There are only two jerseys in hanging in his office — his first Nebraska jersey and his Blackshirt — and this is a man who played in the National Football League on four different teams. In his will, Jay Foreman has asked to be buried in his Blackshirt. It’s a jersey he looks at every day. It invokes memories from practices during the 1997 season when he helped the Huskers to a third national championship in four years just as much as his redshirt freshman year in ’94.
“For me, coming in here I didn’t have any expectations for myself,” he told Hail Varsity on Monday. “I really didn’t know if I was going to last one day or one year or five years, to be honest with you. I was way behind. And I worked my ass off for it. It was something that was very special to me. I was fortunate enough to get one as a redshirt freshman, got challenged again (by) switching positions, earned it again and kept answering the bell.”
“I never came here thinking about being a semifinalist for the Butkus, being All-Conference. My main goal was that shirt right there.”
What he had to do to earn it, the way he pushed himself both physically and mentally, he says it still helps him as an adult.
That’s what he tried to impress on the 2019 Blackshirts.
Foreman was part of a group of former Husker defenders who were called up and asked for a favor. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander and head coach Scott Frost awarded Blackshirts Monday morning, but they weren’t just awaiting players in their lockers after practice, Frost wanted it to mean something more.
“So we got on the phone and got some of the Blackshirts that are in the vicinity to come to practice (Monday) and they kind of took turns coming up in front of the team and telling us what they thought it meant and what it stood for and then they presented the Blackshirts to the guys,” Frost said. “Some of them were my teammates, some of them were my good friends. They did an unbelievable job.”
Foreman awarded junior inside linebacker Collin Miller his Blackshirt. Miller’s position coach, Barrett Ruud, gave Mohamed Barry his Blackshirt. Fourteen in total were handed out, and, for the most part, each current player had a former to pass the shirt along (some guys presented a Blackshirt to multiple players).
The Kelsay brothers were called, so was Jason Peter and Steve Warren and Marc Munford and Tony Veland and Keyuo Craver and Zack Bowman. Kenny Wilhite, the team’s director of high school relations, was asked to be part of the morning. So was Foreman. Each guy addressed the rest of the defense for 20 or so seconds.
“You’ve got grown men up there getting emotional about it because when we went through it, that was serious,” he said. “You went through some shit.”
For a guy like Darrion Daniels, who is now a team captain and part of the Blackshirts’ brotherhood for life, the entire morning was a little surreal.
“I don’t know how to explain it, it’s just seeing them come back, it matters that much to them,” he said. “To want to spend time out of their day to come talk to us and to, in a way, pass the torch and hold us to the standard of the Blackshirts, it was great. It was real great just seeing that the tradition is that rich here.”
A handful of times since coming back, Frost has talked about Nebraska traditions needing to be picked up and dusted off and place back on the mantle. Foreman can think of a time in the not-so-distant past where the Blackshirts weren’t what they should be.
Either people within the program didn’t believe in what they stood for, or went out of their way to give a new interpretation.
Frost is different.
“I think they’re getting it,” Foreman said.
“The program’s in a good place obviously with Scott and them but I think when you have guys that are picking each other up, or pushing each other to do better, I think that’s where teams really start to take off and programs start to be very consistent. Where, regardless of who you are, when you come in as a freshman you know what the expectations are.”
And that, more or less, was the theme Monday morning. As cool as it was for the “old heads” (Foreman’s words) to be back around the defense, it wasn’t about them. It’s about the 14 guys who will take the field Saturday.
In that respect, the tradition seems in good hands.
Everything I’ve been working for right here!!! ☠️☠️☠️ pic.twitter.com/cVs3Q79S5t
— Collin Miller (@C_millz31) August 27, 2019
Been wanting a black shirt for four years now. Stay down til you come up… I’m Honored to have one 🙌🏾☠️
— King Quel (@HussleInSilence) August 26, 2019
“This year, you had the people that actually wore that shirt and did something with it,” Barry said. “Now, the shirt is not just a shirt. It comes to life. It’s a real thing, with the person who has worn it, a representative of all that went into that shirt. And he’s giving it to you, telling you, ‘You have to earn it every day.’”
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.