LINCOLN, Neb. — Coach Scott Frost never thought he'd see it. Senior defensive lineman Mick Stoltenberg with an interception, but it happened in the final moments of Nebraska's 54-35 win over Illinois on Saturday.
“I saw the ball was kind of a duck, I guess," Stoltenberg said. "It was a pretty slow ball. I tried to highpoint the ball as high as I could jump, which isn’t very high, and I think I came down with it, so that’s awesome."
There was a little bit of a scare following the play. Stoltenberg's knee was twisted as he was tackled, and he "thought something might have popped." Memorial Stadium gasped at the replay as he laid on the ground, but Stoltenberg was back on his feet in no time.
And as Stoltenberg walked to the sideline under his own power, teammates lept on to him.
"I’m thrilled for him and it was great to see him get up and run off the field," Frost said.
Stoltenberg has been with the Nebraska program since 2014. The Gretna, Nebraska, native was recruited by Bo Pelini and spent one season as a redshirt in Pelini's system. He then spent the next three with Mike Riley, which required a change from a 4-3 defensive base to a 3-4 in 2017. By the end of his junior season, Stoltenberg was facing his third head coach during his collegiate career and another learning curve. Stoltenberg took it in stride.
That's why it's not a surprise to learn Stoltenberg addressed the team following the win over Illinois. Frost stood back and watched, realizing he wouldn't need to step in. Stoltenberg and the seniors had it covered.
As for Stoltenberg's message?
"I just told the team I’m really proud of them, the way they prepared these last few weeks," Stoltenberg said. "They really have practiced harder. I know you guys hear that all the time and might sound like clichés and coach-speak and what not, but the sense of urgency really has been heightened. Just from my perspective, I can speak specifically, for the defense as well, guys really have been practicing hard. I think we can continue to keep this rolling and then carry some momentum into the offseason."
There's something to be said about Stoltenberg and his fellow seniors wanting to set the team up for success in the future. They may never experience some of those milestones personally, like a Big Ten Championship title, but they want to be part of the group that put the team on the right path.
“We just have a really good opportunity here to win a couple games and set this thing in the right direction," senior linebacker Luke Gifford said after Stoltenberg's address to the team. "We’re excited for what these guys can do in the future and as seniors, as leaders, we want to be able to set the tone and help these guys get on the right path.”
There's two weeks left of Nebraska's season and Stoltenberg doesn't "think anyone is going to take their foot off the gas." He expects everyone to work just as hard for these next two games as they have every game before.
There's been a lot of change in the careers of players like Stoltenberg. Their time at Nebraska may not have gone as expected, but they know they were part of something bigger.
For Frost, that means continuing to play for and honor the seniors. Because it's the seniors, like Stoltenberg, that have helped shape the future of his Nebraska football team.
"The young guys want to see the old guys succeed on the way out and the old guys are excited about where the young guys are going to take this," Frost said. "That shows you what type of team it’s becoming.”
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.