This is my countdown of the greatest Nebraska Cornhuskers to wear each jersey number, 1-99. For background on the project, click here. We’re going to start at #99 and work our way down to #1. For each number, I’ll list the best player to wear that number, some of the other memorable Huskers to don that jersey, as well as a personal favorite of mine.
As we move on to numbers 49 through 40, we get a mixed bag of players. While there are lots of linebackers and fullbacks, the forties also offer defensive linemen, kickers, defensive ends, I-Backs, tight ends, and even a couple of defensive backs.
Best Player: Kevin Seibel, Kicker, 1980 – 1982
Other notables: None
Personal Favorite: Adam Ickes, Linebacker, 2002 – 2005
Comments: Not a very good start as we’ve hit the third number never to have an all conference or All America pick. And let’s be honest – the pickings are rather slim. My finalists were Ken Kaelin and Ickes, which should tell you all you need to know about the rich history of #49.
But not to dog too much on Seibel, a pretty good kicker in the early 80s. He had a big, big leg and his 52 yard FG against Colorado is still in the top 10 for longest kicks. He would have a second top 10 kick (50 yards) if not for Alex Henery rewriting that chart.
Adam Ickes was a small town Nebraska kid (Page, NE) who didn’t see the field too much after walking on. And after Bill Callahan became head coach, one might have assumed that Ickes would be bypassed again. Instead, he became a fixture on defense and special teams during the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Ickes didn’t make every play, but he had a knack for making big plays (a blocked kick, tackle for loss, or forcing a fumble) when the defense needed it.
Best Player: Scott Livingston, Kicker/Punter, 1983 – 1984
Other notables: Micah Heibel
Personal Favorite: Tyler Legate, Fullback, 2008 – 2011
Comments: Scott Livingston played as both punter and kicker during his two seasons, earning All Big 8 honors in 1984. I love the split in workload from his 1983 season: He only punted 34 times over the course of the season, yet he was rather busy kicking PATs for the Scoring Explosion (a duty he shared with Dave Schneider). And yet, Livingston’s most famous kick is the one he never made – a potential PAT to tie the score in the 1984 Orange Bowl.
You may not know it, but Tyler Legate is a milestone player in Nebraska history. In 2011 he recorded the first carries by a Nebraska fullback since 2004. It was fitting that Legate got those carries as he was a throwback of a player – a former walk-on who became a battering ram lead blocker as a starter.
Best Player: LeRoy Etienne, Linebacker, 1985 – 1988
Other notables: Mike Stigge
Personal Favorite: Etienne
Comments: LeRoy Etienne was an impact linebacker for the Husker teams of the mid 80s. Big, yet fast, he lettered as a freshman and went on to earn All Big 8 honors twice.
Aside from his standout play on the field, I’ll always remember his Louisiana heritage and how the papers played up his Creole roots.
Best Player: Tony Felici, Defensive End, 1981 – 1982
Other notables: Doug Colman, Eric Martin, Red Vactor
Personal Favorite: Eric Martin, Defensive End, 2009 – 2012
Comments: Tony Felici was a relatively small defensive end, even by the standards of the early 80s – his playing weight was listed as 205 – but that did not stop him from being a presence on the defensive line. An Omaha native, the two-time All Big 8 pick, he recorded 14 sacks and made numerous tackles for loss.
One of my favorite positions to watch is the wedge breaker on kickoffs. He’s the guy right in the middle of the field whose job it is to run as fast as he can and explode through the return team’s blockers. Eric Martin was one of my all time favorites to watch. He had a big body and was like a locomotive coming down the field. There are countless examples of him absolutely blowing up return men and blockers, including a rather infamous hit against Okie State.
Best Player: Frank Solich, Fullback, 1963 – 1965
Other notables: Dick Davis, Joel Makovicka, Tom Ruud, Bob Terrio
Personal Favorite: Joel Makovicka, Fullback, 1995 – 1998
Comments: I feel like I should start this with a disclaimer – this selection (like all of the other picks in this series) is based on their playing career only. Clearly, Frank Solich was a big part of Nebraska football after his playing days (and is part of a debate that will rage on for all time), but I’m honoring him here solely for his work as a fullback.
And what a fullback he was. His record of 205 rushing yards from the fullback position will likely never be broken (or probably even challenged). He earned All Big 8 honors in his senior season. All of that from a guy who looked more like a band member than a fullback.
I’ll be honest – I really, really wanted to put Joel Makovicka in the “best” spot. Partially it was because of his play – Makovicka was a multi-year starter, academic standout, and the embodiment of everything good about the storied walk-on program.
But, really, it is because I’m a big Makovicka fan. He really had everything I want to root for in a player: native son, fullback, walk-on, tough, never-say-die attitude – and the fact that he was the little brother of Jeff (a story we’ll get to in the 20’s) definitely didn’t hurt. Plus, how could you not love a player who made this run.
Best Player: Calvin Jones, I Back, 1991 – 1993
Other notables: Gregg Barrios, Jay Foreman, Jon Hesse, Mike Knox, Mike McNeill
Personal Favorite: Jones
Comments: One of the greatest in a long line of Nebraska I Backs to come out of Omaha Central, Calvin Jones was a star in the Husker backfield. He was All Big 8 as a sophomore and junior, and was a finalist for the Doak Walker award.
Jones will always be remembered for his record-setting performance at Kansas in 1991. He took over for an injured teammate and ran 27 times for a (then) school record 294 yards and six touchdowns. I was on a school trip that day, and remember hearing updates that had scored a touchdown, and another, and another, and….
Best Player: Terrell Farley
Other notables: Todd Millikan, Scott Shanle, Ty Steinkuhler
Personal Favorite: Farley
Comments: A junior college transfer, Terrell Farley burst onto the scene in 1995, becoming a standout performer on one of the greatest teams of all time. Farley had great speed and a nose for the ball that very few players possess. He had a knack for big plays that changed the complexion of a game. Unfortunately, legal issues kept him from completely what could have been a stellar senior season.
The first Husker road game I went to was at Kansas State in 1996. Nebraska was still rebounding from the Arizona State loss, and the Wildcats felt like they could upset Nebraska. On one of the first plays in the game, Farley broke through the offensive line and tackled the Wildcat running back as he was getting the hand off. It was one of the most extraordinary plays I’ve witnessed.
Best Player: Jerry Murtaugh, Linebacker, 1968 – 1970
Other notables: Jeff Mills
Personal Favorite: Sean Fisher, Linebacker, 2008 – 2012
Comments: Second all time in tackles at Nebraska, Jerry Murtaugh led the team in tackles in each of his three seasons, while leading some great defenses. Murtaugh was a two-time All Big 8 selection, Big 8 Player of the Year as a senior, and was named All-America.
Sean Fisher is a classic “what if” story. A physical specimen, he certainly looked the part of a star football player, and his recruiting credentials backed that up. But injuries to his knee and a severely broken leg cost him playing time and sapped much of his athletic potential. Had he stayed healthy, I believe he could have been a special player.
Best Player: Marc Munford, Linebacker, 1984 – 1986
Other notables: Phil Ellis, Dane Todd
Personal Favorite: Phil Ellis, Linebacker, 1992 – 1995
Comments: If you’re compiling a list of the best linebackers in school history, Marc Munford’s name will probably be on that list. A strong tackler, he led the team in tackles over his final three seasons – despite missing the final two games of his junior season due to injury. He is in an elite class of Huskers to win all conference honors in three seasons.
Phil Ellis was the quarterback of the dominating Blackshirt defenses of the mid-90s. He wasn’t the fastest or most talented guy on the field, but he knew how to read offenses and get the defense in position to make a stop. When I think of Ellis, I think of him waving his fist over his head – a signal that he was coming on a blitz.
Best Player: Pat Tyrance, Linebacker, 1988 – 1990
Other notables: Cory Schlesinger
Personal Favorite: Cory Schlesinger, Fullback, 1992 – 1994
Comments: Pat Tyrance was a leading performer on the Blackshirt defenses of the late 80s. He led the team in tackles in his junior and senior seasons, earning All Big 8 honors along the way.
Why do I like Cory Schlesigner? Allow me to recite a reader from the holy Book of Pavelka:
“The give on the trap play, and it’s Schlesinger inside the five..in there for the touchdown! He’s got the touchdown! It’s the touchdown for…Cory Schlesinger, and Nebraska takes the lead with 2:46 left to go in the ball game.”