The topic of the week in Lincoln has been the awarding of the Blackshirts, and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco met with the media for the first time since handing out the 16 black jerseys on Monday afternoon.
“Pretty clear, pretty clean process,” Diaco said. “It’s a really exciting tradition. It’s pretty awesome that young people — young men in particular that we’re talking about here — aspire to be, and their goal is to carry the burden of accountability and responsibility of defending the hopes and dreams of the team, the university and the state of Nebraska. That’s pretty exciting, and that’s how I see it.”
College football is a tradition-rich sport and Diaco said the Blackshirt is one of the best traditions in the sport.
“They’re great,” Diaco said. “Things become tradition for a reason. People rally behind them. Most are riddled with success and that’s how they persist over time and become real.”
The Blackshirts will get their first test on Saturday against Arkansas State.
“Great offense, innovative system, awesome challenge for our defense,” Diaco said about the Red Wolves. “Strong perimeter players, really good quarterback play, the tight end’s a talented player and a matchup issue, and the way that they do their business, they know it inside and out. The head football coach and the offensive coaches have a great dynamic offensive system, they run it really well, they’ve outscored folks in their years and have had great success as a team led by their offense.”
Tight end Blake Mack is the team’s best weapon on offense. The 6-foot-3, 229-pound led the team with 652 yards receiving and averaged just under 20 yards per catch.
Quarterback Justice Hansen completed 57.9 percent of his passes for 2,719 yards and 19 touchdowns while tossing just eight interceptions as a sophomore last year.
Warren Wand led the rushing attack with 879 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground while averaging 4.4 yards a pop as a sophomore.
According to safeties coach Scott Booker, Nebraska has to be ready for whatever the Red Wolves throw their way.
“You have to make sure that as the defense as a whole you’re ready for basically anything,” Booker said. “I think they’ve shown to be an explosive offense the past few years under Coach [Blake] Anderson, so we’re ready for anything.”
The special teams units have to be ready as well, and wide receiver and primary kick returner J.D. Spielman said Booker has them fired up.
“The whole juice mentality… A lot of guys come in there like ‘I don’t want to play special teams; I want to start on offense or defense,” Spielman said. “But now that Coach Booker is here people actually want to be on special teams. You have people that already have starting jobs on offense or defense that still want to go and play on special teams. I have to give a lot of credit to Coach Booker for bringing that energy out.”
Spielman said that inspiration started right from the beginning. When Booker was introducing the special teams units, he showed some clips of the military to go with each one because their units are named based on certain military personnel.
“A lot of guys like war movies and stuff like that so that really hyped up a lot of players on the team, like ‘Oh yeah, this is going to be sweet.’”
However, Booker spread the credit around and said it starts right at the top.
“[Special teams are] just as important — no more important — than offense and defense,” Booker said. “It’s just as important, and that’s from the top down, really, Coach [Mike] Riley and then it’s facilitated through all the coaches including myself and then the players. Hopefully on a daily basis they know how important it is for everybody to be locked in on special teams and if we get that done, we’ve got a chance.”
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.