Last week Ben Stille was offered a Blackshirt and he turned it down. Didn’t feel like his play against Minnesota had earned him one. This week, he was the defensive lineman of the game for Nebraska.
Tuesday, he left practice as the latest member of the defense to don a Blackshirt.
“It was just playing hard,” Stille said of why he felt this was the week. There was effort on every play. “We didn’t get as many snaps this week as the last couple weeks but that’s not relevant. If you go in there and you do your job and play hard then that’s how you earn a Blackshirt.”
The sophomore defensive end is a Nebraska native. All his life he’s wanted to play at Nebraska. “This was my dream,” he said. Offense or defense didn’t get sorted out until he arrived in Lincoln (he played tight end and defensive end for Ashland-Greenwood High School) but when it did and Stille settled in on the defensive side of the ball, a Blackshirt was the goal.
He watched Ross Dzuris and Mick Stoltenberg and Kevin Maurice and Freedom Akinmoladun earn one his redshirt freshman season. He watched guys like Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine earn one before he even got on campus.
“I’ve seen guys setting examples of how to do it, how to do it right,” he said. “Those guys set really good examples of how to be Blackshirts.”
Then there was the talk from Jason Peter and Grant Wistrom before this 2018 season began.
“From the definition of what I’ve been told what a Blackshirt was from Grant, Jason and those guys who have come to talk to us, it didn’t sit right with me to put that jersey on if I didn’t feel like I had lived up to that in a game,” he said last week. “If you are going to be the person trying to hold people accountable, the first person you have to look to is yourself.”
A big thing from last week was making sure there was effort even when he wasn’t involved in the play. He watched film and saw his motor idle when the ball went the other way. The backside of a play, he said, is just as important. Even if you can’t make a play on the ball, you still have a job to do and Stille felt like he wasn’t living up to that.
So it’s probably fitting that his sack on Saturday came when he was doing his job on a play that wasn’t designed for him to get at the quarterback.
“I was just a contain rusher on that play and really I almost lost contain on that, which was an issue,” he said. “The quarterback was just getting out of the pocket really quickly, I don’t know if he got pressure from the outside but he was really flushing my way fast, I just did what I could do to grab him and my hand kind of stuck him.”
Stille had three tackles — including his third-quarter sack on a first-and-10 and another tackle for loss — and two pass break-ups. It’s not always about the sacks, he says, but if you’re doing what you’re supposed to and you’re getting in the quarterback’s headspace and getting around his throwing arm, you’re going to make him uncomfortable and good things are going to happen.
He’s taken a lot in that regard from defensive line coach Mike Dawson, who he says has brought an NFL mindset to the room when it comes to rushing the passer.
“We do pass-rush stuff every single day, knocking hands down, flipping our hips,” Stille said. “He doesn’t really preach certain hand moves — he’s not big on that — it’s really just get your rush started, go fast your first couple steps and then it’s just get the hands down any way possible. He’s not big on how you get them down, it’s just get them out of the way, flip your hips and go fast.”
In just his second year, Stille has plenty of growth left to make and plenty left to learn. Earning a Blackshirt is an accomplishment of a goal for him, but he doesn’t really seem to be giving himself any time to celebrate it.
“It means a lot,” he said. “It’s rewarding for the amount of work you put in, but it’s not the destination at all, you’ve got to earn it every day and keep showing you’ve earned it.”