Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Donovan Raiola Puts Focus on Improvement for Huskers’ Offensive Line

February 22, 2023

When Matt Rhule was hired to lead Nebraska in late November, Donovan Raiola didn’t worry much about what would or wouldn’t be with his role on the team. The Huskers’ offensive line coach had been through change in his coaching career—the offensive line coach that brought him to the Chicago Bears was let go, for example—so he knew he could only control so much.

Rhule told him that the Huskers were interviewing other candidates, but that they’d keep Raiola looped in throughout the process. Raiola kept working, despite the uncertainty.

As it turns out, Raiola was the only coach that Rhule retained from Nebraska’s previous coaching staff. Rhule spoke about the decision in December, pointing toward the fact that the two come from a similar coaching tree and subscribe to the same offensive line philosophy. Raiola’s players—which included some even leaving Nebraska—also said nothing but positive things about their position coach when asked.

“I have never ever in my life asked all the guys at their position about their coach and not have one guy say they don’t love him,” Rhule said during his signing day press conference in December. “Even a young man that went into the portal that I have known since I recruited him at Baylor said, ‘I will stand on the table for that man.’ So that meant a lot to me coming from the players even a guy that is leaving saying I believe in him.”

It didn’t take any convincing to keep the Huskers’ offensive line coach in Lincoln either.

“This is a special place to us — to me and, you know, my family,” Raiola said when he met with the media on Wednesday. “And then being around these men, Coach Rhule and his staff  . . . It was a no-brainer for me.”

As for what the players had to say? Let’s just say Raiola isn’t one to give away too much in a press conference setting. When asked about his reaction to what those players said, Raiola directed the attention away from himself.

“Let’s keep improving,” Raiola said. “Improve our standards and just everything we do. Our process and everything we do, just focus on improvement.”

More news and notes:

>> Nebraska begins spring practice on March 20, and Raiola will continue looking for the best five in his room throughout that. He’s clear that the positions on Nebraska’s o-line are not decided.

“Every guy should be—and that now centers a little different—but every guy should be able to play tackle, guard or center, right?” he said. “When we go through this process, we’re working them all over the line.”

>> Speaking of that center position, Ben Scott—who transferred to Nebraska from Arizona State—is a player to keep an eye on for that position. However, he’s not the only one in the running.

“Well, first off, with the center question, that’s a special position,” Raiola said. “That’s a specialized position, right? You’re the brains, you, you set everybody, you make sure everyone’s on the same page, right? You’re looking for a guy that’s a natural leader that’s willing to get up there and communicate well and make sure everyone’s on the same page. That’s a special position to me. That’s a position I played.

“But just Ben’s experience, we don’t know where he is going to play at but he’s doing a great job with whatever we throw at him.”

>> A couple of key players have returned for the Huskers on the offensive line this spring. The first is Nouredin Nouili, who was suspended for the 2022 season. Raiola complimented Nouili for attending all meetings for Nebraska despite the position he was in.

Teddy Prochazka is also back following a season-ending injury in 2022. Like Nouili, he also attended every meeting through the time he missed on the field.

“Teddy’s one of the best teammates I’ve seen,” Raiola said. “He is just a great, great person and all our guys are like that in that room. I’m thankful for that. He’s been in every meeting. He didn’t miss and he’s just been doing a good job, staying engaged. It’s hard. You go through those things and as a young guy, you can think of different things that could sway you from not showing up every day.

“. . . Teddy’s engaged to the point where he’s helping guys out and coaching guys up.”

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