Greatest Huskers, By the Numbers: 9 – 1 (Z)

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.

This is it.  The final ten*.  The single digit club is made up of quarterbacks (including a Heisman Trophy winner), cornerbacks, I-Backs, and a miscellaneous blend of wingbacks, receivers, and kickers.

*Actually, there are only nine.  My research could not uncover any Nebraska football player who ever wore the number 0 or 00.  

And more than probably any other group in the countdown, 9 – 1 contains guys who despite solid (if not outstanding) careers, were never fully embraced by Husker fans, cautionary tales, and talk of a curse.


Best Player:  Steve Taylor, Quarterback, 1985 – 1988
Other notables:  Gary Russell
Personal Favorite:  Taylor

Comments:  Throughout the countdown, we’ve talked about players who were ahead of their time.  Guys who could be lifted out of their era and land successfully in today’s game.  Steve Taylor is one of those guys.

Taylor had good speed and elusive moves as a runner (over 2,000 career rush yards and a then single game record 157 yards against Utah State in 1987).  But Taylor does not always receive enough credit as a passer.  Certainly, many remember his impressive line against #3 UCLA (10-15, 217 yards, five touchdowns).  But having been away from an option offense for more than ten years, can we really appreciate what a five passing touchdown day would have looked like in Osborne’s ground offense?

In case you thought the UCLA game was a fluke, Taylor added a four TD performance against Mizzou in the same season, which helped him earn All America honors.  I’d love to see what somebody with Taylor’s skill set would look like in one of today’s spread offenses.


Best Player:  Tyrone Williams, Cornerback, 1993 – 1995
Other notables:  Ameer Abdullah, Tyrone Byrd
Personal Favorite:  Ameer Abdullah, I-Back, 2011 – 2014

Comments: Tyrone Williams was an excellent cover corner. Strong and fast, he matched up against some excellent receivers during his NU career and usually came out on top. He received honors after each of his three seasons at NU: Big 8 Defensive Newcomer in 1993 and All Big 8 in 1994 and 1995.  He may not be in the first tier of great Husker cornerbacks, but he’s definitely in the next group.

Ameer Abdullah is everything you could want in a college running back. Breakaway speed, raw power, good vision and agility, and a warrior-like toughness to play through injuries. When Abdullah arrived on campus he was not as highly regarded as fellow recruits Aaron Green and Braylon Heard. Yet, Abdullah is poised to finish his Husker career near the top of the all-time rushing chart. Off the field, Abdullah is a bright kid who understands the importance of education. His statement announcing his decision to come back for his senior season should be required reading for all student athletes.


Best Player:  Eric Crouch, Quarterback, 1998 – 2001
Other notables:  Scott Frost, Demorrio Williams
Personal Favorite:  Crouch

Comments:  Nebraska’s most recent Heisman Trophy winner is one of the most electrifying athletes to ever play at Nebraska. Sprinter fast, Crouch was a threat to score from anywhere on the field. He carried the 2001 team to the National Championship game (Seriously. Crouch almost has as many rushing yards at team leader Dahrran Diedrick and his two best receivers were Wilson Thomas and Tracey Wistrom. Not exactly Rozier and Fryar – or even Phillips and Muhammad).

One of the themes within this set of numbers is talented players who were never fully embraced by Husker fans. The number 7 has two primary examples in Crouch and Scott Frost. The primary reason, in my opinion, was a perceived lack of loyalty to the program. Frost famously chose Stanford and Bill Walsh over Nebraska out of high school, before coming home. Crouch had to be convinced to return to campus during a heated QB controversy with Bobby Newcombe. Personally, I think these reasons are stupid.  I’d wager at least a third of the guys in this countdown have been homesick, changed their mind, or reacted poorly to disappointing news. I care more about their on-field production (a National Championship for Frost and a Heisman for Crouch) than a harmless decisions made by a teenager.


Best Player:  Keith Jones, I-Back, 1984 – 1987
Other notables:  Sammy Sims
Personal Favorite:  
Darin Erstad, Punter, 1994

Comments:  The original “End Zone” Jones, Keith was a very successful back at Nebraska.  An injury to Doug DuBose made him a starter his junior season, and he never looked back, leading the Big 8 with 830 yards and 14 touchdowns en route to All Big 8 honors.  The speedy I-Back, another product of the Omaha Central pipeline, had a big encore as a senior.  He put up 1,232 yards and another 13 TDs, picking up all conference honors again.  Jones left NU third on the all-time rushing list.

I remember hearing that Darin Erstad was going to join the football team as a punter.  At the time, I thought it was odd that the best baseball player at Nebraska was going to be a punter and not a “skill” player, but Erstad proved quite skilled.  He averaged over 42 yards a kick, made some PATs, and a couple of field goals.  I wholeheartedly believe he does not receive nearly enough recognition for his role in the 1995 Orange Bowl.  But let’s be honest, he’s on this list for one reason:  Double Extra Point!


Best Player:  DeJuan Groce, Cornerback, 1999 – 2002
Other notables:  None
Personal Favorite:  
Jammal Lord, Quarterback, 2000 – 2003

Comments:  DeJuan Groce was a good cornerback.  Not great – or at least not as great as some of the others on this list – but good enough to be a multi-year starter and second team All Big XII selection as a senior.  But make no mistake, DeJuan Groce is not on this list for his work in the secondary.  Groce is here because he is one of the best return men in school history, trailing only Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers in punt return yards and touchdowns.  In his senior year, Groce racked up a school record 732 yards on punt returns and scored four touchdowns, including two against Troy State.  For his efforts as a return man, Groce was named All Big XII and All America as a return specialist.

I liked Jammal Lord.  I thought he was a talented athlete who made a pretty decent quarterback.  Unfortunately, he is another player whose career is not fully appreciated by Husker fans.  Why?  Lord had two big strikes against him:  1) he followed a Heisman Trophy winner, and 2) he was the quarterback of the 2002 team that broke the 9-win streak.  Like many Husker QBs in the Osborne/Solich era, Lord was definitely more of a runner (1,412 yards rushing in 2002) than a passer (48% career passer, more interceptions than touchdowns).  Lord racked up big numbers (234 rushing yards against Texas), but did not always make the play in crunch time (he threw an interception that ended that Texas game).  Regardless, I believe that had he been surrounded with better talent, Lord would be remembered more fondly.


Best Player:  Lavonte David, Linebacker, 2010 – 2011
Other notables:  Larry Asante, Troy Dumas, Tim Jackson
Personal Favorite:  

Comments:  One of the best linebackers in school history, Lavonte David is on the short list with Mike Rozier for the best Junior College transfer in school history.  David appeared to be as fast going sideline to sideline as he was going straight ahead.  Combine that with his ability to detect plays before anybody else, and it is no wonder he racked up so many tackles in his two year career.  As a junior, he set a single season record with 152 tackles.  He followed that with 133 more as a senior.  To put that in perspective, Lavonte David played in 27 games as a Blackshirt.  In 14 of those games, he recorded ten or more tackles.

David racked up the honors in his two years.  Big XII Defensive Player of the Year, Big XII Defensive Newcomer of the Year, All Big XII, All Big 10, Big 10 Linebacker of the Year, All-American, and finalist for the Butkus, Lott, and Bednarik  Trophies.

In my years of watching Nebraska football, I’ve seen some outstanding linebackers.  Barrett Ruud.  Ed Stewart.  Demorrio Williams.  Trev Alberts.  Terrell Farley.  But I’m not sure if any of them were better than David.  He always seemed to either make the tackle, or be within 5 yards of the ball carrier.  And he had a knack for making a big play when Nebraska needed it the most – especially his stop, strip, and recovery of Braxton Miller in the 2011 Ohio State game.


Best Player:  Keyuo Craver, Cornerback, 1998 – 2001
Other notables:  Matt Davison, Tyrone Legette, Taylor Martinez, Daimion Stafford, Dean Sukup
Personal Favorite:  
Taylor Martinez, Quarterback, 2009 – 2013

Comments:  Keyuo Craver was another terrific cornerback from an era of great secondary players.  Craver wasn’t especially big (he was listed at 5’11”, 190 pounds), but he was fast, athletic, and always around the ball.  He ended his career second all time in pass breakups and first in career tackles among cornerbacks.  Craver was also a special teams standout, blocking four kicks and scoring two touchdowns.

As a senior, Craver was All Big XII, All-America, and was a semi-finalist for several national awards.

Ah Taylor Martinez. Has there been a more polarizing player in Nebraska history? The freshman phenom who burst onto the scene with long touchdown runs was a sight to behold. Then injuries hit, and he was arguably never the same. His image probably took a bigger beating than his body, as he took heat for calling his dad from the locker room during a game, being careless with the football, body language that made him appear aloof, and his interesting relationship with the local media. And yet, he holds darn near every record that a NU quarterback can hold – including some involving turnovers.  He was a player who could make you say “Oh my God!” for both good and bad reasons.

There will probably never be another T-Magic.  While I’m guessing that’s okay for many fans, I think it is a little sad too.


Best Player:  Jeff Krejci, Safety, 1978 – 1981
Other notables:  None
Personal Favorite:  
T.J. Hollowell, Linebacker, 2001 – 2003

Comments:  Jeff Krejci is poster child for the Nebraska walk-on program.  A Nebraska kid from a small town (Schuyler), he walked on to Nebraska in 1978, and was buried on the depth chart.  Through hard work and perseverance, he worked his way up and saw enough playing time to earn a couple of varsity letters.  As a senior, he became a full time starter at safety and was good enough to be named All Big 8, and earn a shot at the NFL.  A Nebraska football history site named Krejci to its All Time Walk-On Team.

I’ll admit that Hollowell is a bit of stretch as a personal favorite.  That is no disrespect to T.J., who was a part of one of Nebraska’s greatest linebacking trios (Hollowell, Barrett Ruud, and Demorrio Williams).  But when I think of Hollowell, I remember him more as a #17 (his number for his first two years in Lincoln) than a #2, but my other options for the duece were limited.  Regardless, T.J. was a good player whose career I enjoyed watching.

Number 2 is littered with guys who came in with hype but never made a significant impact:  Major Culbert, Mike Demps, Aaron Green, Lazarri Middleton, Patrick Witt, just to name a few.


Best Player:  Lawrence Phillips, I-Back, 1993 – 1995
Other notables:  Dale Klein
Personal Favorite:  

Comments:  Lawrence Phillips stands alone in Husker history.  Many have said he is the best I-Back to ever play at Nebraska – even ahead of Heisman winner Mike Rozier.  But he also stands alone as the person who did the most damage to Nebraska’s reputation.  Let’s start by focusing on his on-field accomplishments.

Phillips had a strong freshman year, contributing in a number of games.  But 1994, his sophomore season, was something special.  With Tommie Frazier and Brook Berringer out with injuries, everybody knew L.P. was Nebraska’s biggest threat.  Playing at #16 Kansas State, with walk-on Matt Turman at QB, Phillips had 31 carries for 126 yards and a touchdown – all while nursing a thumb injury.  In 1994, he racked up 11 straight 100 yard games, was All Big 8, and finished 8th in the Heisman voting.  His 1995 season got off to an even better start:  359 yards on 34 carries (10.5 yard average) with seven touchdowns in two games.

But when you talk about Lawrence Phillips, you have to talk about his off the field issues. The arrest. The suspension. The impact his reinstatement had on Osborne and the rest of the program. His additional legal issues in the NFL and beyond.  Bernie Goldberg digging for dirt and painting Nebraska as a “win at all costs” school.  We can debate if Nebraska has ever gotten past the damage Phillips did to the program’s reputation.  I think they have, only because the losing in the Solich and Callahan years became a bigger story.  But you know that should a Husker ever be arrested for violence against a woman, the name Lawrence Phillips will be brought up.

I have watched every Nebraska I-Back since the early 80s, and there have been some greats: Rozier, Ahman, Helu, Abdullah, Keith and Calvin Jones, and so many more. And yet, I truly believe the greatest back I have ever watched – regardless of team – is Lawrence Phillips. I also have no doubt that had the night of September 9, 1995 gone differently, L.P. would have won the Heisman Trophy over Tommie Frazier and Eddie George.

Also, no discussion of the #1 jersey at Nebraska would be complete without mentioning this brilliant (and extremely well-researched) piece where Dirk Chatelain of the Omaha World-Herald explores the curse of the #1 jersey.

Previous:  19 – 10

Start Over:  99 – 90


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(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

Greatest Huskers, By the Numbers: 19 – 10 (T)

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 near the home stretch, we get into the teens.  Lots of defensive backs, I-Backs, and as one might expect, lots and lots of quarterbacks, including one of the most famous players in school history.  A guy so popular and beloved, fans still wear his #15 jersey years after he graduated:  Beau Davis.


Best Player:  Kyle Larson, Punter, 2000 – 2003
Other notables:  None
Personal Favorite:  John Klem, Split End, 1999 – 2002

Comments:  The pride of tiny Funk, Nebraska, Larson was one of the greatest punters in school history.  A three year starter, Larson averaged over 43 yards per punt, which put him second all time at Nebraska, with 30% of his kicks going over 50 yards.

As a senior, Larson set the school record for yards per punt (45.12), was a consensus All Big XII pick, an All-American, and one of three finalists for the Ray Guy Award, which is given to the nation’s best punter.

When you see that John Klem was a “split end”, you would likely assume that he was a receiver.  Maybe he was a “possession” guy or a maybe a deep threat, but certainly a guy who would catch his fair share of passes.  John Klem played in, by my rough count, 32 games at Nebraska over his four seasons.  He caught one pass.  For nine yards.  In the fourth quarter of a non-conference game with Nebraska up by 45.

Frankly, this is what makes me love John Klem.

Klem was a blocker.  Period.  With apologies to recent standouts like Quincy Enunwa, Niles Paul, and Kenny Bell, Klem is one of the best blocking receivers to ever play at Nebraska.  Part of the reason is there was little deception in his game.  My buddy Husker Luke figured it out early on:  when Klem is on the field, it is going to be a run.  Even if it’s 3rd and 9, if Klem was out there, it was likely going to be a run.

How effective of a blocker was John Klem?  Consider this from his junior season (2001):  He played major minutes in Nebraska’s first 11 games, and NU was undefeated.  After a torn ACL against K State knocked him out for the remainder of the season, Nebraska lost their final two games by a combined 99-50.  I’m not saying the 2001 team wins a national championship with a healthy John Klem, but it would have helped.


Best Player:  Jon Bostick, Split End, 1989 – 1991
Other notables:  Jim Anderson, Quincy Enunwa
Personal Favorite:  Brook Berringer, Quarterback, 1992 – 1995

Comments: Jon Bostick was one of the finest split ends Nebraska had in the ten years before the champion era began.  He earned All Big 8 honors as a senior, working opposite of talented tight end Johnny Mitchell, but Bostick was more than just some guy who benefited from relaxed coverages.

I love the story on this page that talks about how Bostick had to be pulled out of a redshirt four games into the 1989 season.  In his first game (against Oregon State), his first catch goes for a 60 yard TD.  Bostick followed that up with 176 yard and four TDs in his next two games.

I will always have a great fondness and appreciation for Brook Berringer’s career. He was easily the finest passing quarterback at Nebraska in the twenty-five years between Dave Humm and Zac Taylor, but he was also deceptively good running the option. Sure, I always thought Brook looked a little stiff on his options, but compared with Tommie Frazier, anybody is going to look less than fluid.

I sometimes wonder if Brook gets enough credit for the role he played on the 1994 championship team – not only running the team while Frazier battled blood clots, but also for keeping Nebraska within striking distance in the Orange Bowl so Frazier and Cory Schlesinger could do their thing.

I was a student at UNL when Berringer died, just a few weeks before the NFL draft, and his passing really shook me. It was sobering to realize that a guy who seemingly had everything (talent, brains, looks, a desire to give back) could be taken far too soon. I commend the University for that they’ve done to honor Brook’s memory and his legacy.



Best Player:  Reggie Cooper, Safety, 1987 – 1990
Other notables:  Ciante Evans, Dan Hadenfeldt
Personal Favorite:  Todd Peterson, Wide Receiver, 2004 – 2008

Comments:  Reggie Cooper may have been a player ahead of his time. At 6’3″ and 210 pounds, he was a man among boys in the defensive backfield. Cooper used that size and speed to earn four letters, All Big 8 honors twice, honorable mention All-America twice, and finish as the leading tackler among defensive backs. The game may have changed since Cooper’s day, but there will always be room for a guy like him.

Todd Peterson also had prototypical size at his position. As a 6’4″, 215 pound wide receiver, he gave his quarterbacks a big target and sure hands. And while Peterson had an excellent career (top five in school history in receptions and receiving yards), he’s a personal favorite for how he did it.

Peterson walked on to Nebraska in 2004, the same year that new coach Bill Callahan infamously took an axe to the storied walk-on program – choosing to pursue highly touted recruits over in-state guys from Class C-1 schools.

But Peterson’s talent was too much to deny. He made it on the field as a redshirt freshman, and was starting by the end of the season. From there, he became a reliable presence and kept several three and four star recruits on the bench. Additionally, Peterson was equally strong in the classroom, and was a leader in community involvement.


Best Player:  Maurice Purify, Wide Receiver, 2006 – 2007
Other notables:  None
Personal Favorite: 
Mike Stuntz, Quarterback/Wingback/Safety, 2001 – 2005

Comments:  Sixteen is the final number in the countdown to have never produced a first team all conference selection, although it certainly seemed like Maurice Purify would be the one to break that barrier (he was second team All Big 12 as a junior in 1996).

Purify was big, fast, and strong. Arguably, he was one of the most physically gifted receivers Nebraska has ever had. Purify excelled in deep routes, short routes, and his specialty: the jump ball. His 9 yard catch of a Zac Taylor lob at Texas A&M capped a huge comeback and helped the Huskers win the Big XII North division crown in 2006.

I’ve always been fascinated by the guys who participate in the biggest of plays on the biggest of stages. Is it foundation for a strong career, or is it a pinnacle that is never approached again? Mike Stuntz is a good example of the latter.

Recruited as a quarterback, he made it on the field as a true freshman in 2001. As a wingback, he threw one of the most famous passes in school history: Black 41 Flash Reverse to Heisman Trophy winner Erich Crouch. In 2002, he moved back to quarterback, he was 10-25 passing for 100 yards.

From there, Stuntz bounced over to defense seeing mop-up and special teams duty. Aside from Black 41 Flash Reverse, his biggest claim to fame was dating the “hot tutor” from the Tommy Lee Goes to College “reality” show.


Best Player:  Tommie Frazier, Quarterback, 1992 – 1995
Other notables:  Bob Churchich, Alfonzo Dennard, Vince Ferragamo
Personal Favorite: 

Comments:  If I were to call Tommie Frazier the greatest Husker player in the last 50 years would you disagree?  What about the greatest of all time?  Still no?  Certainly you could make a case for a handful of other guys (the three Heisman winners, Suh, Bobby Reynolds, or Train Wreck Novak), right?  Or you could try to break down Tommie by citing his stats – especially his career completion percentage of 49.5%.  But Touchdown Tommie Fraz-ah would still win.

Because that’s what Tommie Frazier did.

He won.

A Big 8 best 33-3 as a starter – a mark that would have been even higher if he didn’t miss seven games due to blood clots – you knew that when #15 went under center, or more appropriately, started running the triple option, that Nebraska was going to win.  Oh those option plays.  For my money, Tommie’s position coach Turner Gill is the only one who came close to matching Frazier’s mastery of Osborne’s signature play.  Frazier had a true gift for knowing when to pitch or when to keep as he glided down the field.

As good as Frazier was in regular games, he was even better in bowl games.  True, his bowl record sits at 2-2, but consider that his first bowl loss (in the 1993 Orange Bowl) was as a true freshman.  The blame for the second bowl loss could be placed on a number of people (i.e. some dubious missed calls, two defensive penalties that allowed FSU to score with 1:16 left, or the right leg of Byron Bennett), but there is no way Frazier could be blamed for giving his team every chance to win a National Championship.

From there, Frazier’s big game dominance took off.  It took most of the first quarter of the 1994 Orange Bowl to shake off, but Frazier all but willed Nebraska to Tom Osborne’s first National Championship.  In 1995, he was even better.  Frazier used and abused Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators, racking up 199 rushing yards and two touchdowns, including one play known simply as The Run.

The only regret I have about Tommie Frazier’s career is that he played in an era where Heisman voters viewed the award not as it should be (college football’s most outstanding player), but as “who will have the best NFL career”?  This led to one of the greatest injustices of the 20th Century as Eddie George stole Tommie Frazier’s Heisman.


Best Player:  Jerry Tagge, Quarterback, 1969 – 1971
Other notables: Dennis Claridge, Gerry Gdowski, Barron Miles,
Personal Favorite: 
Barron Miles, Cornerback, 1992 – 1994

Comments:  Before there was Tommie, there was Jerry.  Jerry Tagge was the quarterback on the first two National Championship teams in school history (1970 and 1971).  Like Frazier, all Tagge did was win, compiling a stellar record as a starting quarterback, and playing his best games on the biggest stages.  In the 1971 Orange Bowl against LSU, Tagge was an impressive 12 of 15 passing against one of the nation’s best defenses.  It was his QB sneak from the one yard line that clinched the championship.

Tagge earned All Big 8 and All-America honors after the 1971 season, and finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting.  Although his accomplishments may have been overshadowed by those of Frazier and other famous Husker QBs, Tagge should be remembered for setting the standard of excellence.

Pure and simple, Barron Miles was a play maker.  An excellent cornerback, Miles had a knack for the ball and always seemed in position to make a big play.  Over his career, he had seven blocked kicks, 19 pass break ups (including six in one game) and numerous “wow” moments.  My favorite Baron Miles moment was in 1993 at Oklahoma State.  The Cowboys were punting from their own end zone when Miles came streaking in for the block.  He ended up catching the ball just off the foot of the punter and rolling onto the turf with a momentum shifting touchdown.


Best Player:  Carlos Polk, Linebacker, 1997 – 2000
Other notables:  Zac Taylor
Personal Favorite: 

Comments:  From the mid 80s through the mid 90s, the best Blackshirts were usually lined up at outside linebacker/rush end. The four-year career of Carlos Polk marked a shift, as the best Blackshirt was usually the guy anchoring the middle linebacker position. I’m talking about guys like Polk, Barrett Ruud, Lavonte David, and to a lesser extent Phillip Dillard, Steve Octavien, and even another #13 from a defensively challenged era: Corey McKeon.

But let’s focus on Polk, a bruiser with deceptive speed and a strong nose for the football. A four-year contributor, he was a two time All Big XII performer, and an anchor on one of the finest defenses in school history (1999). He was named first team All-America in his senior season.


Best Player:  Turner Gill, Quarterback, 1981 – 1983
Other notables:  Dave Humm, Jarvis Redwine
Personal Favorite: 

Comments:  Keep in mind, we’re only here to talk about Gill’s playing career, which is kind of too bad considering Gill coached three of the finest quarterbacks in school history (Frazier, Scott Frost, and Eric Crouch) while being a valued lieutenant to both Osborne and Frank Solich, before taking Buffalo from laughingstock to conference champion. Of course, Gill is not short of accomplishments as a player.

Let’s start with the biggest one: he had the keys to one of the greatest offenses in NCAA history and operated it with the skill and precision of a race car driver. Take a moment to truly appreciate this: The 1983 Huskers, quarterbacked by Turner Gill, averaged 52 points and almost 550 yards of offense per game. Gill became the first Husker quarterback to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season. His greatness stretched back to his first start when he set a (then) school record with four touchdown passes in a game against Colorado.

Gill was named All Big 8 three times, finished fourth in the 1983 Heisman Trophy vote.


Best Player:  Matt Herian, Tight End, 2002 – 2006
Other notables:  None
Personal Favorite: 
Matt Turman, Quarterback, 1993 – 1996

Comments:  Matt Herian was another player ahead of his time. The guy with the tight end size and wide receiver hands and speed, today’s NFL is full of guys who have the same skill set as Herian.

He exploded onto the scene as a freshman, catching seven passes for 301 yards (an absolutely ridiculous 43 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. Yes, you read the correctly: 57% of his freshman year receptions went for touchdowns.

Unfortunately, Herian is also a starter on all-time “What Could Have Been” team. During his junior season in 2004, the first in Bill Callahan’s West Coast Offense, Herian was a putting together another excellent season when he suffered a nasty leg injury against Mizzou. Herian sat out the entire 2005 season, and came back for the 2006 campaign, but he just wasn’t the same player. I believe the sky would have been the limit for a healthy Herian.

To fully appreciate Matt Turman, we must put ourselves in his shoes the morning of October 15, 1994.  The greatest player in school history (Frazier) is out.  His backup, a legitimate NFL prospect (Berringer) is out too.  That leaves you, a 185 pound walk on from a Class C school to try to guide your 6-0,#2 ranked team to victory at #16 Kansas State, a team that had a very stout defense.  Granted, his moment of greatness consisted mostly of handing the ball to Lawrence Phillips and getting out the way, but still, Matt Turman – a.k.a. The Turmanator – may be the least likely guy to ever lead a championship-level team to victory.


Best Player:  Bret Clark, Safety, 1981 – 1984
Other notables:  Charles Fryar, Keithen McCant, Mike Minter
Personal Favorite: 
Roy Helu, Jr., I-Back, 2007 – 2010

Comments:  Bret Clark was an excellent safety for Tom Osborne’s early 80s teams.  Clark had a great talent for breaking up passes, tying the school record for pass break ups (8) in his sophomore and senior seasons.  He finished his NU career holding the school record for PBU.  During his senior season, Clark led the team in pass break ups, interceptions, and fumbles recovered.  A two-time All Big 8 player, Clark also earned All-America honors as a senior.

Roy Helu, Jr. is one of my favorite I-Backs from the last 20 years.  He combined speed, power, vision, and a love for hurdling over defenders to become one of the most vaunted rushers in school history.  Two memories of Helu stand out:  2009 at Kansas, Nebraska is in a dogfight until the Huskers decide to put the game on Helu’s shoulders.  Despite several nagging injuries, Helu picked up 85 yards and two critical touchdowns on Nebraska’s final two drives.

And then there is his masterpiece:  2010 versus Missouri.  On NU’s first play, Helu went 66 yards for a touchdown.  Later in one of the most complete quarters of football Nebraska has ever played, Helu went for a career long 73 yard TD run.  When it was all said and done, Helu had 307 rushing yards (and 317 all-purpose) breaking Calvin Jones’s twenty year old record of 294.  It was one of the most dominating performances I’ve had the pleasure to watch at Memorial Stadium.

Previous:  29 – 20

Next:  9 – 1


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(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

Greatest Huskers, By the Numbers: 29 – 20 (H)

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.

Numbers 29 through 20 are all about speed.  Cornerbacks, I-Backs, safeties, rovers, wingbacks, heck – even some of the fullbacks had speed to burn.  Plus, one of my all-time favorite Huskers shows up in the twenties…


Best Player:  Jim Pillen, Defensive Back, 1976 – 1978
Other notables:  None
Personal Favorite:  Pillen

Comments:  Is this number jinxed?  There are notorious names (Scott Baldwin, Kellen Huston), disappointing transfers (Jordan Congdon, Collins Okafor), and a bunch of guys you’ve probably never heard of (Seth Rexilius, Pat Friesen, Mic Boettner).  Only one person has ever earned all conference honors while wearing #29.  That man is Jim Pillen.  Pillen was a two time All Big 8 selection, earned Academic All-American honors, and was inducted to the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 2004.

But most folks (myself included) remember Pillen for his moment in Husker lore:  1978 versus Oklahoma.  Nebraska is clinging to a late lead when Billy Sims fumbles.  Pillen recovers the fumble and Tom Osborne earns a signature win.


Best Player:  Jeff Smith, I-Back, 1981 – 1984
Other notables:  Eric Hagg, Dave Gillespie, Jamel Williams
Personal Favorite:  Jamel Williams, Linebacker, 1994 – 1996

Comments: How good of an I-Back was Jeff Smith?  Did we ever really know?  Sure, we saw the flashes – 473 yards in the first ten quarters of his senior year, an excellent punt returner, and of course, his off-the-bench heroics in the 1984 Orange Bowl – including the 24 yard TD (on fourth and 1) that set up Tom Osborne’s legacy-defining decision.

But we never got to see the full promise of Smith’s potential as he spent his first two varsity seasons backing up a couple of guys named Craig and Rozier.  And after racking up those 473 yards in the first ten quarters of 1984, he had an ankle injury that limited to just 462 the rest of the way.  Even so, Smith left Nebraska as the 10th leading rusher in school history.  Who knows what might have happened in a different time and place?

When I think of Jamel Williams, I think of how he was part of the new breed of Husker linebackers as Osborne and Charlie McBride abandoned the 5-3 defense.  Instead of the lumbering LB with the oversized shoulder pads and neck roll, Williams was sleek, fast, and explosive.  I’ll always remember his sack and safety of Danny Wuerffel in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.  Everybody in the stadium knew Williams was coming, but nobody could do anything about it.


Best Player:  Irving Fryar, Wingback, 1981 – 1983
Other notables:  Joe Blahak
Personal Favorite:  Abdul Muhammad, Wingback, 1991 – 1994

Comments:  Irving Fryar, by some accounts, may have been the most talented of the Scoring Explosion “triplets”, and yet I think he is the least heralded.  While understandable (Rozier won the Heisman and Turner Gill was the QB as well as a long time assistant coach), I think that is a shame.  Consider:  On the magical 1983 squad, Fryar touched the ball 83 times (catches, runs, and kick returns).  He averaged a staggering 14.6 yards per touch, and his yards per reception was 19.5.

Fryar easily earned All Big 8 and All-America honors – (side note:  do you understand how rare it is – and how good you need to be – to earn consensus All-America honors on a team that leads the nation in rushing?  Think about it, if your offense is rolling up 400 yards rushing every game, how many opportunities will you get to catch passes?  That’s probably why Fryar was only the second player to ever do it, with another Husker legend – Freeman White – being the first).  Fryar went on to become Nebraska’s first #1 pick in the NFL draft.

When you looked at Abdul Muhammad, you saw a small guy:  5’9″ and 160 pounds soaking wet.  But his diminutive size didn’t keep him from being a top receiver for Tommie Frazier, a strong blocker, and tough dude.  It must have been the bullet that was rather famously logged in his backside…


Best Player:  Wonder Monds, Defensive Back, 1973 – 1975
Other notables:  Josh Brown, Clinton Childs, Tom Rathman, Marvin Sanders
Personal Favorite:  
Tom Rathman, Fullback, 1982 – 1985

Comments:  Wonderful Terrific Monds, Jr. (yep, that is his real name) is more than just a hall of fame unique name or an Afro that would make Kenny Bell jealous.  Monds was a standout defensive back on some very talented teams.  He was sprinter fast, yet large enough to pack a punch.  He earned All-America honors as a senior and went on to play in the NFL.

One of my most vivid Husker memories from my childhood is right as I turned on the game, Tom Rathman was sprinting down the field en route to a 60 yard touchdown against Florida State.  That probably helped to foster my love of Nebraska-born fullbacks.  Rathman is arguably the greatest fullback Nebraska ever had, owning the position records for yards and tying the mark for touchdowns.  An amazing stat that will probably never be duplicated:  in his senior year (1985) a fullback was the fifth leading rusher in the Big 8.


Best Player:  Joe Walker, Rover, 1997 – 2000
Other notables:  Kyler Reed, Jon Vedral
Personal Favorite:  

Comments:  Technically, Joe Walker makes this list as a Rover, but he could just as well be listed solely for his work as a kick returner.  Walker owns, or is near the top of, almost all of the kickoff and punt return records in school history.  His return prowess wasn’t limited to kicks – he also tied the school record for interceptions returned for touchdowns in a career.  The combo makes him one of a handful of players in NCAA history to return a punt, kickoff, and interception for a touchdown.


Best Player:  Bill Kosch, Safety, 1969 – 1971
Other notables:  Niles Paul
Personal Favorite:  
Brandon Rigoni, Safety, 2003 – 2006

Comments:  Bill Kosch was a standout safety for Bob Devaney’s national championship teams in 1970 and 1971.  An All Big 8 selection in both 1970 and 1971, Kosch recorded several interceptions, including one that he returned 95 yards for a touchdown against Texas A&M.  Fun fact:  while there have been multiple father/son duos at Nebraska, only Bill Kosch and son Jesse have all five national championship rings from their playing careers.

If you’ve been following the countdown, you probably know by now that there are two roster positions that I have an affinity for:  fullback and kickoff wedge buster.  With apologies to Eric Martin, Brandon Rigoni is my favorite wedge buster of all time.  Why?  Because a 5’6″, 185 pound walk-on would probably be one of the last guys you would pick to lead your kickoff team down the field.  For three seasons, nothing made me happier than watching Rigoni take the form of human bowling ball and seeing him de-cleat some unsuspecting return man or blocker.


Best Player:  Mark Blazek, Safety, 1986 – 1988
Other notables:  None
Personal Favorite:  
Lance Thorell, Defensive Back, 2007 – 2011

Comments:  This is another number with a single first team all conference pick, so the choices are a little slim.  I’m going with Mark Blazek as he was at least honorable mention All Big 8 in his junior and senior seasons.  Blazek had a knack for getting an interception in big games.  A bright student, Blazer earned Academic All-America honors as a senior.

Lance Thorell is a great success story from the walk-on program.  A kid from tiny class D-1 Loomis, he worked his way onto the field as a redshirt freshman, earning five starts.  And despite competing with scholarship guys from bigger schools with more recruiting stars, Thorell kept working his way onto the field, playing in every game in his final three seasons including multiple starts.  Off the field, Thorell was academic all conference and a four time member of the Brook Berringer Citizenship Team.


Best Player:  Ralph Brown, Cornerback, 1996 – 1999
Other notables:  Kenny Brown, Rex Burkhead, Doug DuBose
Personal Favorite:  
Jeff Makovicka, Fullback, 1993 – 1995

Comments:  How good of a cornerback was Ralph Brown?  He was a starter in his very first game at Nebraska, for the two-time defending national champs and was named Big XII Defensive Freshman of the Year.  Over the course of his legendary Nebraska career, Brown rewrote the records for pass breakups, setting the marks for a game (7), season (15), and career (50).  As one of Nebraska’s greatest cornerbacks of all time, Brown was all conference three straight years and All-America as a senior.  After that first start, Brown started each of the other 51 games in his NU career, setting another record.

As for my personal favorite, this was both the hardest and easiest choice to make.  The first (and only) Nebraska jersey I ever owned was a mid-80’s Doug DuBose #22.  Rex Burkhead is one of my all time favorite Huskers – for his play on the field and especially for what he did for Jack Hoffman and his family.

But there is no doubt that I would go with Makovicka.  Why?  As a freshman at UNL in 1993, I was able to attend all of the home games for the first time, instead of the one or two a year my Dad and I went to.  The ’93 team was pretty darn good, so they had a number of blowout wins.  Once the rout was on, I loved being able to move down 20-30 rows, find an abandoned seat back and watch guys my age fulfill the dream of every Nebraska kid.

One of those players was Jeff Makovicka.  In 93, he was a fourth string I-Back and would get a handful of carries late in the game.  I loved the rhythmic way the stadium P.A. announcer say “Ball care-reed by Mack-oh-vick-ah”.  From there, I adopted Jeff as one of my original personal favorites – a fondness that only grew when he moved to fullback, and was followed by his little brother Joel.  It was a sad day for me when the last of Mackovickas chose to play baseball…at Creighton, but I’ll always remember their big brother picking up seven yards against North Texas.


Best Player:  Mike Brown, Rover, 1996 – 1999
Other notables:  Prince Amukamara, Derek Brown, Kaye Carstens, Roger Craig
Personal Favorite:  

Comments:  Considering that two numbers in the twenties had no all conference picks (23 and 25), #21 is stacked with contenders.  You could certainly make a case for Prince, Roger Craig, or a different Brown (Derek), but my choice is Mike Brown.

The position name “Rover” is such an apt description for how Mike Brown played football.  He roved sideline to sideline, from goal line to the opponent’s backfield making plays.  Brown ended his career second on the all-time tackle charts, which is no surprise considering that Mike Brown is the greatest open field tackler I have ever seen.   Period.  Brown was a multi-year starter and earned All Big XII and All-America honors in his senior season as he led arguably the greatest defense in school history.


Best Player:  Johnny Rodgers, Wingback, 1970 – 1972
Other notables:  Michael Booker, Josh Bullocks
Personal Favorite:  
Josh Bullocks, Cornerback, 2002 – 2004

Comments:  I truly believe that all Nebraska schoolchildren, when they go through their Nebraska history and social studies coursework in the fourth grade should be required to memorize Lyle Bremser’s legendary call of Johnny “the Jet” Rodgers tearing ’em loose from their shoes.

As they learn the proper Bremser cadence, they should also learn about the legendary Jet himself:  All conference three times.  All-America twice.  Two time national champion.  One time owner of 41 school records.  Heisman Trophy.  And one of the few players to defeat the Heisman bowl game curse, as he scored five touchdowns (three rushes, a reception, and a 52 yard pass) in a romp over Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl.

I will never forget the season the Josh Bullocks put together in 2003.  He set the tone with two interceptions against Okie State and followed it up with eight more over the course of the season, setting a school record of 10 INTs – a total that would have made him the 8th best team in the Big XII.

Previous:  39 – 30

Next:  19 – 10

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(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

Greatest Huskers, By the Numbers: 39 – 30 (E)

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.

I love the disparity of numbers 39 – 30.  At one end (39) is a fairly bleak field of candidates, while on the other end (30) you have two of the greatest I-Backs in school history.  And with another mixed back of I-Backs, fullbacks, linebackers, corners, safeties, kickers, wingbacks, and others, it makes the picking rather difficult.


Best Player:  Andra Franklin, Fullback, 1978 – 1980
Other notables:  None
Personal Favorite:  Jeff Souder, Safety, 2005

Comments:  A starter in three different seasons, Andra Franklin was a mainstay at fullback in the late 70s.  A gifted runner, Franklin averaged over 5 yards a carry during his Nebraska career, while also proving himself as an excellent blocker.  Franklin earned All Big 8 honors in 1980.

Jeff Souder only played one season at Nebraska, and did not do much more than cover kickoffs.  But, oh, were those fun to watch.  Souder was generously listed at 200 pounds, but that was 200 pounds of excitement, energy, and desire to go blow somebody up.  I remember before kickoffs how he would jump around and excite the crowd like it was 4th and Goal with a national championship on the line.  Even though his career didn’t go as planned, that excitement was real.


Best Player:  Barrett Ruud, Linebacker, 2002 – 2004
Other notables:  Dan Alexander, Steve Forch, Bruce Pickens
Personal Favorite:  Dan Alexander, I-Back, 1996 – 2000

Comments: RUUUUUUUD!!!!  Nebraska’s all time leader in tackles, second to Grant Wistrom is tackles for loss, and is on the short list of greatest linebackers in school history.  A three year starter, Ruud was a force all over the field.  He had a nose for the football on running plays, but also excelled in pass coverage, recording 12 break ups and two interceptions in his career.  While he strangely only earned first team All Big XII honors once, he was a three time academic All Big XII performer.

When I think of Dan Alexander, I think of two things:  First, was amazing potential – the gifted athlete, seemingly chiseled from marble who captivated a fan base with his spring game performances – before knee injuries derailed him.  And secondly, there is his run.  1999, at Colorado.  Eighty yards right up the middle.  And the cherry on top:  he pulled away from Ben Kelly, a Colorado cornerback with exceptional speed.


Best Player:  Ken Geddes, Linebacker / Middle Guard, 1967 – 1969
Other notables:  Sam Koch, Jake Wesch
Personal Favorite:  Tony Ortiz, Linebacker, 1996 – 1999

Comments:  Bob Devaney once described Ken Geddes as best all-around athlete he ever coached.  And while that is pretty high praise considering the talent Devaney had around him, consider this:  In 1968, Geddes was All Big 8 as a linebacker.  The next season, Devaney and coach Monte Kiffin moved Geddes to middle guard.  In 1969, Geddes earned All Big 8 honors again.

Tony Ortiz was a smooth and fast linebacker who helped anchor one of Nebraska’s greatest defenses – the 1999 unit.  He was one of those players that was always good for a “wow – did you see that?” moment in every game.  Sometimes it was using his speed to make a play, and sometimes it was him laying a big hit, but he was fun to watch.


Best Player:  Larry Wachholtz, Safety, 1964 – 1966
Other notables:  Correll Buckhalter, Dana Stephenson
Personal Favorite:  
Matthew May, Linebacker, 2007 – 2011

Comments:  It really isn’t fair to Larry Wachholtz to simply list him as a “safety”.  Sure, he was an outstanding defensive back, earning All Big 8 honors twice, and All-America honors as a senior.  His seven interceptions as a senior was in the top ten nationally.  But that is not all he did:  he was an excellent punt return man, leading the Big 8 in return yards twice, and missing out on the national lead by seven yards his junior season.  And if that was not enough, Wachholtz also kicked PATs and field goals.

What is not to like about Matthew May?  A Nebraska native, he walked on and contributed on special teams as a redshirt freshman.  When injuries depleted the linebacking corps, he stepped up and became a solid contributor.  Off the field he was academic all conference and was named to the Brook Berringer Citizenship Team for his efforts in the community.  Every Nebraska team should have a Matthew May.


Best Player:  Jeff Kinney, Halfback, 1969 – 1971
Other notables:  Rick Berns, Steve Damkroger, Curt Tomasevicz
Personal Favorite:  
Andy Janovich, Fullback, 2012 – Present

Comments:  I wasn’t alive for Kinney’s career, so most of what I know is Game of the Century highlights – Kinney running through the Sooner secondary with his tear-away jersey hanging on for dear life.  And while that game (171 yards and four touchdowns) is arguably the pinnacle of his career, it doesn’t begin to explain Kinney’s greatness.

Kinney burst onto the scene as a sophomore, leading the team in rushing, receiving, and scoring.  Kinney was All Big 8, All America, and academic All America in 1971.  Nebraska won two national titles with Kinney in the Husker backfield, and when he left, Kinney held the NU career records for rushing yards and touchdowns.

Andy Janovich is probably not going to have a career like Jeff Kinney, but that doesn’t matter to me.  What matters is there is a kid from my small town, Class B high school (Gretna) who plays for Nebraska.  And that is really the heart of why we Nebraskans love the walk-on program so much – it is our connection to the team; our local point of pride that we can celebrate.  In his young career, Janovich has given Gretna residents and alumni much to be proud of – starting as a walk-on true freshman, getting a carry (the first Dragon to touch the ball in a Nebraska uniform, I believe), and earning a scholarship before the 2013 season.


Best Player:  Trev Alberts, Linebacker, 1990 – 1993
Other notables:  Stewart Bradley, Dave Butterfield
Personal Favorite:  
Cody Glenn, Running Back / Linebacker, 2005 – 2008

Comments:  Before we talk about Trev, let’s start by clearing our minds.  Get rid of your opinion of him as UNO’s athletic director.  Forget about his time on ESPN where he often went out of his way not to be a NU homer.  Disregard Mel Kiper, Jr’s hissy fit over the Colts selecting Alberts in the 1994 draft.  Heck, forget the rumors that Erin Andrews is nothing more than Trev in drag.  None of those things have any impact over his playing career.

Trev Alberts was an excellent, excellent player.  His 1993 season (Butkus Award, All-America, Big Eight Player of the Year, school record 15 sacks, and so much more) still stands as one of the greatest campaigns by a Blackshirt.  I’ll never forget how strong he was.  Several times, he appeared to be blocked, or the quarterback was about to escape, but Alberts would grab him with one arm and pull him down.  He may be polarizing after he left NU, but there is no doubt that he is one of the all time greats.

Cody Glenn is definitely a personal favorite of mine.  A bruising runner, he was an excellent short yardage/goal line guy.  An unselfish, team player, he moved to linebacker for his senior season for the betterment of the team (and to avoid a logjam at RB).  But that move was no joke, Glenn turned out to be a pretty decent linebacker before an undisclosed violation of rules cost him his final four games.


Best Player:  Dana Brinson, Wingback, 1985 – 1988
Other notables:  Barry Alvarez, Clester Johnson, Matt O’Hanlon
Personal Favorite:  
Barry Alvarez, Linebacker, 1965 – 1967

Comments:  Dana Brinson was a stand out wingback / kick returner for Husker squads in the mid 1980s.  When he graduated and went to the NFL, Brinson was in the top 10 in both kickoff and punt return yardage.  He picked up first team All Big 8 honors as a senior in 1988.

I was not alive for Barry Alvarez’s playing career, and I was not a huge fan of his Wisconsin teams (I find it hard to support any team other than Nebraska), but I have the utmost respect for the program he built at Wisconsin, and especially for the way he did it:  using the Bob Devaney model to build a tough running game featuring a lot of home-grown talent; even down to modeling Wisconsin’s uniforms after Nebraska’s.  Alvarez’s efforts to get Nebraska into the Big Ten should also be recognized.


Best Player:  Ed Stewart, Linebacker, 1991 – 1994
Other notables:  Ken Clark, Adrian Fiala, I.M. Hipp, Brandon Jackson, Kent McCloughan
Personal Favorite:  

Comments:  Ed Stewart was another stand-out linebacker on the early 1990’s teams, he blossomed as a senior into a leading force in Tom Osborne’s first national championship team.  An All American, Big 8 Defensive Player of the Year, and Butkus Award finalist, Stewart was a sideline to sideline playmaker, a sure tackler, and hard hitter.

Personally, I think Stewart was robbed and should have won the Butkus Award in 1994 (Dana Howard of Illinois?  C’mon.)  I think they didn’t want to give the aware to two Huskers in a row.


Best Player:  Joe Orduna, Halfback, 1967 – 1970
Other notables:  Harry Wilson
Personal Favorite:  
Jay Sims, I-Back, 1995 – 1997

Comments:  Joe Orduna was the leading halfback on Nebraska’s first national championship team.  In 1970, Orduna scored a team high 15 touchdowns and rushed for 897 yards.  Part of a 1-2 punch with Jeff Kinney, Orduna earned All Big 8 honors in 1970.

I love blowout wins.  Certainly, a big part of that is for the easy victory, the domination of a less opponent, the joy of seeing seven, eight, nine touchdowns being scored.  But I also love watching the career reserves, the guys who – let’s be honest – will likely never see the field get their moments of glory.  Jay Sims was a talented back, but he played on the same Husker teams as Lawrence Phillips, Ahman Green, Clinton Childs, and Damon Benning.  Suffice it to say, touches were going to be few and far between.  But how may fourth string I-Backs can say they scored an 80 yard touchdown against a Nick Saban defense (at Michigan State, 1995)?


Best Player:  Mike Rozier, I-Back, 1981 – 1983
Other notables:  Dahrran Diedrick, Ahman Green, Marv Mueller, Paul Rogers
Personal Favorite:  
Ahman Green, I-Back, 1995 – 1997

Comments: At a school known for producing excellent backs, Mike Rozier is easily the best of the best.  Let’s start with that amazing 1983 season:  2,148 yards, a 7.81 yards per carry average, and 29 touchdowns.  And here is my favorite:  in his final four Big 8 conference games, Rozier gained 929 yards.  That’s more than Joe Orduna’s team leading season total in a national championship season.  All Big 8 all three years, All-America twice, the 1983 Heisman trophy, and he has since been enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.  Rozier owns a plethora of single season and career records both at Nebraska, and in the former Big 8.

After Rozier’s stellar career, Nebraska took #30 out of circulation for 12 years.  Imagine the pressure of the being the first guy since Rozier to wear the vaunted 30?  Talk about big shoes to fill.  Well, Ahman Green damn near filled them.  Another back from the Omaha Central pipeline, Green burst onto the scene at a rather slow time in Husker football history:  an undefeated team trying to defend their national championship after their star I-Back and Heisman candidate Lawrence Phillips was suspended.  All Green did was become one of the greatest backs in school history.  An amazing runner who was blessed with strength and toughness to match his sprinter speed, Green likely would be Nebraska’s all time leading rusher had he returned for his senior season (he was only 900 yards behind Rozier).

Previous:  49 – 40

Next:  29 – 20

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(Author’s note:  So you may be asking yourself one of two questions, “what’s with the letter E in parentheses in the title?” or “What does a list of Husker greats have to do with the letter E?”  Allow me to explain…

For the month of April 2014, I’m participating in an A to Z blogging challenge, where I must publish 26 posts in the the month of April, each focusing on a different letter of the alphabet.  Today’s letter is E (hence the title), but I really didn’t have a good idea for E.  However, I’ve been wanting to finish up this series.  Conveniently, the next round up was 39-30 and a three is like a dyslexic “E”. Yes, that is a bit of a stretch, but if it worked for the CBS show “Numb3rs” it can work for me too. More from the A to Z series can be found here.)

Greatest Huskers, By the Numbers: 49 – 40

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:  

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:  

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 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.”

Previous:  59 – 50

Next:  39 – 30

Greatest Huskers, By the Numbers: 59 – 50

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.

When coaches and broadcasters talk about controlling the line of scrimmage, the odds are that work is being done by somebody wearing number 59 through 50.  At Nebraska, that means defensive linemen and linebackers on one side and on the other side you’ll find offensive guards, tackles, and one of NU’s prestige positions:  Center.


Best Player:  Josh Heskew, Center, 1995 – 1998
Other notables:  Ryon Bingham, Brett Byford
Personal Favorite:  Heskew

Comments:  In our last installment, we covered the amazing career of Aaron Taylor, the only Husker to be an All-American at two different positions.  One of the reasons that Taylor moved from center to guard, was Josh Heskew was a capable replacement, having studied under All-Americans Aaron Graham and Taylor.  A tough Oklahoman, Heskew helped anchor the offensive line for the 1997 National Champions.  He earned all conference honors as a senior in 1998.


Best Player:  Harry Grimminger, Guard, 1982 – 1984
Other notables:  Mike Caputo, Dave Volk
Personal Favorite:  Mike Caputo, Center, 2007 – 2011

Comments: Harry Grimminger was a mainstay – and a force – on the left side of some dominating offensive lines in the 1980s.  Grimminger initially backed up Dean Steinkuhler, but broke into the starting line up in 1983, helping to pave the way for the Scoring Explosion to put up over 400 yards of rushing and 52 points per game.  As a senior, Grimminger picked All Big 8 and All-America honors.

When three-year start Jacob Hickman graduated, there was concern among Husker fans about who would take over at center for the 2010 season.  Mike Caputo was the favorite to get the job, but there were concerns over his (relatively) short stature and his lack of experience.  Having watched him backup Hickman, I knew there was nothing to be worried about.  Caputo may have been built like a fire hydrant, but he was fierce like bulldog.  That concern became such a strength that when Caputo graduated, fans wondered who could fill his shoes.


Best Player:  Mark Traynowicz, Center, 1982 – 1984
Other notables:  Chad Kelsay, Chris Kelsay, Kevin Lightner, Kelly Saalfield, Kenny Walker
Personal Favorite:  Kenny Walker, Defensive Tackle, 1987 – 1990

Comments: How would you like to be the guy who follows one of the greatest center in college football history?  Mark Traynowicz had some mighty big shoes to fill when he moved from being a backup tackle to “Dave Rimington’s replacement”.  All he did was help anchor the line on one of the greatest offenses in NCAA history, while often grading out as well as (or better than) Outland Trophy winner Dean Steinkuhler.  As a senior, Traynowicz earned his second All Big 8 honors and was named an All-American.

Not only was Kenny Walker a tremendous talent (All-America in 1990), he was one of the most inspirational Huskers of all time.  Deaf since the age of 2, Walker was a strong and fast defensive lineman, with serious big play potential.  I was not there, but I have often heard that Walker’s ovation on his Senior Day (instead of clapping and cheering, the Memorial Stadium crowd gave Walker a “Roar of Silence” waving their hands in the air) was one of the most moving moments in school history.


Best Player:  Ed Periard, Middle Guard, 1968 – 1970
Other notables:  Rob Zatechka
Personal Favorite:  
Jeremy Slechta, Defensive Tackle, 1999 – 2001

Comments:  Need a good example of how much football has changed in the last 40-50 years?  Ed Periard was an All-Big 8 performer at middle guard in 1970, and was credited with seven tackles in the Orange Bowl win over LSU that gave Nebraska their first National Championship.  Periard was listed at 5′ 9″ and 198 pounds, which is by today’s standards is undersized for pretty much any position other than alto saxophone in the Cornhusker Marching Band.  Periard passed away in 1993.

As a Nebraska native, I have a soft spot for Nebraska kids who play at Nebraska, especially the ones who walk on or are lightly regarded but go on to be reliable starters.  Jeremy Slechta (Papillion-LaVista) is one of those guys.  Not the big or fastest guy, but one that you could always could on to play hard every down – and break up a pass or two each game.


Best Player:  Russ Hochstein, Offensive Guard, 1997 – 2000
Other notables:  Christian Peter, Jason Peter, Baker Steinkuhler
Personal Favorite: 
Jason Peter, Defensive Tackle, 1994 – 1997

Comments:  Let’s get the controversy out of the way first:  Jason Peter arguably had a better NU career than Russ Hochstein, but Hochstein did more in the #55 jersey than the guy who refers to himself as the “double nickel” did.  (Remember, Jason wore #95 for the first three years of his career, while big brother Christian wore #55).  But don’t overlook the career of Hochstein.  He was a starter on some very respectable lines in the late 90s, earned All-Big XII twice and was an All-American his senior season.  According to his bio, Hoch owns the school record for pancake blocks in a game (23 against Notre Dame).

Jason Peter is the kind of player I would build a defense around.  Big, strong, fast, with a healthy hatred for offensive linemen he had the talent and toughness to be an excellent defensive tackle.  I’ll always remember how after Peter broke his hand, he played with a cast that made it look like his arm morphed into a giant Q-Tip.  Instead of being hindered by only having one hand to fight off blocks and make tackles, Peter adapted by using that cast as a bill club.  But Peter is equally remembered for his vocal leadership, which is something Nebraska has sorely lacked since he and Grant Wistrom left.

For many people (myself included) the lasting image of the 1998 Orange Bowl is Tom Osborne whipping around to see who had dumped the dadgum Gatorade bucket on him.  T.O. initially looks as upset as anybody who is about to win their third National Championship can look, but the sight of Peter’s mug puts a big smile on Osborne’s face.  As they embrace, it shows the nation a side of the stoic coach that many had not seen.


Best Player:  (3-way tie) Rik Bonness, Center, 1974 – 1975; Aaron Graham, Center, 1992 – 1995; Dominic Raiola, Center, 1998 – 2000
Other notables:  Barney Cotton, Kelly Petersen
Personal Favorite:  

Comments:  Three centers from three different eras, but all with essentially the same resume:  Two time all-conference and All-American in their final season.  A strong case could be made that Raiola should have the Best title by himself as his jersey is retired and his name is on the North Stadium facade for winning the very first Rimington Trophy in 2000.  But let’s face it:  had there been a trophy for the nation’s outstanding center in 1975 or even 1995, Bonness and/or Graham probably would have taken it home too.  Bonness was a two-time All-American as well as an academic All-American.  Graham was also an athletic and academic All-American, and never allowed a sack during his playing career.

I loved watching Raiola play.  He was a beast of a blocker who could steamroll anybody in front of him, but he was also surprisingly quick.  Early in his Nebraska career, he was the long snapper on the punt team.  Many times, Dom would be one of the first guys down the field.  Imagine being a kick returner expecting to have a corner or safety be the first guy you see, then you look up and there is a freaking center bearing down on you.


Best Player:  Randy Schleusener, Offensive Guard, 1977 – 1980
Other notables:  Thad Randle
Personal Favorite:  
Tyler Wortman, Linebacker, 2004 – 2008

Comments:  Randy Schleusener was an excellent guard for some very good Nebraska teams during the end of the 1970s.  Schleusener was All-Big 8 and All-America as a senior, but he might be best known for scoring a touchdown on a fumblerooski against Oklahoma in 1979, a play that earned him a lot of notoriety.  Schleusener was also a two-time academic All-American, who went on to become a very successful surgeon, specializing in spines.

Tyler Wortman is another great walk-on story.  After a stellar high school career at Grand Island Central Catholic (a star of the football, wrestling, and track teams) he walked on at Nebraska during a time (the Callahan era) when the walk-on program was greatly reduced.  Despite not seeing the field during his first three years, he stuck it out to become a key contributor on Bo Pelini’s 2008 team.   He played some of his best football in the final four games of his career.


Best Player:  Tom Davis, Center, 1974 – 1977
Other notables:  John Garrison, Lyle Sittler
Personal Favorite: 
Philip Dillard, Linebacker, 2005 – 2009

Comments:  One of the fun parts of this project has been learning more about some guys who played before I was born, or was aware of Husker Football.  Tom Davis is one of those guys who I was not very familiar with.  In reading his bio, I was impressed (and slightly amused) to see that Tom Osborne once referred to Davis as “the best center Nebraska has ever had”.  Considering that Tom “Train Wreck” Novak was a center, that is very high praise.  My amusement comes from the fact that Osborne apparently referred to many centers (including Rik Bonness, Aaron Graham, and the guy at #50) as best ever.  For his part, Davis earned All Big 8 and All-America honors as a senior.

You could always tell that Philip Dillard had talent.  What was harder to tell was when he’d be able to show it.  Injuries derailed a couple of his seasons, and a poor attitude / work ethic got him demoted to the third string as a senior.  But I’ll always respect and admire how Dillard turned it around.  He stopped moping and started doing the work necessary to get back on the field.  Once he did, he became a stand-out performer making plays all over the field.


Best Player:  Bo Ruud, Linebacker, 2003 – 2007
Other notables:  Will Compton, Richie Incognito, Dan Schmidt, Kerry Weinmaster
Personal Favorite: 

Comments:  I would imagine it is not easy being a “legacy” at Nebraska, as often times the younger member of the family has a hard time meeting or exceeding the standard set for them by a brother or father (see also: Rodgers, Terry; Wistrom, Tracey; Makovicka, Jordan; among others).  Bo Ruud is no exception.  His brother is the all time leading tackler in school history.  His uncle owns one of the greatest hits in school history.  His dad, another uncle, and great-grandpa all played at Nebraska.  With all of that to live up to, one could understand how a guy might wilt under the pressure.

Bo Ruud’s career may not have surpassed big brother Barrett, but he certainly held his own.  He had a knack for big plays, recording five career interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns.  One of the pick-sixes was a 93 yarder against Iowa State, the longest ever by a linebacker.  Ruud was a three-year starter, earned All-Big XII honors as a junior, and did the family name proud.


Best Player:  Dave Rimington, Center, 1979 – 1982
Other notables:  Kurt Mann
Personal Favorite: 

Comments:  Arguably the single greatest center in college football history, and definitely on the short list for greatest lineman in college history, Dave Rimington was a such a dominating force that he was named the Big 8 Offensive Player of the Year in 1981.  He won the Lombardi Trophy, the Outland Trophy twice – the only person to ever do that – was a two-time All-American, and was All-Big 8 three times.  In addition, he was twice named an academic All-American.

Rimington is the gold standard for student-athlete success, and it is fitting that his name is attached to the national award for college football’s best center.

Previous:  69 – 60

Next:  49 – 40

Greatest Huskers, By the Numbers: 69 – 60

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.

We’re going to stay in the trenches with numbers 69 through 60.


Best Player:  Mike Kennedy, Linebacker, 1963 – 1965
Other notables:  John Havekost, Tom Welter
Personal Favorite:  Kurt Glathar, Center, 1980 – 1982

Comments:  For the 1964 season, rule changes allowed schools to return to two platoon football. When Coach Bob Devaney broke out his offensive and defensive squads, he wanted a way to tell them apart.  As the legend goes, assistant coach Mike Corgan was sent out to a local sporting goods store to get some new practice jerseys.  The store owner had some black jerseys that weren’t selling.  He cut Corgan a deal and the new jerseys were issued to the first string defenders.

Mike Kennedy was one of the very first Blackshirts, starting the first game after the practice jerseys debuted.  He went on to earn All-Big 8 honors as a linebacker the following year.

I have zero recollection of Kurt Glathar as a football player.  But he made a big impression as the assistant principal of my junior/senior high school.  The school did not have many discipline problems to begin with, but a 6’2″, 250 former lineman strikes a big presence around a bunch of teenagers.  While I didn’t visit his office too often, I do remember his team pictures from the two Orange Bowls he played in.


Best Player:  Jake Young, Center, 1986 – 1989
Other notables:  Bill Lewis, Steve Lindquist, Mike Mandelko
Personal Favorite:  Young

Comments: What position is Nebraska best known for?  You could make arguments for I-Back, Kicker, Rush End, or a number of other choices.  I would make a case for Center, as Nebraska claims arguably the greatest Center in college football history (Rimington) as well as seven others who earned All-America honors.  Consider this run:  six times in the 1980s, the All-American center was a Cornhusker.

Two of those honors were won by Jake Young, a cornerstone of some dominating offensive lines.  In addition, he was also an Academic All-American.  Sadly, Young was a victim of a terrorist attack in Bali.


Best Player:  Aaron Taylor, Center/Guard, 1994 – 1997
Other notables:  LaVerne Allers, Greg Orton, Kevin Ramaekers
Personal Favorite:  Taylor

Comments:  There have been a lot of All-Americans at Nebraska.  Several players have earned multiple All-America honors.  But only Aaron Taylor did it at two different positions.  I still have a hard time believing that any coach – even Tom Osborne – would take an All-American center and move him to a different position for his senior season, like Taylor did.  Not only did Taylor repeat his honors, he also picked up the eighth Outland Trophy in school history.  Only five other Husker linemen earned all-conference honors in three straight seasons.


Best Player:  Wayne Meylan, Middle Guard, 1965 – 1967
Other notables:  Brenden Stai
Personal Favorite:  
Brenden Stai, Guard, 1991 – 1994

Comments:  Meylan was a fearsome presence in the middle for the early Devaney teams.  He was named Player of the Year by the Big 8 in both his junior and senior seasons, while picking up All-America honors in both seasons.  Meylan’s life was tragically cut short in 1987 when a World War II era airplane he was piloting crashing during an air show in Michigan.  He was posthumously elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1991.

When I think of the Pipeline in the 1990s, I think of guys like Brenden Stai.  Not overly flashy, not loud or boisterous, but completely and utterly dominating.  Stai was 300 pounds of muscle and brute strength that opened gaping holes all game long.


Best Player:  Joe Armstrong, Offensive Guard, 1966 – 1968
Other notables:  Andy Keeler, Oudious Lee, Randy Theiss
Personal Favorite:  
Greg Austin, Offensive Guard, 2003 – 2006

Comments:  Normally, when you’re describing football players who wear a number in the sixties, “versatile” is not an adjective that comes to mind.  Joe Armstrong is the exception.  He earned All-America honors as an offensive guard, but played both guard and center, helping the Huskers rack up the yards on offense.  In addition, he also punted, averaging a very respectable 39.1 yards per punt.  Hard to imagine any other offensive lineman also serving as a punter.

At his best, Greg Austin was an average lineman on some below average teams.  The problem was, Austin was rarely at his best.  He suffered a knee injury during his freshman season, and fought injuries throughout his career.  My lasting image of Austin is him limping back to the huddle after every play.  My hunch is that Greg Austin’s knees still hurt him today, and that pain will only get worse over the rest of his life.  And for what?  The ability to start on some of the most forgettable teams in school history and to be criticized when his limited mobility caused him to miss a block.

We can surely criticize the coaches for continuing to play a guy who was probably never more than 70% healthy for a conference game (and I did), just as we can criticize the coaches for not having anybody on the bench who was better than a guy essentially playing on one leg (which I did).  But you could never criticize Austin for not giving everything he had.  I wasn’t a fan of his performance, but I respected his toughness and determination.


Best Player:  Bob Brown, Offensive Guard, 1962 – 1963
Other notables:  Jim McCord
Personal Favorite: 
Jon Zatechka, Offensive Guard, 1994 – 1997

Comments:  Bob Brown’s career is defined by firsts and seconds.  He was the first African-American in school history to be named All-American, and was the first All-American in the Bob Devaney era.  Brown is just the second Husker to be elected to both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame (Guy Chamberlain is the other).  Brown was described as a “relentless” player and helped the 1963 team win the first Big 8 title in school history in Devaney’s second season.

And one more notable second:  Bob Brown’s #64 is just the second number to be permanently retired at Nebraska.  No Husker has worn 64 since Kurt Mann in 2004.

Even without the legacy of Bob Brown, Jon Zatechka would not be the greatest to wear #64.  Heck, most folks would tell you that he wasn’t the greatest to wear a Husker jersey with “Zatechka” on it (big brother Rob had the better career).  But, Jon has one memorable moment that Brown or brother Rob can’t claim:  he scored a touchdown.  While not as glorious as a fumbleroosky (he fell on a fumble in the end zone), he was the first lineman since Dean Steinkuhler to score, and I’m pretty sure no offensive lineman has scored since.


Best Player:  David Clark, Defensive Tackle, 1978 – 1989
Other notables:  Tom Alward, Greg Jorgensen, Lynn Sinkbeil
Personal Favorite:  
Andrew Rodriguez, Guard, 2010 – 2013

Comments:  This was a hard one.  There are three worthy candidates as David Clark, Greg Jorgensen, and Lynn Sinkbeil all earned All Big 8 honors once in their careers.  However, I could not find much (i.e. any) information about their respective careers to distinguish them into a clear winner.  I’m giving the nod to Clark for two rather trivial reasons that I am a sucker for:  1) he was a walk-on, and 2) he is part of a set of brothers to play at Nebraska (see big brother Kelvin at #73).  I wish I could tell you more about what made David Clark a legend, and I’ll gladly listen to a case for Jorgensen or Sinkbeil.

The personal favorite pickings were pretty slim too, but I’m going with Andrew Rodriguez.  Not because he is an in-state kid, a guard with talent and potential, or anything like that.  I’m going with A-Rod because of a rather dubious achievement from the 2012 Wisconsin game – he was flagged for a false start at the end of the game while Nebraska was in “victory formation”.  Aside from the ridiculousness of it (and the frustration of another stupid penalty on a lineman), it proves two things I believe in as a fan:  You will see something you have never seen before during every game – but only if you’re there to see it.  I could have been one of the thousands of people who headed for the exits when Nebraska started running out the clock.  But I would have missed something as rare and ridiculous as an offensive lineman jumping offsides while his team is trying to run out the clock.


Best Player:  Ken Mehlin, Guard, 1991 – 1993
Other notables:  Bob Sledge, Matt Hoskinson
Personal Favorite:  
Cole Pensick, Offensive Line, 2009 – 2013

Comments:  Ken Mehlin is representative of what made Milt Tenopir’s offensive lines great.  While those lines featured some of the greatest linemen to ever play the game (Rimington, Shields, Wiegart, Taylor, etc) they were also filled with guys like Mehlin – undersized walk-ons who grew up playing 8-man football in some small Nebraska town while dreaming of playing for the Cornhuskers.  Mehlin earned All Big 8 honors as a senior and also earned academic honors.

Cole Pensick is cut from the Ken Mehlin mold.  While Pensick earned a scholarship offer in high school, he has still been one of those dedicated in-state rocks that the program is built on – willing to do whatever, whenever to make the team better.  The story of his 2012 season is pretty telling.  After being a career backup, Pensick battled Justin Jackson for the starting center job and lost out.  During a practice, they needed somebody to jump at guard.  When none of the guards stepped forward, Pensick jumped in and became the top backup at both guard spots before shifting back to center when Jackson was injured.


Best Player:  John McCormick, Guard, 1984 – 1987
Other notables:  Mike Huff, Spencer Long, Clete Pillen, Erik Wiegert
Personal Favorite:  
Brandt Wade, Guard, 1994 – 1998

Comments:  As a junior  coaches said John McCormick was the best offensive guard at Nebraska since Dean Steinkuhler.  As a senior, he did his best to live up to such high praise.  McCormick earned All Big 8 and All-America honors in 1987.  In addition, he was named the Big 8 Offensive Player of the Week after the Oklahoma State game, where he graded out perfectly for his 65 snaps.  That was the first time in 16 years that an offensive lineman won Player of the Week honors.

Brandt Wade, from Springfield-Platteview High, is one of two future Huskers that I my high school team faced (kicker Ted Retzlaff of Waverly is the other).  I wish I had some good stories of how I got the better of a future Husker, but there are some inconvenient and indisputable truths:  a) I was not good football player, so b) I didn’t play much, and c) I’m sure Wade dominated me as Platteview marched down the field for a score.  But in one of my few career highlights, I blocked a PAT that turned out to be the difference as the Gretna Dragons won the 1992 Sarpy County Shootout.


Best Player:  Tom Novak, Fullback/Center, 1946 – 1949
Other notables:  N/A – permanently retired since 1949
Personal Favorite: 
Train Wreck

Comments:  The #60 jersey has not been worn by any Husker since Tom “Train Wreck” Novak finished up his stellar career in 1949 as the first – and still only – Husker to earn All Conference honors in each of his four seasons.  Novak played both ways, as a center, fullback, and linebacker, and was also a three-time letterwinner on the NU baseball team.  Tom Novak is still one of the true legends of Nebraska Football.

Previous:  79 – 70

Next:  59 – 50

Next:  59 – 50

Greatest Huskers, By the Numbers: 79 – 70

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.

Now we move into the corn-fed heart and soul of Nebraska football:  numbers 79 through 70.  Other than a couple of centers, the big uglies here rarely touch the ball*  But don’t take these numbers lightly.  Of the 17 retired jerseys in Nebraska history, five of them reside in the 70’s.

*No touches aside from a couple of fumblerooskies by a famous 71 and an equally famous 75…


Best Player:  Rich Glover, Middle Guard, 1970 – 1972
Other notables:  Josh Sewell
Personal Favorite:  Glover

Comments:  Easily on the short list for Greatest Defensive Player in Nebraska history, Rich Glover won the Lombardi and Outland Trophies, finished third in the Heisman, was a two-time All American, and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.  To say that he was dominating is a big understatement.

During Ndamukong Suh’s senior season, I heard various people comparing Suh and Glover.  I was born a couple of years after Glover graduated, so aside from his 22 tackle game of the century in the Game of the Century, I only know his play from grainy highlight films.  I wish I was more familiar with his overall body of work to see if he and Suh were on the same level, or if Glover was a step above.

Glover’s #79 was out of circulation between 1972 and 1995, so very few Huskers have worn it.  Even fewer of those were starters, or even names that the average fan would recognize.  In a way that makes sense.  Glover left a very large legacy, one that will not be easily matched.


Best Player:  Dennis   Carlson, Offensive Tackle, 1963 – 1965
Other notables:  Mike Erickson, Tom Punt, Tim Rother
Personal Favorite:  Mike Erickson, Offensive Tackle, 2001 – 2004

Comments: As good of a job as does, as amazingly thorough as Google is, I really struggled to find a lot of information on what made Dennis Carlson the best to wear #78.  For that matter, I did not have a lot of success finding anything on Tom Punt or Tim Rother.  All I know is those three earned all conference honors (1965 for Carlson, 1990 for Punt, and 1987 for Rother).  Carlson gets the nod for being elected into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 2009.  Let me know in the comments what I should know about Carlson’s career, or if there is a better candidate.

Random trivia:  At 6′ 8″,Tom Punt is credited with being the tallest football letter winner in school history; a feat that current sophomore Zach Sterup will likely match in 2013.

Erickson is one of those linemen who didn’t blow you away with his talent or abilities (never got past honorable mention All Big XII), but was one of those guys that once he got a starting job, he never gave it up.  While he was not exactly part of a great era, starting every game for three seasons is rather impressive.


Best Player:  Walter Barnes, Middle Guard, 1963 – 1965
Other notables:  Toniu Fonoti, Lance Lundberg, Carl Nicks, Dick Rupert, Adam Treu
Personal Favorite:  Toniu Fonoti, Tackle, 1999 – 2001

Comments:  This was a tough call to make.  Prior to starting this project, I was not familiar with the career of Barnes, and I was a big fan of Fonoti.  Both were All-America and both were all conference (one year for Fonoti, two years for Barnes).  Fonoti was a finalist for the Outland and Lombardi trophies, and Barnes was a two-way player (center and tackle on offense, middle guard on defense).  Fonoti was only the third Husker to start on the offensive line as a true freshman.  According to his bio, Barnes became a fan favorite his hits on kickoff coverage, and earned the nickname “Crazy Horse”.  In the end, I penalized Fonoti for skipping his senior season to jump to the NFL.  Had the big Hawaiian stuck around, I think he would own this spot hands down, and would likely be in the pantheon of Pipeline greats.

That said, Fonoti will always be a personal favorite.  Big, quick, and strong, he owns the school record for pancake blocks in a game (32 against Texas Tech – 41% of all offensive plays) a season (201), and a career (379).


Best Player:  Chris Spachman, Defensive Tackle, 1983 – 1986
Other notables:  Brian Boerboom, Lydon Murtha, Dave Walline, Joel Wilks
Personal Favorite:  
Billy Diekmann, Tackle, 1997 – 1999

Comments:  Chris Spachman played on the same defensive lines as Jim Skow and Danny Noonan in the mid 80s.  While not as acclaimed as those two greats, Spachman more than held his own as a three-year starter, All-Big 8 pick, and honorable mention All-America.  In addition, he was also an academic all conference pick and a lifter of the year finalist.

Billy Diekmann didn’t play a whole lot, and never lettered at Nebraska, but that’s not why he’s a favorite.  I had a class with Billy my senior year at UNL (his freshman year).  This wasn’t the first time I had a football player in one of my classes – I believed in the old rule of thumb that the more football players in your class, the more likely you’d be to get an A.  But this was one of the first players that I got to know, and Billy was a nice, funny, down to earth Nebraska kid.  The kind of guy that you definitely want to root for.  The kind of guy that makes up the vast majority of Nebraska rosters.

Oh yeah, the class we shared?  MUCO243 – Varsity Chorus (known back then as Men’s Glee Club).  You can scoff all you want about singing in a glee club, but not too many people do it to a 6’3″ 290 pound lineman.


Best Player:  tie:  Will Shields, Guard, 1989 – 1992 and Larry Jacobsen, Defensive Tackle, 1969 – 1971
Other notables:  Chris Dishman, Larry Kramer 
Personal Favorite:  

Comments:  In theory, I should choose a single “best” between Shields and Jacobsen, but how would you do that?  Do you pick the first of Nebraska’s eight Outland Trophies (the first Husker to win a major award)?  Or do you go with the second player to ever start on the offensive line as a true freshman, and one of six linemen to be all conference three straight years?  Both were dominating players who cast a big, big shadow over their position.  In the end, I’m choosing to celebrate two Husker legends, who both happened to wear the same number.

Shields does get my personal favorite nod.  Yes, he was an amazing (and soon to be Hall of Fame) NFL talent.  Yes, he earned the NFL “Man of the Year” award for his charitable work.  Yes, his son Shavon is likely to become a standout basketball player for Tim Miles’s Huskers.  But Shields is here for one reason.  The greatest word in a sport chock full of awesome words:



Best Player:  Bob Newton, Offensive Tackle, 1969 – 1970
Other notables:  Ricky Henry, Stan Parker
Personal Favorite: 
Ricky Henry, Guard, 2008 – 2010

Comments:  Both players (Newton and Henry) came to Nebraska from the junior college ranks, albeit 40 years apart.  The Big 8 used to award a “Lineman of the Week” honor, which Newton won a record four times in the 1970 season.  Those performances helped him become a unanimous All-Big 8 pick as well as an All-American.

Ricky Henry is not the most talented person to ever play guard at Nebraska, nor would he be the fastest, most technically sound, or any number of other criteria.  But you’d be hard pressed to name too many other offensive lineman with Henry’s fire, toughness, and his nasty streak.  While that sometimes led to some frustrating penalties, I think he brought a spark and a passion that was missing from Nebraska’s offensive lines.


Best Player:  Kelvin Clark, Offensive Tackle, 1975 – 1978
Other notables:  Mark Behning, Marvin Crenshaw, Dan Hurley, Robert Pickens, Fred Pollack
Personal Favorite:  
Fred Pollack, Offensive Tackle, 1994 – 1997

Comments:  Tom Osborne once said that Kelvin Clark was “possibly the best offensive lineman ever to play at Nebraska”.  While I’m guessing Osborne said that prior to the careers of Shields, Steinkuhler, Rimington, Wiegart, and others, that is still some high praise.  Clark was an All-American and All-Big 8 pick as a senior before becoming a first round draft choice.

In theory, I should make Clark my personal fave just on the basis of his nickname (“Big Neck”), but I’m going with Freddy Pollack, part of some of the greatest offensive lines in school history.  The odds are good that before we’re done, I’ll pick every single lineman from 1994 – 1997 as a favorite.  Sue me, I loved the dominance of the mid 90s run game, and the Pipeline was a big reason why it was so successful.


Best Player:  Zach Wiegert, Offensive Tackle, 1991 – 1994
Other notables:  Mike Fultz, Scott Raridon, Carel Stith, Daryl White
Personal Favorite: 

Comments:  Quick:  name the most decorated number in school history (in terms of all-conference and All-America honors).  30?  54?  55?  75?  Nope, it’s #72.  Nine times the 72 jersey has been worn by an All-Conference pick, and four times by an All-American.  No other number can match that.

Wiegert is the perfect flagship for this prestigious number.  Outland Trophy winner, three-time all-Big 8 performer, and over his 46 career games he only allowed one sack.  Wiegert is a standard bearer for O-line dominance.

Even though he was a huge player (6’5″, 300 pounds) I always remember him pulling or way out on the perimeter leading the toss sweep.  I could imagine the fear that went through those linebackers or corners when they say big old #72 barreling down on them.


Best Player:  Dean Steinkuhler, Guard, 1981 – 1983
Other notables:  Carl Johnson, Bob Liggett, Lloyd Voss
Personal Favorite:  

Comments:  Another all-time great offensive lineman.  Steinkuhler won the Outland and Lombardi trophies, helping the 1983 Scoring Explosion put up 52 points and over 400 rushing yards a game (seriously – read that again and let it sink in.  Amazing).  In addition to being the father of two Blackshirts (Ty and Baker), Dean is probably best known for scoring the first points in the 1984 Orange Bowl via the fumblerooski.

I’m very fond of this number.  During my high school football career, I held the bench in place while proudly sporting the 71.  Why 71?  While it wasn’t specifically because of Steinkuhler, I was well aware of his legendary career – even if I knew I would never replicate a fraction of his success.  Besides, as a lineman, my options were limited (really, who wants to be a 73 or a 79?).  Seventy-one is a tough, yet handsome number (the vertical lines are slimming).  Steinkuhler’s #71 went into temporary retirement after he graduated, and since it reentered the roster back in 1994, I can tell you every player to wear the glorious 71 both starter (Jake Andersen, Jeremiah Sirles) and scrub (Mike Van Cleave, Matt McGinn, Mike Masin).


Best Player:  Doug Glaser, Offensive Tackle, 1987 – 1989
Other notables:  Eric Anderson, Brian Blankenship, Bob Lingenfelter, Donnie McGhee, Tyrone Robertson
Personal Favorite:  
Eric Anderson, Offensive Tackle, 1994 – 1997

Comments:  As part of my bias towards the mid-90s teams, I really wanted to give the nod to Eric Anderson, but in reading about Doug Glaser’s career, I knew that wouldn’t be fair.  Glaser’s resume (All-America in 1989) trumps Anderson’s two All-Big 8 honors, but what put it over the top was a great stat within Glaser’s bio:  He missed three games with a broken toe during the 1989 season.  In the three games he sat out, the Huskers averaged 335 yards rushing.  In the eight games he played, Nebraska rolled up 390 rushing yards per game.  That’s impressive.

Eric Anderson always struck me as the quiet, reserved member of the great Pipeline teams; the lunch pail guy who would calmly come in, kick your ass for four quarters, and then go back to being a regular guy.  Who knows, maybe his big glasses threw me off.  What he did was replace one of the best offensive tackles in school history (Zach Wiegert) without a big drop-off in production.

Previous:  89 – 80

Next:  69 – 60


Greatest Huskers, by the Numbers: 89 – 80

This is my countdown of the greatest Nebraska Cornhuskers to wear each jersey number, 1-99.  For background on the project, click here.  We started at #99 and we’re working 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.

Next up are numbers 89 through 80.  There is a pretty even split between offense (split ends, wide receivers, tight ends, and a couple of wing backs) and defense (defense ends, rush ends, and linebackers).


Best Player:  Broderick Thomas, Outside Linebacker, 1985 – 1988
Other notables:  Frosty Anderson, Mitch Krenk, Junior Miller
Personal Favorite:  Thomas

Comments:  The Sandman was a player ahead of his time.  Big, fast, and brash he was a three time All Big 8 pick and two time All American.  Thomas was one of the first in Nebraska’s stretch of game changing pass rushers (including Mike Croel, Trev Alberts, Grant Wistrom, and others).  But yet, Thomas seems to be remembered more for what he said than what he did.  When you think about all of the trash talking players of today, making bold proclamations before games, its hard to believe that the Sandman was doing those things almost 30 years ago.  I liked the passion and swagger that Thomas brought to NU, and I can think of a number of teams since he left that could have used somebody with his personality (and talents).


Best Player:  Mike Croel, Outside Linebacker, 1987 – 1990
Other notables:  Eric Alford, Guy Ingles, Sheldon Jackson, Trevor Johnson
Personal Favorite:  Rod Smith, Split End, 1985 – 1988

Comments: Like Broderick Thomas, Croel was a pioneer in Nebraska’s run of disruptive pass rushers.  A stellar pass rusher, Croel helped anchor the defensive line.  I gave Croel the nod over Ingles mainly for the legacy he helped to create on the defensive line, but I’d gladly listen to a case for Guy the Fly as the best.

Rod Smith is a part of one of my favorite Husker memories:  Growing up, my dad would find tickets to one Husker game each year, which was a huge thrill for me.  I loved seeing the team, the stadium, the band, the people, the Sea of Red – the whole experience was amazing and electric for a small town Nebraska kid.

In 1987, we had tickets for the UCLA game – a big step from the games we usually saw (New Mexico, Iowa State, etc.)  Before one play, I was watching the huddle with Dad’s binoculars.  I saw Steve Taylor call the play, and as the huddle broke, he gave Smith a pat on the rear.  I announced “I think they’re going to Smith”.  Taylor took the snap, faked the option, dropped back, and hit Smith with a 48 yard bomb (one of Taylor’s five passing TDs that day).  A very cool memory for me, and one that helped to cement my love of Nebraska Football.


Best Player:  Bob Martin, Defensive End, 1973 – 1975
Other notables:  Tom Banderas, Mark Gilman, Nate Swift, Bill Weber, Tracey Wistrom
Personal Favorite:  Nate Swift, Wide Receiver, 2004 – 2008

Comments:  A three year starter, Martin was a force at defensive end earning All-Big 8 honors twice and All-America in his senior season.  As a senior, 13 of his 61 tackles went for a loss.  A native of David City, Martin was the high school athlete of the year when he graduated.

Swift never looked like a guy who should be at or near the top of many of Nebraska’s receiving records.  He wasn’t that big, wasn’t that fast, and didn’t look like a game changing WR.  (Personal aside – I was on a flight from Minneapolis to Lincoln when Swift and high school teammate Lydon Murtha came on their recruiting trip.  Murtha looked like a D-1 prospect.  Swift looked like his scrawny kid brother).  But what he lacked in physical gifts he made up for with toughness, knowledge, and the ability to get open and make a catch when his team needed him.


Best Player:  Johnny Mitchell, Tight End, 1990 – 1991
Other notables:  Dwayne Harris
Personal Favorite: 

Comments:  Another player that was ahead of his time, Johnny Mitchell was an electric pass catcher.  Possessing tight end size with wide receiver speed, he was arguably Nebraska’s biggest threat in the passing game since Irving Fryar.  Mitchell’s 1991 season featured some impressive numbers (31 receptions for 534 yards, and five TDs) considering he was a tight end on a run-heavy, option football team.

My friends and I coined the term “Johnny Mitchell Syndrome” due to his ability to make the impossibly hard, highlight reel catch while tending to drop balls that hit him right in the numbers.  Mitchell was one of the first Huskers to leave school early for the NFL.  Who knows what type of numbers he could have put up in his senior season.


Best Player:  Freeman White, End, 1963 – 1965
Other notables:  Jerry List
Personal Favorite: 
T.J. DeBates, Tight End, 1996 – 1999

Comments:  Freeman White is one of the greatest receivers in school history.  During his senior season (1965), he set school records in a number of single season and career categories including receiving yards in a game (139), longest reception (95 yards), career receptions (47), and career receiving yards (820).  Along the way, White also picked up All-America honors and back-to-back All-Big 8 recognition.

On the other end of the spectrum is T.J. DeBates.  Going into his senior year (1999), he had played in 28 games and had two catches for 23 yards and zero TDs.  I like DeBates because of the role he and others like him played during the 1990’s – when he came on the field you could almost guarantee that Nebraska was going to run, and DeBates was essentially going to serve as a sixth offensive lineman.  And yet, despite everyone from the opposing team’s defense to the kid in row 79 selling Runzas, few could stop what Nebraska was doing on offense.  I have a lot of respect for the receivers and tight ends who could have gone elsewhere and caught more passes, but chose to be a blocker first at Nebraska.  Plus, I’m guessing it made those three career receptions even sweeter.


Best Player:  Tony Jeter, End, 1963 – 1965
Other notables:  Willie Griffin, Donta Jones, Brandon Kinnie, Mike Rucker, Tim Smith
Personal Favorite: 
Mike Rucker, Defensive End, 1994 – 1998

Comments:  Jeter was a standout receiver on the first Devaney teams, earning All Big-8 honors twice and All-America his senior season.  To show how the times have changed, Jeter was the leading receiver on the 1963 team with 9 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown (but he also played considerable minutes on defense).  More trivia:  Jeter was the first black athlete in Nebraska history to earn academic All-America honors.

Although he never earned the accolades of Grant Wistrom, Jared Tomich, Trev Alberts and others, Mike Rucker is one of the best rush ends to ever play at Nebraska.  Possessing a dangerous combination of speed and power, he was a force on the edge – and not too shabby as a blocker on the punt return team.  On a personal note, we ran into his family at truck stop in Kansas on our way to the Oklahoma game in 1996, prompting my buddy to say “Hey, I think that is Mother Rucker!”


Best Player:  Kyle Vanden Bosch, Rush End, 1998 – 2000
Other notables:  Terrence Nunn
Personal Favorite: 
Terrence Nunn, Wide Receiver, 2004 – 2007

Comments:  The second of the six numbers without a first team All-Conference selection, this came down to a two man race between Vanden Bosch and Nunn.  I’ll be honest, I really wanted to put Nunn in this spot – he is the #2 guy in school history for receptions and receiving yards and was a very consistent (but not necessarily stand-out) contributor for four years.  And yet, I couldn’t pull the trigger (apparently, I am still bitter over the 3rd Down fumble in the 2006 Texas game).  Nunn gets my favorite nod for that consistency.  While he was never the biggest star on the field, I respect that you could always pencil in his production week in and week out.

That leaves us with Vanden Bosch.  Frankly, he is one of those players whose career left me wanting more.  I always felt that a player who had his combination of brains (the twelfth Husker to be a two time academic All-American), brawn (three time lifter of the year finalist), and speed should have played at a higher level than what he did.  I’m not at all surprised by his lengthy and successful NFL career.  I just wish there would have been more during his time in Lincoln.


Best Player:  Steve Manstedt, Defensive End, 1971 – 1973
Other notables:  Dennis Richnafsky
Personal Favorite: 
T.J. O’Leary, Long Snapper, 2005 – 2008

Comments:  Honestly, I don’t know too much about Manstedt’s career.  He doesn’t have a page, and the best thing I found a this brief bio from this summer when he was elected to the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame:  “(A) walk on from Wahoo. After playing a reserve role at defensive end on the 1971 national title team, he started on Bob Devaney’s last team in 1972 and Tom Osborne’s first in 1973. He made 145 career tackles and his 65-yard fumble return against Texas in the 1973 Cotton Bowl set up a field goal.”

Long snappers don’t get a lot of recognition either, and very little of the recognition they get is positive.  For the most part, they only time you hear their name is when they commit a penalty or send the snap sailing over the punter’s head.  That is why I liked O’Leary – he was a three year starter, but you rarely heard his name mentioned.  Sometimes anonymity is a good thing.


Best Player:  Willie Harper, Defensive End, 1970 – 1972
Other notables:  Ben Cotton
Personal Favorite:  Ben Cornelsen, Wingback, 1999 – 2002

Comments:  A standout performer on some of Nebraska’s (and college football’s) greatest teams, Harper was a two time All-American and a three year starter.  Twice he accumulated more than 100 yards in tackles for loss, including an amazing 9.2 yards lost per tackle as a sophomore on the 1970 championship team.  As a senior in 1972, he didn’t rack up as gaudy of TFL numbers, but he did anchor a defense that shutout four teams in a row.

Ben Cornelsen was not a standout performer (9 catches for 124 yards in his career), and never started a game at Nebraska.  While he did have some highlights (a 71 yard punt return for a touchdown against Kansas, averaged 11 yards on 15 carries), his career will be largely forgotten, another random kid who once wore a jersey.


Best Player:  Jamie Williams, Tight End, 1980 – 1982
Other notables:  Kenny Bell, Jeff Jamrog, Jim McFarland, Ray Phillips
Personal Favorite:  
Kenny Bell, Wide Receiver, 2010 – present

Comments:  Jamie Williams was a great asset for Tom Osborne’s option offense.  A big guy (6’5″, 230 pounds) he could be an effective blocker, but made his name catching passes.  I don’t have any memories of Williams playing at Nebraska, but I can picture him releasing off of a block as the quarterback sold the option fake, then dropped back and hit Williams in stride down the middle of the field, 10 yards from the nearest defender.  Williams averaged over 11 yards per catch and found the end zone seven times.

Let’s be honest with each other:  the first thing we all knew about Kenny Bell was his glorious old-school Afro.  Over the last few years, we’ve come to know him as a gifted receiver, a tenacious blocker, a team leader, and a prolific tweeter.  I love all of those things (especially the blocking) and the fact that he is a huge supporter of his fellow student athletes.  You can usually find Kenny at volleyball matches, gymnastics meets, basketball games, and probably all of the other 22 sports Nebraska offers.  My hunch is that if I were doing this list in 2015, Kenny Bell might surpass Jamie Williams for the “best” label.  Regardless, I think he’ll long be a favorite of mine.

I’d also like to mention another former owner of the #80 jersey.  He only played at Nebraska for one season, and never caught a pass, rushed the ball, or made a tackle.  Normally with that bio, most fans would have no idea who he was, especially where he played almost a decade ago.  But I’m guessing that when I say the name “Santino Panico” you’ll know exactly who I’m talking about.

Here’s the thing – we remember Santino more for his pedestrian performance (raise your hand if you referred to him as “Santino Fair-Catcho”.  I know I did) than his potential.  I’m no recruitnik, but from his bio, (Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois, Army All-America Bowl, etc.) he sounded like a kid with some talent and potential.

I bring him up not to bash on Panico, or get in a cheap shot at the failures of the Callahan Regime.  Instead I mention Santino Panico to remind us that sometimes Husker careers don’t turn out the way anybody expects – not the player, nor the coach who recruited him, or the fans who can recite his Rivals bio quicker than they recite their own kids’ birthdays.  And while that’s disappointing for all parties, I’m guessing its hardest on the player who couldn’t find the success they felt they could have.

Sorry to end this one on a downer, but fear not:  next up is the Seventies, with arguably the greatest collection of talent in the whole countdown.

Until next time…

Previous:  99 – 90

Next:  79 – 70

Greatest Huskers, by the Numbers: 99 – 90

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.

We’re getting started with number 99 through 90.  Lots of defensive tackles and ends, some tight ends, linebackers, and a few kickers thrown in for good measure.


Best Player:  Neil Smith, Defensive Tackle, 1985 – 1987
Other notables:  Terry Connealy, Mike Petko, Barry Turner, Jason Wiltz
Personal Favorite:  Terry Connealy, Defensive Tackle, 1992 – 1994

Comments:  A great start to the countdown.  Smith was a dominating defensive tackle who earned All Big 8 and All America honors in 1987.  Smith is easily on the short list of greatest defensive linemen to ever play at Nebraska.  As for Connealy, he was never the biggest, strongest, or flashiest guy – but he was one of those guys who just got it done.  His sack of Frank Costa towards the end of the 1995 Orange Bowl helped to seal the game and the first national championship of my lifetime.


Best Player:  Grant Wistrom, Rush End, 1994 – 1997
Other notables:  Zach Potter
Personal Favorite:  Wistrom

Comments: A complete no-brainer.  Wistrom was a three-time all conference player, a two-time All-American, and won the 1997 Lombardi Trophy.  He was one of the cornerstones of the 1995 and 1997 championship teams.  Since he graduated, very few players since have been even remotely comparable with Wistrom in terms of pass rushing ability, and team leadership – let alone both.  Hopefully, the rest of the list will be this easy…


Best Player:  Dan Titchener, Punter, 2004 – 2008
Other notables: Toby Williams, Pat Engelbert, Jeff Ogard
Personal Favorite: Jeff Ogard, Defensive Tackle, 1994 – 1996

Comments:  Okay…so not every number has been worn by a College or future NFL Hall of Famer.  But this is a definitely a big drop-off.  97 is one of six numbers at Nebraska to never to be worn by a first team all-conference player.  And for my eyes, the pickins’ were slim.  I know that Titchener wasn’t the greatest punter NU has ever had (he followed Sam Koch and preceded Alex Henery), but he was a three-year starter during the Callahan era when the offense was inconsistent and the defense was shaky, so not only did he get lots of reps, he helped defenses that desperately needed his help.  Quite frankly, if I remembered more about Toby Williams’ career, I’d probably pick him, but I was 8 when he left NU.  From what I read, he sounded like a good player who went on to a nice NFL career (but again, this isn’t about what a player did in the league).

As for Jeff Ogard, he was a favorite mainly for his name*.  When he made a tackle, I’d yell “Ooooo-Gard” in a deep, throaty voice.  My buddy would reference the cinematic classic “Revenge of the Nerds” by saying “Ogard, you a______.”

*I told you up front that some of the personal favorites could be rather silly, no?


Best Player:  Jimmy Williams, Defensive End, 1979 – 1981
Other notables:  George Andrews, Brett Maher, Lawrence Pete, Jim Skow, Steve Warren
Personal Favorite: 
Brett Maher, Punter/Place Kicker, 2008 – 2012

Comments:  A strong competition as Williams, Andrews, and Skow all earned All-America honors.  Skow is a classic NU story – the guy who paid his dues and was looking like a career backup before starting as a senior and becoming All-America.  From what I have heard, Andrews was the 1970s version of Grant Wistrom – a stud defensive end who also got it done in the classroom.  Per his bio, Williams was once the fastest Husker of all time in the 40 yard dash (4.34).  I gave the nod to Williams for putting together a slightly better career.

As for Maher, I love his story:  The walk-on career backup who has to replace one of the greatest players at his position(s).  Everybody (myself included) expects a huge drop-off in production from the position.  So all he does is hit 16 of 17 field goals inside of 50 yards (19 of 23 overall) while averaging 44.5 yards per punt (6th best in school history), and follows that up with a strong senior season.


Best Player:  Danny Noonan, Defensive Tackle, 1984 – 1986
Other notables:  Pierre Allen
Personal Favorite: 

Comments:  A personal aside:  As a kid, I would hear people yelling “Miss it!!  Noonan!!” at my high school’s basketball games when the other team was shooting free throws.  I could not figure out what Nebraska’s All-America defensive tackle had to do with free throws.  And then around age 12, I saw Caddyshack on TV…


Best Player:  Jared Crick, Defensive Tackle, 2007 – 2011
Other notables:  Larry Townsend, Barry Cryer
Personal Favorite: 
Patrick Kabongo, Defensive Tackle, 2000 – 2003

Comments:  I’m curious to see how Husker history remembers Jared Crick.  Are they going to remember a guy whose senior season injury cost him a bunch of money in the NFL Draft?  I’ve heard from people who were not impressed with his career (probably due to an underwhelming start to his senior season before being injured).  Or are they going to remember the guy who benefitted greatly from the nearly constant double-teams Ndamukong Suh faced in 2009 (his five sack performance against Baylor was amazing).  I’m hopeful that Crick is remembered as an excellent and athletic defender who performed admirably in Suh’s shadow and who showed tremendous loyalty in coming back for his senior season.  Those guys will always have a special place in my heart.

Patrick Kabongo was not a star player – or even a starter, but I always enjoyed his energy and passion.  If the game was close, the odds were good that Kabongo was jumping up and down on the bench, waving a towel to get the crowd into the game.  I always felt bad for the folks in the lower rows who could not see over his 6’6″, 315 pound frame as he led cheers from the top of the bench.


Best Player:  Ndamukong Suh, Defensive Tackle, 2005 – 2009
Other notables:  Travis Hill, Jared Tomich
Personal Favorite: 

Comments:  I don’t follow Husker recruiting very closely, but I remember reading the article in the Omaha World-Herald when Suh committed to NU, probably because of the unusual name (“House of Spears”.  Seriously, how badass is that?) and his highly regarded potential.  I remember seeing the flashes of potential in his first two seasons, but being frustrated with his inconsistency.  Exit Cosgrove, enter Pelini.  Exit average, enter extraordinary.

Suh’s senior season was one of the finest seasons I’ve had the privilege to witness*.  His combination of brute strength and speed were amazing to watch.  There were so many plays where all you could do was shake your head in awe of what he had just done – sacking OU’s Landry Jones by pushing his lineman on top of him, the interception return for a TD against Colorado, and the entire Big XII Championship game against Texas.

*Other amazing seasons that I’ve witnessed (off the top of my head):  Eric Crouch, 2001; Grant Wistrom, 1997; Tommie Frazier, 1995, Lawrence Philips, 1994; Josh Bullocks, 2003; Alex Henery, 2010, Lavonte David, 2011, Dom Riaola, 2000.  And I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting…

With all that Suh did on defense, it is easy to forget some of his other accomplishments such as being excellent at blocking kicks, and serving as a short yardage fullback.


Best Player:  Derrie Nelson, Defensive End, 1977 – 1980
Other notables:  John Parella
Personal Favorite: 
Travis Toline, Rush End, 1994 – 1998

Comments:  A walk-on, Nelson was a defensive force for the Blackshirts in the late 70s, but took it to another level for the 1980 season where he earned All Big 8 and All America honors in addition to being the Big 8 Defensive Player of the Year.

Most of the time when I’m watching a game, I’ll follow the ball and not concentrate on what individual players are doing away from the action.  But when Nebraska kicks off, the opposite is true.  I’ll shoot a couple of glances towards the ball, but I’m usually locked in on the “wedge buster” – the guy on kickoffs who lines up right in the middle of the field, goes sprinting down the field, and blows up anything in his path.  Obviously the high likelihood of big collisions is a draw, but I like watching this position for the passion and energy that goes into it.  It doesn’t matter if the wedge buster gets double teamed, knocked down, or anything else – he keeps going 100 mph until the whistle blows.

Plus, for the most part, the guy in this role is not in the two-deep in his position, so unless the game is a blowout, the only way he’ll see the field is on special teams.  Combine that with the fact that the wedge buster role is often filled by a walk-on, and this is a position that I’ll always have an appreciation for.  While a couple of my other favorite wedge busters (Brandon Rigoni and Eric Martin) will show up later on, the one that got me started on watching the position was Travis Toline.  I loved how he always looked like a runaway train going down the field (think of Eric Martin as a white walk-on from Wahoo).


Best Player:  Kent Wells, Defensive Tackle, 1987 – 1989
Other notables:  Loran Kaiser, Ryan Terwilliger
Personal Favorite: 
Loran Kaiser, Defensive Tackle, 1997 – 2000

Comments:  Another number where the pickins are slim.  I don’t have a great recollection of Wells’s playing career or recall him being a true stand-out player, but his All Big 8 recognition in 1989 gets him the nod over Kaiser, Terwillinger, and others.  Let me know in the comments if there is somebody more deserving.

To be honest, I didn’t have a great, deep affinity for watching Kaiser play he was my favorite of the eight Huskers that have worn 91 in the last 15-20 years.  Okay….moving on….


Best Player:  Alex Henery, Place Kicker/Punter, 2007 – 2010
Other notables:  Adam Carriker, John Dutton, Scott Strasburger
Personal Favorite: 

Comments:  I always thought 90 was an odd number of a kicker.  During Henery’s freshman year (2007), I joked with a buddy that 90 wasn’t just his number, it was his weight.  Therefore, it is rather fitting that Henery edges out an All-American (Dutton) whom describes as “biggest of the all the Blackshirts.”

You’ll often hear Husker fans debating the loudest moments in Memorial Stadium’s long history.  While I may put a couple of other moments ahead of Henery’s 57 yard field goal against Colorado, (Crouch’s TD catch against Oklahoma in 2001, for example) that is definitely near the top of the list.

Fun Fact – Alex Henery is the only Husker to be named 1st team All-America, but not be named 1st team all conference.  Great job Big XII coaches and writers!

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Next:  89 – 80

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