Ten years ago tomorrow, Nebraska named Bill Callahan as its head coach but the news actually started to leak out a decade ago today. In honor, or at least acknowledgement, of the milestone, it seemed time to revisit that era and pick an All-Callahan team.
What’s that you say? Nobody wants to revisit this era? That might be true for many but in putting together this team I found there to be some value in looking back. If you’re willing to think about it, there’s some insight to be gained in why that era ended unceremoniously and how it affected what was to come.
If you’re going to compile a subjective list such as this, you’re going to need some subjective parameters. Here are mine: To make the All-Callahan team you had to commit to play football for Bill Callahan. That means any members of the 2004 recruiting class who committed after his hiring on Jan. 9, 2004 and any members of the 2008 class who committed prior to Callahan’s firing on Nov. 24, 2007.
With that out of the way and without further adieu…the All-Callahan Team. We’ll do the offenses today, the defense tomorrow.
Joe Ganz : Let’s start with an upset. I assume the default response here is 2006 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Zac Taylor, and he was quite good, but I’ll argue for Ganz. He was a more efficient quarterback (based on passer rating) and threw 41 touchdowns as a junior and senior in 16 starts. Taylor threw 45 touchdowns in 26 starts. Sure, most of Ganz’s production came after Callahan was gone but that’s ultimately what swayed my decision: Callahan’s best quarterback only got a shot because the hot shot hired gun (Sam Keller) got hurt. Seems fitting.
Others worth considering: Taylor (obviously), Beau Davis (for meritorious service under extreme duress in the 70-10 loss to Texas Tech in 2004)
Brandon Jackson: One of 13 players in the 2004 recruiting class to commit after Callahan was hired. (Note: Three of those 13 were QBs to give you an idea of Callahan’s top priority in those early days.) Jackson rushed for 1,431 yards in three years at Nebraska and was drafted in the second round by Green Bay. Cleveland released him last September.
Roy Helu Jr.: Second-team All-Big 12 pick in 2010, drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 draft by Washington, top five in school history with 3,404 rushing yards. In short, a no-brainer.
Others worth considering: Marlon Lucky (better than you remember, never as good as he was billed to be, which isn’t totally his fault)
Nate Swift committed to Frank Solich, so he’s exempt on a technicality. That makes picking more difficult. Most of Nebraska’s receiving records are all post West Coast Offense, further complicating things. I’m going with…
Maurice Purify: Two-time All-Big 12 second team selection in his only two years and had a signature moment (A&M, 2006) to boot. He finished his career ranked second in career touchdown receptions (16) and was last seen playing for the Arizona Rattlers, a perennial arena football powerhouse.
Terrence Nunn: Best remembered for fumbling away a victory against No. 5 Texas in 2006 and that’s a shame because Nunn’s numbers are pretty impressive. He finished his career with 1,762 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Others worth considering: Niles Paul (deserves some consideration, perhaps the most, as a return specialist)
Mike McNeil: Not a ton of competition here for McNeil who was a record-setting tight end before making the move to wide receiver as a senior in 2010. Finished with 1,072 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Others worth considering: Kyler Reed (one of Callahan’s last commits in 2007 and nearly the exact same numbers as McNeil)
Telling position group No. 1. There weren’t a ton of surefire options on the offensive line and if there’s one place where you can’t be average over the long run it’s here.
Lydon Murtha: An honorable mention All-Big 12 pick in both 2007 and 2008. Seventh round pick in the 2009 NFL draft.
Matt Slauson: One of the more entertaining and consistent players of the Callahan era. Slauson earned some level of all-conference honors in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Drafted in the sixth round of the 2009 NFL draft, Slauson just signed a four-year $12.8 million deal with Chicago.
Ricky Henry: The player so nice Callahan signed him twice…or something like that. Henry earned unanimous first-team All-Big 12 honors in 2010 but went undrafted in 2011. Spent 2013 on the reserve roster for Kansas City.
Marcel Jones: Earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors as a senior in 2011 and was drafted in the seventh round of the 2012 draft. A knee injury cost Jones his first professional season, but he’s still hanging on with the Saints.
Jacob Hickman: Took home honorable mention All-Big 12 accolades in his first three seasons before landing on the second team as a senior. Would’ve been drafted but Hickman decided he didn’t want to play professional football.
Others worth considering: Carl Nicks (tough to argue with his pro production but only started 13 games at Nebraska and had a, shall we say, tumultuous tenure)
Alex Henery: Callahan, famously, wasn’t too interested in walk-ons, but it’s a good thing he made room from Henery. The result was one of the best careers in Nebraska history and that’s at a school pretty long on kicking talent. One could write volumes about Henery’s career at Nebraska but nothing sums it up better than this: He left as the most accurate kicker in NCAA history, making 89.5 percent of his career field goal attempts.
Check back tomorrow for the All-Callahan defensive team.