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Life in the Fast Lane

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — If you get the chance, ask defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski about fast cars, adrenaline and dudes in their mom’s basements.

The Husker defensive line coach refused a final stat sheet from a media relations member while he talked about silencing anonymous critics who call out his fellow Nebraska coaches behind fake names and computer screens.

“I don’t need one,” he said as the stats passed him by. “I don’t want to look at them.”

He was too deep into a vehement defense of his players and coaches – Kaczenski can go from zero to 60 words in about four seconds. Excitable thrill-seekers like him usually talk pretty briskly.

“I’m a competitor, you know? I like fast cars and stuff…but as far as adrenaline, I’m more of a competitor probably than an adrenaline junkie,” he said. “But getting big wins on the road at State College; that’s a pretty good adrenaline.”

His unit was about as sexy as a steel mill workers’ union, but equally as productive; five of the Huskers’ top 10 tacklers were defensive lineman, and they made more than a third of Nebraska’s total tackles against Penn State. No sacks isn’t a big deal for Kaczenski, by this point he’ll be pounding his desk shouting “what the hell are we doing?” at the film monitor for the 11th time this year. That’s his favorite response to weekly questions about the D-line’s performance.

That, and that he over-coached his group, like this week when emphasizing Penn State’s screen and draw game.

“They didn’t panic, like their coach – me,” he said.

He likes to warn against the dangers of gambling with house money – going for broke on a pass rush when a guy simply needs to maintain his gap integrity and just play smart. That and playing steadfast football in the ebb and flow of the tide of criticism takes a special group, he said.

“You gotta have the right guys, man. And that’s what we got,” he said. “You’ve got to have the right head coach, and that’s what we got. We’ve got a resilient bunch of guys that don’t listen to the noise, and they just play.”

Just talking about those critics brings out the gladiator in Kaczenski. When the critics ask what the Huskers are playing for, he channels his inner Alexander the Great. You’re fighting for the man next to you, he insists.

“If you’re a competitor and you got 12 shots to put it on the line in an arena, you’re gonna play (your) tail off,” he said.

Nights like Saturday; come-from-behind wins on the road with the snow blowing horizontally, are the nights he lives for. He’s “absolutely” an adrenaline junky, he says.

It’s all part of the gig.

“You can’t put a price tag on the feeling you get when you see those guys’ faces after a win, when they know the fruits of their labor paid off,” Kaczenski said. “You’re responsible for some of their success, and the failure, and that’s why it stings so bad when you lose, because you’re responsible for their failure also. There’s nothing like it. It’s like being a parent…That’s why we do what we do, man.”

His name’s one to get familiar with when priming for next season considering the potential strength of Nebraska’s defensive line in 2014. He’s got the keys to a couple Jaguars in Randy Gregory and Avery Moss. A stonewall in Vincent Valentine, too.

For now though, he’s got to sit at his desk, watch film and yell before looking ahead to next year. He’s got a short week to prepare for his former employer Iowa and Marc Weisman, another 236-pound great white of a running back.

For now, before all that, he’s going to enjoy being done with coaching against an offensive line with Bill O’Brien-level discipline. Besides, it’s hard to look to0 far down the road when you’re driving a new car this fast.

“We don’t play these guys again, do we, for a while?”