With linebacker and team captain Nick Henrich ruled out for the season last week, the Huskers turned back to a true freshman linebacker.
Ernest Hausmann, who started a couple games early in the season but eventually saw his playing time drop back down, was launched back into a starting role for the game against No. 17 Illinois.
Nebraska lost, and Hausmann’s two assisted tackles don’t stand out on the box score. However, defensive coordinator Bill Busch liked what he saw.
“There was never a time after the game where you said like ‘Well, the issue was Nick Henrich was out,'” defensive coordinator Bill Busch said at Wednesday’s press conference. “That means Ernest played very well. Especially for a true freshman.”
Hausmann feels he’s progressed well in his first season at the college level, and he’s learned more with each game.
“I think the area I’ve grown most in is just understanding the game of football. Each week, there’s a lot of new things that’ll be presented to me,” Hausmann said. “Just having a better understanding of each defensive call and just knowing where the offense is going to try and attack us and it’s been really helping me out and allowed me to play more fast.”
The growth for the linebacker hasn’t exactly been the cleanest. He quickly found his way onto the field with Scott Frost at head coach to begin the season, securing three tackles in the season opener against Northwestern. The next week against North Dakota, he made his first start with Henrich out, becoming the fifth true freshman to start at linebacker for the Huskers in the last three decades.
He made six tackles in the win, then seven the next week starting against Georgia Southern. After that, Frost was fired and Henrich returned to the lineup, limiting the opportunities for him to play. While he did see the field against Oklahoma, Indiana and Rutgers, a single tackle was the only stat he recorded.
While part of his lack of playing time was due to the usual starters being at full health, the coaching staff also wanted to see more from him. Interim head coach Mickey Joseph said that he had to learn to rely on his technique, given that he was no longer the best player on the field as he was in high school.
“We are proud of Ernest. We had Nick (Henrich) and Luke (Reimer) out there, and Ernest was not coming along like we wanted him to, but he kept getting better every day in practice,” Joseph said. “He kept getting mental reps and when he got in he took advantage of his reps, so we are happy with where Ernest is at right now.”
Hausmann understood the coaching staff’s decisions, and said he got through it by just trusting the process.
“It’s a business here playing college football,” he said. “You are going to put your best 11 out there that they think are going to put themselves in the best position to win a football game. You just learn that you don’t take that personally. That’s how it is. Stay the process and be the best supporter of your teammates and your football team.”
That culminated in a successful start against the Illini. Joseph said Hausmann has been communicating better on the field and speaking with more confidence.
Busch credited the growth to both Hausmann’s own preparation and linebackers coach Barrett Ruud.
“A lot of credit goes to his coach, coach (Barrett) Ruud, to get a true freshman ready to go and play in that type of game, which you know, your main adjustment was your chin strap,” Busch said. “Great on both their parts, coach Ruud and Ernest deserve a lot of credit for how they’ve handled themselves and been able to get things done so we expect a big week out of him again. He’s starting to mature and he’s played a lot now, really not a freshman anymore, but very proud of him.”
With the strong rushing offenses the Huskers will continue to face in the coming games, Hausmann enters a crucial role in a challenging stretch. Between his own role fluctuating, the team going through a coaching change and holding a 3-5 record, many things have shifted in Hausmann’s first year of college football. Regardless, he’s aiming to keep the same attitude from day to day.
“It’s been a lot. A lot of ups and downs for sure, but each day you have to put your best foot forward,” Hausmann said. “There is a lot of guys out there counting on you. We have a great fan base here. Despite what you are feeling, you’ve got to just show out.”