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All-Callahan Team: Defense

As you’ve probably heard by now, Bill Callahan was named the head coach of Nebraska 10 years ago today. While most Husker fans are more than happy to just forget the entire thing happened, I couldn’t let the anniversary pass without at least acknowledging it.

So yesterday I compiled an All-Callahan Team on offense. Today, it’s the defense and there’s some interesting things going on here. Picking a defensive line is easy enough. There are pretty clear-cut selections at each spot, but not a lot of depth there. The secondary is full of intriguing choices, but linebacker is pretty sparse. Callahan signed 10 linebackers over his time at Nebraska and I only found two I was comfortable including, meaning this All-Callahan team will be operating out of the nickel.

DEFENSIVE END

Zach Potter: This was a close race with Barry Turner. Both earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors as seniors. Potter also did it as a junior while Turner was a Football Writers Association of America freshman All-American. Ultimately, Potter’s uncanny knack for blocking kicks – five in his career – earned him the edge here.

Pierre Allen: One of many defensive recruits who really flourished under Bo Pelini. Players tend to work their way up all-conference teams – honorable mention, second team, first team – but Allen went from nothing to first-team All-Big 12 (Coaches) as a senior.

Others worth considering: Turner

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Ndamukong Suh: I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that getting Suh to Lincoln was the single best thing Callahan did at Nebraska. And he didn’t even become “Ndamukong Suh, destroyer of everything” until Pelini showed up. Accomplishments too numerous to list.

Jared Crick: Crick earned second-team All-America (AP) honors as a junior before an injury robbed him of most of his senior season. After being taken in the fourth round by the Houston Texans in the 2012 draft, Crick has played in 31 games over the past two seasons with Houston, tallying 42 total tackles.

Others worth considering: Baker Steinkuhler (playing, arguably, out of position)

LINEBACKER

Here’s where it gets thin. The Callahan era at linebacker was mostly dominated by Solich recruits (Ruud, McKeon, Bradley). Sort of a chicken or the egg scenario here: Did Callahan sign so few linebackers because he had these guys or did they dominate the era because Callahan signed so few linebackers? Two of them went on to play in the NFL, so I’m leaning towards the former. Anyway, here are my two picks of the guys who actually committed to play for Billy C.

Steve Octavien: Octavien started his first game on campus (05, Maine) but got hurt, costing him a year. After that he only started nine of his next 21 games as a junior and senior but did end up as an honorable mention All-Big 12 pick and the defensive team MVP in 2007. Still active in arena football after a short NFL career.

Phillip Dillard: One of the nation’s top linebacker recruits when he signed, Dillard battled injuries for most of his career before flourishing as a senior under Pelini. He made honorable mention All-Big 12 that season and ended up as a fourth round pick of the New York Giants.

Others worth considering: Blake Lawrence (probably would’ve been a long time contributor if his career wasn’t cut short), Sean Fisher (member of the 2008 class who committed to Nebraska while Callahan was still the coach)

SECONDARY

Prince Amukamara: Was a three-star “athlete” coming out of high school whose best offers beyond Nebraska were Colorado and Oregon State. Became a first-team All-American, the Big 12’s defensive Player of the Year and a first round draft pick.

Eric Hagg: Bloomed as Pelini’s “peso back” in 2010, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors and Nebraska’s team MVP award. Played in more than 20 games for the Cleveland Browns in 2011 and 2012 before being released early in 2013.

Larry Asante: Landed on All-Big 12 teams twice – honorable mention in 2008, first team (coaches) in 2009 – and was selected in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL draft. After two seasons with the Buccaneers, Asante was released by the Colts in November.

Matt O’Hanlon: Somewhat beleaguered during his time as a starter, but history has been kind to O’Hanlon. One of the few walk-ons from the Callahan era to have a meaningful impact on the program. An honorable mention All-Big 12 pick as a senior.

Cortney Grixby: One of Callahan’s early signees, Grixby went on to start 37 games at corner over his career, earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors twice. He also made it as an honorable mention selection once (2007) as a kick returner.

Others worth considering: Zack Bowman (long NFL career, injury-shortened career at Nebraska)

PUNTER

Dan Titchener: Another walk-on in a key spot in the kicking game. Sam Koch handled punting duties for the first two seasons of the Callahan era, but Titchener took it from there, earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors in 2007.