The 2023 season — the first under new coach Matt Rhule — moved into its second phase on Monday as the Nebraska football team held its first practice of the spring.
After a couple months of working out and mental preparation, the Huskers finally got a chance to get on the practice field in front of their new coaches and compete in organized football activities.
“It was good to play football again,” senior linebacker Luke Reimer said. “You get used to just lifting weights and just running and you’re getting kind of tired of that, so it’s fun to get a change and do something different, especially when that different is football. That’s what we’re here for.”
Junior offensive lineman Ethan Piper said the winter conditioning period was designed to push the athletes to the limit and see who really wanted to be a part of the program moving forward. Numerous players have left the program since the end of the 2022 season and the coaching change, and Rhule provided another roster update on Monday.
“We have guys that are dogs,” Piper said. “It’s fun. You go out there and you know that everyone is going to work their tail off and you’re like, ‘OK, let’s rock and roll.’ It’s a different mindset of just having a little bit of confidence, a little swag. I always say if you just have swag confidence, the rest will come.”
Piper said he’s having more fun now than he ever has in his career, and this spring has brought a new sense of urgency for him as an upperclassmen who can see the end of his career on the horizon.
“It’s awesome,” Piper said. “The older you get, you realize how much less time you have, like, I’ve got two more years left and that’s the end of football. Just even being able to block people and being around the guys and stuff, you’re just in a good place. You’re just having fun. We call it having fun in the fire, like you’re sweating, you’re all sloppy and stuff, but you’re with the guys and there’s no better feeling, and then that just translates to your effort and playing together.”
Piper said Rhule has brought a “fun, competitive mindset” to the program and he sees his teammates cutting loose and embracing the fun. Look no further than the smiles on the players faces during the videos shared by the program’s Twitter account, Piper said.
The theme of most springs following a coaching change is “fresh start,” and the Huskers have embraced that, starting with the winter conditioning team competitions and carrying over to the practice field on Monday.
“Everybody’s got a clean slate,” Reimer said. “You just see who competes and who doesn’t, so it gives people like that, new people, just a really good chance to kind of show their stuff and just show how they compete, show how they work. So it really just kind of shows who’s in and who’s out. It’s really good for kind of a new staff and new team really to see who’s bought in and who isn’t.”
Piper is heading into his fourth spring at Nebraska, but even he felt like a newbie at times during the winter as the new staff incorporated their workouts and way of doing things.
“A lot of changes and change is an opportunity to get a fresh start, and I think a lot of people have that mindset,” Piper said. “I kind of felt like, especially during the spring, I had no idea what was going on. I kind of felt like a freshman, like ‘What’s the workout? What’s going to happen?’ It’s been good as a mindset because now you can kind of click the refresh button on how you want to play and evaluate yourself and change it for the better.”
Reimer said Rhule’s message to the team as the Huskers kicked off spring ball was simple: focus on being your best, and let the rest play out on its own.
“Just really challenging yourself to be to be your best self and just always striving to be better for yourself, not worrying about depth chart, not worrying about where you’re at with that, just pushing yourself and just giving every little bit of what you’ve got and then just getting better from there,” Reimer said.
Rhule has shared how much value he places in and enjoyment he derives from practice. Now after three months of recruiting, meeting players and coordinating workouts, his opportunity to get on the field and work directly with his new team has finally arrived, and the players appear to be embracing the fresh start.
The spring has just begun, and there’s plenty of work to do.
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.