At Gate 3, in the southwest corner of Memorial Stadium, fans waited. A line that stretched out and around the entire south end of the stadium began with a man who drove from Omaha to show up at the Huskers’ front steps at 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning.
Fan Day didn’t begin until 6:30 p.m.
Eight-thousand-plus showed up for the annual meet-and-greet with Nebraska players, staff and head coach. Scott Frost’s line went from his post inside the Husker weight room, out and down the east sideline of Tom Osborne Field, back up the ramp towards the southeast corner of the stadium and out into the campus.
In that crowd was Rich and Tawni Nastase and their son, Joren.
“This is actually my first fan day. I’ve never come down to this before,” Rich said. “But we come down for the games every year, every home game.”
Tawni, Rich’s wife, has been to a Husker fan day, however. Naturally, this one felt different. Newcomers were mixed in with veteran players because there's just too many to separate. Lines for position groups snaked around sometimes two and three times.
“The atmosphere’s a little different, the environment is different because, of course, it’s Scott Frost,” she said. “Everybody’s excited to see what he’s going to bring this year.”
Rich will tell you they don’t follow analytics and they don’t know who the third-string defensive end is going to be, but they care about Husker football all the same. So much so that with baby No. 5 on the way, they made the trip from their home in Omaha with a special request for the new head coach.
Their baby is due on Nov. 8. The nursery is all ready for the arrival. They have a special infant-sized letterman jacket with white sleeves, a black body and a giant red N. Tawni wore a shirt Saturday evening with two baby handprints on it and the words “Quarterback in Training.” All that’s left is a shadow box that will hang near the crib.
They made a onesie, complete with the Husker N and “Team Nastase” on the front, the family name and No. 5 on the back. The goal was for Frost to sign it. Then it would go into the shadow box.
But, they didn’t get to camp out like others. Rich didn’t show up hours before to reserve a spot. He had to work. They didn’t get to the stadium until 6 p.m.
“We were at the Maha Festival before we got here. I work for First National Bank of Omaha and we were kind of doing some sunglass handouts for the festival,” Rich says. “We were trying to get here as soon as we could but things kind of ran a little bit over and we found ourselves towards the back of the line.
“We actually started out back towards the gates and we were probably about 100 people back. Right when we were about four or five people from the gate, [a staffer] came out the first time and said, ‘I’m not trying to douse your hopes but you’re probably not going to get in here at this point, but you’re welcome to stay.’
Which they did. All night in fact. They left without a single player autograph. And despite several other staffers saying their shot of seeing Frost was slim, Rich stayed in line. They jumped out a couple times for Joren to run on the field and experience the atmosphere but hopped back each time.
“We were kind of hoping to get lucky,” he says.
The family was in a group of close to 100 who were cut off at 8:30 p.m. when the team had to leave for meetings. There was probably some disappointment there, but it didn’t really show. Optimism remained where there should have been frustration. Joren didn’t have a player in mind he wanted to see; he wanted to meet Frost.
“There’s plenty of other opportunities down the road,” Rich said.
They’ve already gotten lucky, too. Rich knows about Central Florida. He knows about the turnaround in Orlando, about the fact that Frost’s resume is as glowing as a head coach could want.
“The fact that he had the tutelage under Tom Osborne says a lot,” Rich says. “He obviously has that type of old-school mindset. We’re able to know that he’s not worried about the glitz and the glam, he doesn’t care about that stuff. He cares about winning it right. That’s the thing. This guy has a drive attitude. He’s been under a winning coach, he knows winning and he’s experienced winning.
“And he’s a good guy. He’s down-to-Earth and he seems to truly want to get the guys back into feeling proud about the program.”
In what has become an offseason of ever-intensifying hype, Rich and Tawni have remained realistic in their expectations for Year 1. They seem to just be happy to have the right guy leading the ship.
“It more than likely will be a building season and there are no expectations other than we just do better than we’ve done in the past and continue to get better,” Rich said. “We’re hoping that by the second season it’ll be [an] eight-win season, nine-win season, back where we need to be.
“I have a feeling Scott’s going to whip them into shape and bring them back to old-school Husker football and we’re going to be stomping on some throats.”
With only one Saturday left before Nebraska takes the field for the first time in 2018, there’s still plenty to look forward to. The Nastase family will be back in Lincoln soon to watch the Huskers and cheer for Frost and sooner or later, their little quarterback in training will get his special onesie.
One thing that seems to be in overabundance in Lincoln is hope.
“He’s definitely someone that we’re excited to see,” Rich says.
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.