Twenty departing high school seniors signed letters of intent in 2017 to come play for Nebraska. Two of those guys never made it. Ten others have transferred. Brenden Jaimes is the only one from the class that will go through a Senior Day ceremony on Saturday when Nebraska hosts Minnesota.
He’s a true senior. Four years in, four huge roles on four different teams. During his first year on campus, then-coach Mike Riley and the staff considered a redshirt; Jaimes says he got to Nebraska weighing 265, 270. “I feel like I came from a pretty good high school,” Jaimes said Monday. “I feel like my technique was, for the most part, there.” But freshmen don’t start on the offensive line.
And certainly not 265-pound freshmen.
“It’s pretty difficult to block someone across from you who’s 6’6, 280, and can run a 4.4,” he said. “The defensive lines in the Big Ten, I think, have some of the best athletes in the country, and they’re only getting better, so to be that light and to be as weak as I was back when I was a freshman, it was very difficult. … Playing at 265, 270 in the Big Ten is not what I would call an ideal situation for an offensive tackle.”
But Jaimes did it.
And not only did he get into the game, Jaimes started the final nine at right tackle. When he made his debut—a week four win over Rutgers at home—Jaimes became just the fifth true freshman offensive lineman to start at Nebraska and only the 11th Husker offensive lineman to play as a true freshman. Jaimes’ nine starts became a new school record for a true freshman offensive lineman.
Fast forward three years and some change and Jaimes has a new record.
On Saturday against Purdue, he made his 39th consecutive start. No offensive lineman in program history has started more.
Consider the air he currently finds himself in. Nebraska has a center alum that was so good during his playing days the annual award for the best center in college football bears his name. Nebraska has Outland Trophy winners and All-American honors for days. Aaron Taylor earned All-American status at two different positions.
Ask a Husker fan for their top five offensive linemen in program history. You might get into an argument because by the time you get to No. 4 or 5 you might feel criminal for the folks you’ll have to leave out.
This is a program with The Pipeline standard by which lines are judged. This is a program known for domination in the trenches.
Don’t think for a second the significance of Jaimes’ record is lost on the Austin, Texas, native.
“I came to Nebraska to be a part of an offensive line tradition, and to be a part of that tradition now is just something that I’m forever grateful for,” he said.
“It has been a long 39 games, I’ll say that. Did I see myself starting 39? No, honestly. … Obviously, I made freshman error mistakes, but, for the most part, I feel like I held my own and then every year after that was just continuing to be a better version of myself on and off the field. I think that’s really what helped me become who I am today. I didn’t do this by myself. I had a lot of older guys until I became the older guy who helped me along the way. Without them I don’t think that would be possible.”
Jaimes credited former teammates David Knevel, Tanner Farmer, and Nick Gates for teaching him what it took. Those guys showed him a standard, and then Jaimes raised the bar.
“He’s got a standard and his standard is across the board for everyone,” said fifth-year senior guard Matt Farniok. “When you don’t live up to that standard, he’s going to let you know, whoever you are. He’s a guy that is obviously a tremendous player. He’s a veteran. He knows what he’s doing. He knows the calls. But he’s also helpful for the younger guys and he helps lead them. He’s the guy that if you mess up and you’re doing the wrong thing, he’ll let you know because he doesn’t want anyone to fall underneath the standard that he has for.”
Greg Austin, Nebraska’s offensive line coach, has loved having Jaimes in the room. Austin said this offseason Jaimes turned down an NFL opportunity to come back for his senior season. At the time, Austin was pushing Jaimes to be one of the best left tackles in the Big Ten.
Now, It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows this season. Jaimes hasn’t become a sure-fire All-Big Ten kind of tackle, and Nebraska’s line hasn’t necessarily been what was expected. But no one watching Nebraska this year has thought, “Jaimes is an issue over there at left tackle.” If anything, Jaimes has been the steadying presence for a group in flux. According to PFF’s numbers, Jaimes has allowed the fifth-lowest pressure rate among Big Ten tackles (1.9%).
You can bet Austin would want another year with his stalwart left tackle.
Jaimes can make the NFL wait another year if he so chooses. With the NCAA freezing eligibility, he could return for a fifth year. That’s a conversation for after the season, though, Jaimes said.
Maybe you can find a sliver of insight into what Jaimes might decide next by going back to the decisions he made at the end of 2017 and 2019.
He chose Riley and Cavanaugh. He inherited Scott Frost and Austin. No one would have really held it against him if he decided to look for a new home during the transition or start his pro career after the two losing seasons that followed. Jaimes certainly doesn’t hold ill will toward guys like Tristan Gebbia or Avery Roberts, two classmates from 2017 playing for Oregon State.
But he wanted to show he valued loyalty. He had no reason to transfer, he said.
“I put a lot of trust in Coach Frost and his coaching staff and I’m glad that they are the staff that came,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine a better coach than Coach Austin. He’s a main reason why I stayed. I love playing for him. I love being coached by him. I love being with him every single day.”
That’ll make the line coach happy. Might even be enough to make the coach-player duo a little emotional when Saturday morning finally arrives.
But Jaimes can point to the standard, too, when he wonders “Why Nebraska?” He doesn’t have some of the individual accolades he might have hoped for, no All-American honors or Outland Trophies to showcase on the mantle, but he can say he was part of something bigger.
“I wanted to come to Nebraska to be at Nebraska and be a part of a tradition like no other,” Jaimes said. “And I feel like I’ve done that.”
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.