FREMONT, Nebraska — Offensive line coach Greg Austin, outside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator Mike Dawson and bowling coach Paul Klempa joined associate AD for football and event emcee Matt Davison to speak with a small collection of fans in Fremont on Wednesday as part of Nebraska’s Big Red Blitz statewide tour.
Stay tuned for plenty more from the event, but for now here are some highlights from each of the speakers’ time with the microphone.
Davison got things started with some updates on a few recent developments around the athletic department.
>> Name, image and likeness legislation is set to kick in on July 1 in certain parts of the country, and Nebraska encouraged fans to follow student-athletes on all forms of social media as a way to support them. Davison said the student-athletes being able to make some money off their likeness is good in itself, but navigating through everything that comes along with that should also help prepare the student-athletes for life after college.
>> Davison also provided an update on the Go BIG Project, referencing that Nebraska’s new facility is nearly 300,000 squat feet which is more than twice the size of Clemson’s state-of-the-art facility, which Davison toured early in the planning process for the Go BIG project. Unlike Clemson, Nebraska decided to expand the facility beyond just the football program, creating space for study areas and training tables for Nebraska’s various sports programs in addition to the football team.
Klempa called Fremont a great bowling town, referencing former Husker bowler Terry Synovec who owns 30 Bowl, Fremont’s bowling center. After giving a bit of background information on himself (he’s a Nebraska alumnus who served as an assistant under former coach Bill Straub before taking over in 2019), Klempa ran through a brief recap of his team’s season that ended with another national championship.
>> Nebraska didn’t win a single event during the regular season, finishing second or third at everything. However, Klempa was happy with the team’s progress and felt good as the Huskers headed into the postseason as the No. 2 seed.
>> Nebraska dropped its first match of the double-elimination tournament against a school Klempa “had never heard of.” He called it a disaster. To make matters worse, the team’s bus driver wasn’t there when they tried to leave to go get lunch because of a miscommunication. They walked through the rain to the nearest restaurant to get something to eat and then had to eat outside because of COVID-19 regulations.
“It was a comedy of errors,” Klempa said. “It was just awful. That’s how our national championship started.”
The Huskers rallied from there, winning their afternoon match, then knocking off the team that beat them, then outlasting Vanderbilt in an eight-hour grudge match that went down to the final frame in order to advance to the final four. The Huskers worked their way through the final four and took home the trophy.
“In a year like this when things were so difficult for all of us, for us to be able to bring home a national championship to Husker nation was outstanding. I didn’t see it coming. I knew we were good, but you just don’t know how things are going to work out.”
>> Klempa said the team’s only senior has chosen to take advantage of her extra year of eligibility so he’s bringing everyone back including the NTCA Bowler of the Year in Crystal Elliott and two other All-Americans. He’s added one recruit and could still add one more before the season.
Austin cited consistency and accountability as the major focuses for the team during the spring, then provided a position-by-position update on the offense.
>> At wide receiver, Austin mentioned Levi Falck, Oliver Martin, Samori Toure and even Alante Brown as guys stepping into leadership roles. He said the wideouts had been dialed in, especially with their blocking responsibilities in the run game.
>> At running back, Austin said the group is young and talented and thinks the depth chart will shake itself out in the fall. He mentioned Gabe Ervin, Markese Stepp and Marvin Scott III in particular.
>> At tight end, Austin praised the leadership of Austin Allen and Travis Vokolek. He said aside from quarterback, tight end might be the toughest position to master in their offense because of the various responsibilities, and he said they’re asking the tight ends to spend more time in pass protection to help keep the quarterbacks upright.
>> At quarterback, Austin praised Adrian Martinez’s growth in terms of consistency, command presence, leadership and efficiency. He also mentioned Logan Smothers as someone doing a good job.
>> At his own position — the “fat boys” — Austin offered thoughts on 12 different guys. Check back later for a deeper dive into his comments there.
Dawson said seeing the defense grow through the “weird, jacked up season” was interesting. He said he saw significant progress from the first four games to the last four as an increase in physicality turned third-and-shorts into more third-and-mediums or third-and-longs later in the season.
Dawson also ran through the different levels of the defense, offering thoughts on each.
>> Dawson said the defensive line is getting bigger and stronger, and opposing coaches are noticing. Dawson said he’s friends with some offensive line coaches who mentioned the transformation to him. He highlighted Ben Stille’s importance; choosing to come back fro another year after a full career is not an easy decision, but Stille wants to help get the switch flipped and turn the program around.
>> Dawson said while Travis Fisher did lose Dicaprio Bootle to the NFL Draft, he also returned two super seniors in safeties Marquel Dismuke and Deontai Williams as well as Cam Taylor-Britt who likely had professional opportunities on the table as well.
>> At inside linebacker, Dawson said they have some young guys that are becoming older quickly. After splitting time between inside and outside ‘backer last season, Nick Henrich was working on the interior during the spring and will likely stay there following Will Honas’ injury.
>> At his own position, Dawson touched on the different kinds of outside backers in their defense, the nickel types like JoJo Domann and the EDGE defenders like Garrett Nelson. Check back later for a deeper look at Dawson’s room.
>> Dawson said they’re holding an open competition at every position on special teams. That includes place kicker, where Dawson wants the younger guys in the room to push the returning Big Ten Kicker of the Year, Connor Culp.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.