behind Dedrick Young. Even though Kunz played only three years compared to Young’s four, and he rarely saw the field his sophomore year, he had six takeaways compared to Young’s one. A tremendous track and field athlete from the mid-1980s, Kunz is still listed in the all-time Husker top 10 performances for the discus throw.
LB — Jamel Williams Besides his crushing blitz that smashed Danny Wuerffel for a safety in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl, the explosive Williams had six other career sacks and four interceptions, including one for a touchdown, while making 150 career tackles, including 97 during his senior season alone. He barely beats out Tony Ortiz, another speedy Husker linebacker who made the Blackshirts fearsome during the 1990s.
CB — Lamar Jackson Coming alive midway through his junior season, Jackson intercepted five passes, including one late in the fourth quarter that set up the Huskers’ game-winning field goal to edge Northwestern, 13-10, in 2019. Jackson finished with 22 passes broken up, which ties him for eighth on the all-time chart. He edges Erwin Swiney, who is tied for fourth in career PBUs, but never intercepted a pass,
CB — Michael Booker After breaking open the 1996 Fiesta Bowl win over Florida with his pick-six in the Huskers’ magnificent 29-0 second quarter, Booker followed it up with a solid senior season, recording 25 tackles, 8 passes broken up and an interception in 1996 as opponents tried to pick on true freshman cornerback Ralph Brown.
S — Steve Carmer A huge junior season by Carmer in 1991 helped launch Nebraska’s best decade of football. The Wahoo graduate set a school record for tackles by a defensive back with 87, including 4 for losses. He had 3 interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, and broke up 6 passes. Carmer came back with a solid senior campaign, with 69 tackles, 3 PBUs and 2 interceptions. He edges Tony Veland, the quarterback who moved to safety after a knee injury and helped lock down two national titles.
S — Matt O’Hanlon The Bellevue East graduate intercepted Oklahoma’s Landry Jones three times in a 10-3 victory over the Sooners and had six during his senior year (2009), placing him fifth on the Husker single-season list, and he was stout in run support.
P — Jesse Kosch The Huskers have an impressive number of all-conference punters, but the left-footed Kosch is not among them. He has to be content with his No. 7 ranking on the NU all-time punt average list, and with three national championship rings to compare to his father, Husker defensive back Bill Kosch, who has only two rings but did make the all-Big Eight first team.
K — Drew Brown Unintimidated by the success of older brother Kris, Drew Brown broke the Husker freshman scoring record (101 points) and the sophomore field goal record (21). He is ranked fourth on the NU all-time field goal percentage list.
Punt returner — Tyrone Hughes The New Orleans native climbed to No. 2 on NU’s career punt return yardage list by the time he finished his career in 1992, and he remains in the top five.
Kickoff returner — Joe Walker In 1998, Walker tied an NCAA record for scoring on an interception return, kickoff return and punt return in same season.
Kickoffs — Kevin Seibel Known for his consistency in kicking extra points, Seibel, the South Dakota native (1980-82) was the last Husker straight-on placekicker to play an entire season. He commonly booted kickoffs into the Memorial Stadium seats, occasionally through the goal posts.
A longtime Husker fan, sportswriter and history buff, Tad Stryker started writing for this website in 2008. You can email him at email@example.com