We’ve reached that point in the season. Senior Day. Saturday, when a 6-4 Michigan State program comes to Memorial Stadium, a senior class that has become the foundation of a Nebraska rebuild will play its last home game as a Husker.
“Any time seniors leave here it’s a big deal,” head coach Scott Frost said Monday at his weekly press conference. “I remember my senior day, emotional walking out. I saw a picture of Coach [Tom] Osborne and I coming out of the tunnel and it means a lot to me.
“I’ve talked a bunch about these seniors, it’s a great group. I feel bad the season hasn’t gone better for them, but at the same time these are going to be some of the guys that the foundation for what we’re going to do going forward is built on. I think they know that and can feel it, and I’m going to be sorry to see a bunch of them go.”
Much of the message Monday from the Huskers that took to the podium seemed like one of wishing. Wishing for a couple more seasons with this coaching staff and this team and this fanbase. Offensive lineman Jerald Foster said he’ll be back after he’s gone just to see what the classes after him can accomplish.
For a lot of the senior class, this is their third coaching staff. Some started with Bo Pelini, had to adjust to Mike Riley and then again to Scott Frost. Different schemes, different coaching approaches, different attitudes.
“We understood the transition from coach to coach that there can be some hardships if the guys that are older don’t go for it,” he said. “We took it upon ourselves to not be that problem, we took it upon ourselves to be the solution and really to push forward.
“We knew that Coach Frost was going to be a great coach. Everybody had been talking about him, the team had been talking about him and his success at UCF, weeks prior to the whole announcement. We knew that whoever came in we were going to go for it, and then when it was him, the way his culture was so in tune with how Nebraska has always been, I felt like that just made it that much easier for us.”
Wideout Stanley Morgan Jr. talked about Frost being an alum, about that helping, but there was a lot of internal motivation from this senior group to go out the right. Frost said the response to a nightmarish 0-6 start from his elder statesmen in the program is something that set Nebraska back on track.
“It’s hard to have a season start the way we had it start and not lose the team, lose hope, lose enthusiasm,” Frost said. “You don’t see a team very often that starts off with that many bad blows being delivered to you and keep improving. A lot of that has to do with these seniors that are leaving and the leadership that they’ve given, fixing a lot of the problems on the team even through those hard things. Changing the expectations even through some of those hard things.
“I’m proud of the fact that this group has continued to improve despite some really rough times. It says a lot about your character when you face adversity like that and make the decision to keep fighting, keep swinging and getting better.”
Defensive lineman Mick Stoltenberg thanked the university and the fan base for that. Through the 2016 close and the 2017 free-fall and the 2018 open, Stoltenberg still felt the love. “Which I knew that coming in here being a kid from here,” he said, but it helped all the same.
“We have fallen short plenty of times,” he said. “I have been told the loser is not the guy that gets knocked down, the loser is the guy who doesn’t get back up. I have continued to fight and I know a lot of these seniors have throughout the last five years.”
Stoltenberg said it’s a little weird for them right now, the seniors. Nebraska has a chance to close the season 5-1 after starting it 0-6. There are two winnable games ahead of them to close the year — Michigan State at home and a 6-4 Iowa squad that has lost three straight. They’re trying to focus on that. But they’re also trying to take in all the things that come with playing your last game at Memorial Stadium.
“We have to take a step back and kind of enjoy it, but we need to make sure we’re sticking to the same path especially for the younger guys,” he said. “Obviously, it’s not their Senior Day so we have got to treat it kind of like another week. At the same time, you have to appreciate everything that has gone on here and everything that this place has done for us.”
Which, it seems, is where the younger guys are trying to do their part.
Freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez spoke Monday, the only underclassman to do so. If not for junior corner Lamar Jackson, Martinez would have been the only non-senior Husker to address the media (He does every week, but it’s still probably something.) He wanted to make something clear.
“They have been so great to me and all the rest of the underclassmen and the rest of this team,” Martinez said. “I want it to be known that they laid the foundation for what we are about to become. We have had tons of ups and downs this year and they have been our rock throughout it. So, they deserve the world and we are trying to give it to them in these last couple of games.”
Other News and Notes
>> Stoltenberg said his knees are feeling better.
“I went in Sunday and got everything treated,” he said. “I got the knee looked at and made sure I was recovering correctly and everything. Practice today felt good and I feel good going forward with the rest of the week, for sure.”
For the most part, everyone feels better.
“I never want to talk down at staff, we had a really good staff before, but I feel great,” Foster said. “I’m still walking around, not limping everywhere which is great. I feel like a lot of the guys are in the same boat as me.
“Coach [Frost] was saying everybody looks like we’ve got enough juice left in the tank for these games and some more, and I believe that as well. I think that we’re all still ready to push forward. It’s nice to see everyone up and moving around still.”
>> Devine Ozigbo was named the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Week for his 162-yard, three score performance against Illinois. It was the first such honor of his career. Frost is sort of running out of ways to praise his senior runner.
“He’s an example of how kids should be and what they should do,” Frost said. “We all want things to happen and work for us right now, otherwise we’re unhappy and we quit or we leave. I wasn’t around Devine for most of his career here, but coming in as the coach and getting information from people that knew the program, we thought from the information I got that running back was a place we needed immediate help because we weren’t sure how good we’d be at that spot. We went out and got some guys and all of a sudden at the beginning of the season, Devine found himself as not the starter. That could’ve gone a lot of different ways with a couple other guys when that happened, but not him.
“He just kept coming to work, doing his job, getting better. It’s even more special when someone has a great season when they persevere through something like that. What a great teammate and a great person. I really believe he’s putting himself in a position to keep playing football and not have his Nebraska career be the end of his career.”
Frost won’t tell people how to vote for the All-Big Ten team (though we will) but it’s probably safe to say he’s going to give Ozigbo a few more carries moving forward.
“I feel like a dumb coach because I guess I only gave it to him 11 times on a Saturday.”
>> When Morgan met former Nebraska wideout Kenny Bell on the sideline before Saturday’s game against Illinois, Bell told Morgan to go break his records.
Bell is currently the school record holder for career catches and career yards. Morgan needs just four catches and 91 yards to take both. Morgan is also 144 yards away from the first 1,000-yard receiving season in school history.
“It’s a humble feeling,” he said. “Just to see all the hard work that I’ve been working for is paying off. It’s just a memorable moment for me, and I’ll never forget it for the rest of my life.”
But Morgan knows if he doesn’t get to 1,000, someone will soon. Sophomore JD Spielman tells him it’s going to be him.
“We joke about that all the time,” Morgan said. “That’s why I have to get it and enjoy it for this time, because I know guys like JD and the guys they’re recruiting are going to shatter those records.”
>> Nebraska has gone for six on its opening drive in six straight games.
“I think that is just the way it is supposed to be with Coach Frost,” Martinez said. “I think that was just part of understanding how we were supposed to operate. The guys just had that mindset from the beginning so it was just ‘start fast and go out there and set the tone.’ That takes every single person on the offense to execute and have that same mindset. We have to keep using that going forward.”
>> Freshman kicker Barret Pickering will handle kickoffs moving forward. He replaced junior punter Caleb Lightbourn in the role against Illinois. Frost says that move will likely be permanent going forward.
“We want the ball to go where it’s supposed to go,” Frost said.
>> Frost said the Huskers will likely take more than 25 in this 2019 recruiting class. This weekend is setting up to be one of the biggest of the season in terms of official visits and getting kids to campus. A lot will be made of the 11 a.m. kick time but Frost said they’ll have everyone in Lincoln that needs to be in Lincoln, save for a few guys that might show up after the start of the game.
Asked about the abundance of 11 a.m. kicks this season, Frost said the Huskers will get better time slots when they start winning more.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.