At the nose tackle position, Nebraska has a Blackshirt-wielding junior in Mick Stoltenberg. After that, there are two true freshmen.
Before fall camp even started, Deontre Thomas looked out at the crowd that turned out for Nebraska’s Fan Day and was wowed by what he saw. “It just makes me happy and makes me want to play and make them happy and win,” he said of the support from the fans. Now, with the season opener against Arkansas State just a few days away, Thomas, and his buddy Damion Daniels, won’t just be playing, they’ll be seeing significant time.
“Those two are special,” linebacker Chris Weber said. And he’s not just talking about the frames – Thomas comes in at 6-foot-3, 280 pounds, while Daniels is listed at 6-foot-2, 310 pounds – but the attitudes.
“The way they’ve come in and put their heads down and made the most of their opportunities,” Weber said. “That’s what you love to see.”
For both guys, the opportunity came two weeks ago when Stoltenberg was sidelined with an injury.
“Some of them took advantage of opportunities where we weren’t real deep,” head coach Mike Riley said of his youngsters Monday, before explicitly referencing Thomas and Daniels. “They forged their way in, proved that they could be that guy and then were able to earn that spot on the depth chart where they would play.”
Where Stoltenberg is brute force, Thomas is quickness and mobility, then it’s back to pure strength with Daniels. Fire and ice, and fire again.
“They bring different things to the table,” Stoltenberg said. “Deontre is a little quicker, kinda more the pass rush guy. Damion, he’s a big plug in there in the ‘A’ gap.”
If and, really, whenever they want to, the Huskers and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco can switch things up on opposing offensive lines and throw out either of their two “monsters.”
“Physical monsters,” linebacker Mohamed Barry said of the co-No. 2 nose tackles. “They’re monsters. I’m talking about these kids are gonna be real good. [Defensive line] coach [John] Parrella did a great job in recruiting them. He had great taste when he recruited these athletes.”
Athlete feels like a good way to describe the pair. They’re both big, but they know how to use their size. Stoltenberg said there was no messing around once camp started, they were ready to go from the jump.
“I don’t know if I would have been ready to play right away, especially in the interior, the way they will,” he said. “They are really good competitors and are able to learn.”
There isn’t even one play that stands out either. No specific moment or blown-up play where the older guys have sat back in shock of what the two new guys are doing, and yet, they’ve still had “my goodness, these kids are freshmen” moments.
“I’m not sugarcoating it, they’re monsters and it’s great to see that play on the d-line, because you know when a d-lineman takes over, it looks amazing,” Barry said. “Like [former Husker Ndamukong] Suh and all them, it’s amazing.”
It’s probably too early to be comparing guys to a Heisman trophy-contending defensive tackle, but between Thomas and Daniels, they’re not hurting for love from their new teammates, or chances to play come Saturday for that matter.
“They both came in with the idea in their head they were going to play and contribute on Saturdays if things go well for them,” Stoltenberg said. “They will both end up doing that.”
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.