“They thought I did a hell of a job.”
That was the message that Trent Hixson relayed from his coaches when he learned that he had been placed on scholarship last week. The redshirt sophomore is in line to start at left guard when the Huskers take the field on Saturday.
“Trent’s been a starter since last spring,” offensive line coach Greg Austin said. “We’ve liked what we’ve seen from him really since we arrived. But with him now being the starter at left guard, we like what we’ve seen from Trent all the way from spring ball and that gave us confidence in what he could do. The spring really solidified him in that role. I think the scholarship is a byproduct of where he is on the depth chart. But certainly, I think he’s a good player at that position.”
After redshirting in 2017, Hixson played in four games off the bench last season. Once Jerald Foster’s eligibility ran out, Hixson slid into the first unit and has been there ever since. When Coach Scott Frost started looking at the scholarships he had left over at the end of fall camp, Hixson was the first walk-on that came to mind.
Austin said seeing one of his guys placed on scholarship “meant everything.”
“Trent’s been a guy that’s been working his tail off since I arrived,” Austin said. “He was here, from Omaha Skutt, and just an amazing kid. Played a couple of positions initially before we got here and then he settled in at guard inside.
“For him to get that scholarship, I was internally crying. I’m kind of a baby when it comes to that. I just love guys that come to a program, work their tails off and then get rewarded for their work. So many times guys come in and they don’t get rewarded for all of the hard work that they do. For him to get that scholarship, it made me intrinsically so proud for him. It gives him an opportunity long-term to not have to worry about student loan debt, so that’s a big deal.”
Hixson credited current and former teammates as well as his coaches for getting him to this point.
“Boe Wilson gave me tons of tips,” Hixson said. “Tanner Farmer from last year helped me out a ton. Just everybody, if they see something was wrong they try to fix it and try to help you out; that’s more for the summer. Then for fall camp and spring ball, it’s the coaches picking out little things that you need to work on.”
Hixson’s journey to a starting spot at Nebraska began at Omaha Skutt High School where he was a two-year starter for SkyHawk head coach and former Husker quarterback Matt Turman. Matt Vrzal, the offensive line coach coach and another former Husker, said they saw something special in Hixson early on.
“For us at Skutt, Trent definitely stood out because he was the tallest and the biggest,” Vrzal said. “So I almost had the mindset that if I don’t play this kid Turman’s going to get rid of me. He just had a look in his eye that he was just there to play football, he wanted to be really good at it and he was going to do everything he could to work to be great at it, and it was as advertised: he did literally everything that we could have asked of him.”
Hixson didn’t play a big role for the Class B powerhouse SkyHawks until his junior year, but he was already turning heads in practice even before then.
“He didn’t fear anybody there, which sometimes in football being the bigger kid is a nice luxury,” Vrzal said. “But his sophomore year, we had a good set of offensive linemen and we do a little one versus one exercise. He didn’t care: senior, junior, sophomore, whatever, if you wanted to get in the ring, he’d get in the ring. He would answer the bell. He doesn’t show much facial expression. He’s got a wry smile but he got one of the seniors pretty good. I said ‘Is that all you’ve got, Hixson?’ He looked over at me and gave me that little wry smile and he said, ‘I’ve got more.’ You knew he was a good ball player and a good kid.”
Hixson received scholarship offers from South Dakota and Air Force, but ultimately chose to take the same path Vrzal did: walking on at Nebraska.
“He had an offer for a little bit smaller school and they had said ‘We’ll leave room for you,’ so he wanted to explore all his options,” Vrzal said. “Well, when he went back to that school they said no, that’s gone. So he was just out. I said, ‘Well, you’ve got one option, and it’s a huge hill and the only thing you have to do is be better than every other player there.’ He goes, ‘Better than every other offensive lineman?’ I’m like, ‘Nope; you’ve got to work harder, work your ass off more than the corners, quarterbacks, safeties, the linebackers, D-linemen, receivers, the running backs, tight ends, all of them. You’ve got to out-work everybody, so that way every time they see film you just pop out on it. You have to catch their eye. You’ve got an opportunity and thats all you’ve got, so you have to go make the most of it.’”
Hixson redshirted his first year while working mainly at offensive tackle under Mike Riley’s staff, cracked the two-deep as a redshirt freshman in Scott Frost’s first season and then beat out multiple scholarship recruits for a starting spot as a sophomore. Hixson said he didn’t have a doubt that he’d earn a scholarship at some point.
“That was my goal,” Hixson said. “The new staff coming I think really helped me out because it kind of put everybody on an equal playing field. I think I got lucky in that aspect and then just working hard and doing what I was supposed to.”
Vrzal said he learned the news on Twitter while filling in as a guest host for The Gary Sharp Show on 1620 the Zone in Omaha.
“I had to stop talking for a little bit on the radio because I was like ‘Holy crap,’” Vrzal said. “You know how much I like to talk. I had to take a step back and I had to kind of adjust how I was going to say it because I have colorful language and I was about to let them all rip at one time. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was just so happy for him. His old man and I, we fire back at each other on Twitter every now and then, some direct messages, so I direct messaged him ‘Congratulations. I’m so happy for all of you.’ His’ dad’s response was like ‘Yep, we’re happy for him. We’ll see how he does this year.’ … That’s the family he comes from; they’re awesome people …
“I’m super happy for him and I give Coach Frost and Coach Austin and that whole staff credit for just assessing a kid that wants to play the game and wants to be great and rewarding him for all his hard work.”
Frost has made his appreciation for Nebraska’s walk-on program known from the day he was hired, and according to Hixson, that isn’t just lip service. Frost said he thought it might take more time for the rejuvenated walk-on program to pay dividends in terms of on-field impact, but he’s not surprised that Hixson was the first one to earn a scholarship.
"He deserves it and I hope this isn't the last one,” Frost said.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.