Lamar Jackson was the first player at the podium following Nebraska’s 27-24 loss to Iowa. The senior had just played his final game as a Husker and his message was one of “no regrets.” Because he doesn’t have any, even if things didn’t exactly go according to plan during his time at Nebraska.
“I feel like Nebraska, the culture, the people that have been here throughout my life, my teammates, I feel like everything was genuine, everything was real, everyone taught me something,” Jackson said. “I learned a lesson through it all, through all the hard times, through all the good times. At the end of the day, even though the outcome was what it was, it’s some of the most fun I’ve had my whole career, playing for my brothers.”
It still sucks, he’ll admit that, but he “can’t change the outcome.” So he chooses to be grateful.
That doesn’t mean it’s not hard to watch Jackson stand at a podium, passionately pumping his arms as he speaks. He wants to believe Nebraska is the team it was sold as in the offseason. He wants to believe Nebraska can win the West and challenge for a Big Ten title. He wants to believe a bowl game is possible and everything else is still out there for Nebraska.
And it is. It just isn’t for this team. Not the one Jackson is part of, at least.
“We all know it’s coming,” Coach Scott Frost said post-game. “The guys in the locker room know it’s coming, the coaches know it’s coming. There’s no timetable for it. Sometimes it happens quicker than you think, sometimes it takes a little longer. I know we’re doing the right things and getting the right guys in here, developing guys the right way, and it’s coming.”
Frost points to the close games. Nebraska was in six of those this year, but went 2-4.
“Sometimes a little bit of confidence, a little bit of momentum, one more guy, one more play,” Frost said. “There’s about four games you can point to one play and say if that play is different, that game’s different. We still have a long way to go, and at the same time, when you come up one play short in several games, you’re not that far away either.
“It’s coming and I think people recognize that, and we’ll make sure the recruits recognize that, too.”
And so players like Jackson, who just took the field for the final time at Memorial Stadium, have to trust in that. Not for themselves anymore, but for the future of Nebraska.
“You have to take his word for it,” Jackson said. “I mean at the end of the day, he tells us the same message but we feel it. We practice, we put the work in, we sweat, we feel it. It isn’t like Coach is just saying and talking [and we’re] like, ‘What is coach talking about?’ We feel it, we’re close and we lose games [but] we’re close.
“We just lost by a kick, the defense played lights out, we just lost by a kick. You should see it, we’re close, you have to believe it, you have to see it, you have to feel where everybody is coming from, including the coaches.”
Jackson, for better or worse, has joined a list of seniors who know where Nebraska is going but will have to watch from the sidelines when it gets there. Guys like Mick Stoltenberg, who stood in the crowd at the Unity Walk on a cold Black Friday yelling in support of the players that walked by. Guys like Luke Gifford, who stood at the podium post-Iowa 372 days ago trying to make sense of the 31-28 loss, choosing to look ahead for Nebraska.
“I’m so happy for these guys,” Gifford said at the time. “They are going to win a ton of games here and I’m thankful for them. The way they’ve embraced us and looked up to us as captains. They are good kids, they work hard.
“Coach Frost is awesome and I can’t wait to come back to watch them.”
It’s a position that doesn’t come with much glory. It doesn’t come with the championships and the rings, or the bowl game swag. It’s a necessary role however, one that hopefully gets those behind you where they want to go.
Frost seems aware of that. When asked about the place these seniors will hold in Husker history, Frost shared his hope that it’s one where they feel they can come back to it any time.
“Every guy that I’ve ever played with or been around with that played here, loves Nebraska, loves Nebraska people, loves the university and loves the football program,” Frost said last Monday. “It becomes your second family. These guys are all going to leave and I hope they feel the same way. They’ve done a lot of the work that we needed to put in to get Nebraska football back where it should be. I’m grateful to them for it.
“We’ll welcome them with open arms any time they want to come back and be around.”
Jackson’s journey at Nebraska was hardly what he expected when he signed his National Letter of Intent in 2016. He’s known multiple head coaches at Nebraska and has had his fair share of ups-and-downs. Somewhere along the way, he settled in to a player Frost would have loved to coach for four years.
Maybe that’s what makes it tough. Not knowing what could have been with just a little more time. But Jackson doesn’t have more time, so he did what a guy like Gifford did just 372 days ago.
Jackson stood at a podium after a loss to Iowa, looking forward to the future of Nebraska football and what can be for a team he’s now an alum of.
“Enjoy everything you do, do it with a purpose,” Jackson said. “As long as we keep that rolling through the offseason, this thing is going to get flipped faster than anybody can expect.
“I have all respect and I have all confidence that it’s going to happen.”
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.