Luke McNitt took a little bit longer to walk off Tom Osborne Field Friday night.
The 56-14 season-ending loss to Iowa was on his mind, certainly, but the senior fullback was thinking about other things too as he walked off one last time. He thought about the disappointment of a 4-8 season, the pain of all the losing down the stretch. But he also thought about the bright spots – redshirt freshman JD Spielman, a young defense that he sees only getting better with time. He choose to think about the positive rather than all the negative.
“When you start your senior season way back in fall camp, this isn’t the way you want it to go, but I think there’s a lot of bright spots for the future,” he said after the game. “I think these guys can really start to grow.”
Elsewhere, senior kicker Drew Brown was walking off the field, thinking something of the same. He thought about wanting to be a Husker from the day he was born, thought about how that chapter of his life is over now and thought about everything he’d been through, both this season and before it.
He said he’ll remember the fight the most.
“Just when everything started to go wrong, this season in particular, we just kept working, we kept coming back, we stayed motivated,” Brown said. “It takes a lot to be able to come to work every day and put the shoulder pads on and say let’s go at it, let’s watch film, let’s lift weights, whatever. We take excitement in that.
“It had to happen. If we didn’t decide to come to work, we probably would have lost all our games by 100 points. We did everything we could to prepare, we did everything we could in practice to game plan and watch film and lift and sometimes it just doesn’t happen.”
It didn’t happen a lot for the Huskers this season. Eight losses is something no one in this senior class envisioned heading into the year. Everyone talked about competing for a Big Ten championship back in August. “It’s easy to be down in times like this,” McNitt said, but the departing players seem to have an eye toward the future.
McNitt, along with countless other seniors said this season can’t be forgotten. It has to be used. Linebacker Chris Weber wants the team to remember the struggles next summer when they’re training. Corner Chris Jones said guys need to keep this feeling in their minds. Brown said to keep that chip on their shoulders.
“It’s not fun being a senior and not having a chance to go to a bowl game and ending the season losing six of your last seven games,” Brown said. “Certainly, we’re not going into a game anticipating to lose or anything like that, we’re working our butts off and they need to keep doing that.
“But they need to work even harder this offseason than they did the past offseason. They’ve got to come the next season with a chip on their shoulder and do everything they can to send the senior class out on a great note. I think that’s good motivation for them.”
McNitt said the same.
“Guys just have to throw in the fire,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of fire this season. That can make you better moving forward. I think a lot of guys on this team will use that.”
Maybe that outlook has come from head coach Mike Riley. Maybe that will be his lasting impact on Nebraska when it’s all said and done, reshaping the program’s culture. McNitt said he “owes everything” to Riley and almost every senior said the same of their coach: he made them a better person. But the wins have to come, too. McNitt said those are coming. Later on down the line this senior group will be able to look back at what they built, a foundation for how to do it the right way.
“It might not be so easy right now to look back and be proud,” he said, “but I think a lot of us seniors, in some time, will be able to look back and be proud of what we accomplished here.”
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.