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Husker Seniors Focused on the Here and Now, Hypotheticals Later

October 03, 2020

Brenden Jaimes could have gone to the NFL. Instead, he came back. His position coach, Greg Austin, said purpose fueled that decision.

Christian Gaylord could have called it a career. Instead, he sought a sixth year of eligibility to come back. Jaimes said a love for Nebraska fueled that decision.

Deontai Williams could have poked around the transfer market after the Big Ten took away his senior season, because an injury took away his junior season. Instead, he stayed rooted in Lincoln. His position coach, Travis Fisher, calls the safety one of his leaders.

Nebraska has 13 scholarship seniors on the roster. It has another five walk-on seniors. Tight end Jack Stoll, like the rest of his class, has a decision looming: take the additional year of eligibility the NCAA offered to seniors everywhere in freezing it for this 2020 season, or forgo that and move on to the next chapter?

If Stoll or Jaimes or Williams has a standout nine-game season this fall—we’re talking “best in the conference at their position” territory, all-conference honors, those kinds of things—the decision might just be made for them.

The season is happening early enough to allow for guys to play and then prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft.

Stoll said Thursday this week the growth Nebraska has made year-over-year has been noticeable to them.

“Everyone, every chance we have, has been competing extremely well,” he said. They feel confident. “I think it’s just building blocks on building blocks, and some of those have started to add up. I think we’re looking really clean.”

If the 2020 season proves to be more another building block rather than the flag planted at the summit expressing arrival, there’s certainly a reason those seniors would want to come back. If they feel they’re close, but not quite there, why would you want to leave early? If Luke Gifford could walk back through that door and be part of another Scott Frost-led Nebraska team, he would.

And their decision impacts more than just Nebraska’s immediate future.

Stoll’s coach in the tight end room, Sean Beckton, said they were planning on taking two or three tight ends this recruiting cycle. Two are already in the boat in Lewis Central’s Thomas Fidone‍ and Creighton Prep’s AJ Rollins‍. The third guy—Norris’ James Carnie—is a huge wildcard.

Nebraska hasn’t offered, but certainly Carnie, who’s being recruited by Iowa and Kansas State among others, is worthy of one. Nebraska has another talented crop of tight ends close to home in the 2022 class. Micah Riley‍ and Kaden Helms come to mind.

Already on the roster: juniors Austin Allen, Kurt Rafdal, and Travis Vokolek, and the senior Stoll.

Offensive numbers are tight, and getting tighter. Would Nebraska want to carry seven scholarship tight ends into next season? Obviously none of those roster management conversations are issues Stoll or other seniors have to worry about, but the fact is the eligibility freeze has created a number of unknowns that coaches and players alike want some clarity on.

Questions abound right now before the football even flies.

But here’s the thing: Nebraska’s players, to a man, are not focusing on the hypotheticals or the extra seasons. Nebraska has a team that seems laser-focused on the here and now, the task at hand, the 2020 season.

“To be honest with you, we’re all looking forward to this season,” Stoll said. “We’ve put in so much work over the past four or five years that this group of seniors has been in here. We’re just looking forward to the season. That’s what our entire focus is. It’s Ohio State. The week after that, it’ll be Wisconsin, and so on and so on.

“That’s a discussion we’ll obviously have towards the tail-end of the season, probably more December, January, but for now we’re talking about schemes for Ohio State and getting everyone ready to play.”

Added Williams: “I’m fired up. I’m ready to hit and I’m ready to fly around and show what I’ve got.”

Pride comes into play here. Jaimes has never been to a bowl game at Nebraska. Guys who were part of the 2016 team weren’t huge pieces of the rotation.

On this week’s podcast, our own Greg Smith put it about as succinctly as you could.

Asked what is leading to that extra level of attentiveness, Frost said sort of the same.

“Our guys have been together probably longer through this than most teams have,” he said. “They’ve been working together, bonding together. I think there will be plenty of chances for guys to decide what the best options for them are after the season, whether it’s leaving or trying to come back for another year, but right now we have a pretty tight-knit group and I think they’re focused on becoming the best team they can so they can compete in these Big Ten games.”

Culture is often talked about.

It’s hard to quantify, harder still to see if you don’t know what you’re looking at.

Would teams in years past have approached this season, with all the distractions and question marks, with the same level of focus?

What’s the benefit that it seems this team is?

In 20-some days, we’ll find why those seniors fought so hard for this year.

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