After his first practice in pads at Nebraska, as a freshman in 2000, Alex Shada wondered what he had gotten himself into.
His body ached when he returned to Harper Hall, not surprising considering those against whom he had lined up. A tight end, among those he had tried to block included defensive ends Chris Kelsay and Kyle Vanden Bosch, both of whom went on to careers in the NFL.
Oh yes, and junior defensive tackle Jeremy Slechta.
One of his plays that first day involved “folding underneath” and blocking Slechta. “I thought, ‘Oh, I’m getting the best of this guy,’” said Shada.
As it turned out, that wasn’t the case.
“Let me tell you, I didn’t get any part of him,” Shada said.
Welcome to major college football.
Despite such frustration, however, and spending much of his time at Nebraska on the scout team, Shada never regretted walking on. “I never once looked back, throughout college, and said, ‘Boy, I wish I was playing basketball here or football there,’” he said. “It never crossed my mind.”
Shada, the Fremont (Neb.) Tribune Athlete of the Year as a senior at Wahoo High, had opportunities at smaller schools. He could’ve gone to Nebraska-Kearney to play basketball and compete in track and field. He also drew some football interest from Iowa State, Kansas State and New Mexico State.
New Mexico State assistant Jeff Jamrog, a former Husker, made an initial contact and Shada was set to visit Las Cruces before Jamrog took a job at Nebraska.
Jamrog, who had made the trip to Wahoo to visit with him and his family, was “my guy down there,” said Shada, who opted to walk on with the Huskers.
“As a young kid it’s a typical story; you grow up watching and adoring Nebraska football. I was lucky enough to go to games . . . here and there.”
So when Dan Young, who recruited in-state walk-ons for Coach Frank Solich, contacted him, “it was almost like everything else was irrelevant. It was a dream come true,” Shada said.
Shada dealt with injuries, and his dream ended with a torn Achilles in the Iowa State game in 2003, when he earned a letter. He underwent surgery, with the intention of rehabbing and possibly being granted a sixth season. However, when Bill Callahan, who had just replaced Solich as head coach, asked Shada what his plan was, “the words flew out of my mouth. ‘I’m graduating in December. I’m looking forward to that and moving on,’” Shada said.
“I went home that night and thought, ‘Boy, I didn’t put much thought into that.’”
He now works for Lincoln-based GSC, a communications consulting company that provides NFL teams with coach-to-player helmet communication devices. Shada deals with company technicians, two assigned to every NFL game site, reviewing game reports on weekly conference calls.
GSC also now works with two-dozen colleges, which use the devices in practice. NCAA rules don’t allow them to be used in games.
Last year, the SEC and ACC experimented with the devices for baseball as well.
Shada helps coach football at Wahoo High and did help with basketball. But family considerations contributed to his deciding to end the basketball coaching. He and wife Megan have three children: Eli (10), Alivia (7) and Grant (2).
Shada also competed for two seasons in track and field at Nebraska, the indoor weight throw and the hammer throw outdoors. He “loved” track and field – his dad was the head track coach at Wahoo High. But the demands of football required Alex’s full attention.
As for what he learned from his experience as a Husker walk-on?
“Honestly, it might be anecdotal, but nothing in life is just going to be handed to you,” Shada said. “Everything from the athletic side of it to the academic side of it, they expected a lot out of you. You were only going to get out of it what you put in. As a college student and professionally, as a father and a husband, you’re only going to get out what you put in. That stuck with me.
“There were times where you’d scratch your head. ‘This was a terrible day.’ You could’ve given up. I never thought about giving up.”
After that first day in pads, for example.
Giving up “would’ve been a real easy way out,” said Shada. “But it wasn’t going to happen.”
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.