Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Multiple Sports Collaborate to Make Football Team’s Inaugural Husker Olympics Happen

March 12, 2023

Football coach Matt Rhule spoke at halftime of a December 10 Nebraska basketball game inside Pinnacle Bank Arena. Barely two weeks on the job, he stirred Husker fandom for the first time since his official introduction. That appearance lent credence to Rhule’s words from that introduction.

“You are going to see us at the local diner. That is who we are,” Rhule said. “We are not going to live in seclusion. We want to be a part of this community. I want players who want to do the same thing.”

Rhule and his coaching staff have attended multiple Nebraska basketball games and gymnastics meets. They’ve gone out to eat in downtown Lincoln, promoting places in the Haymarket, along O Street and eating at the same place at the same time as Lincoln Mayor Gaylor Baird. This football team bridges previous gaps between themselves and other athletic programs. The first annual Husker Olympics last week marked the latest chapter in that outreach. Connections are an important part of Rhule’s moral fabric and his staff shares that belief. Rhule stresses accountability as part of his program’s culture. Words carry weight even with an insanely hectic work schedule.

Back on January 27, Rhule and Omar Hales, director of player personnel, were sitting with a few football players at the lunch table when Husker tennis player Sam Alicea told them the tennis team played Western Michigan at 4 p.m. that day. She then invited them to attend. The head football coach and athletic director Trev Alberts went to the home opener. Rhule estimated out of the 125 recorded in attendance, another 27 of them were football players. They all cheered the Huskers’ victory.

“We’re going to be there to support the other student-athletes,” Rhule said. “We’re going to be there to support the students on campus. Anyway that we can help in the community, we’re going to do it. Not because it’s our job but because it’s what good people do, and there’s a lot of good people.”

The head football coach isn’t afraid to say hello to other coaches and and athletes in other sports when he sees them in the athletic facility. During winter workouts, coaches decided they wanted to make the Husker Olympics happen. They reached out to the beach volleyball staff, women’s golf, soccer coaches and cleared basketball courts. They even asked the Lincoln Stars if they’d accommodate a hockey portion.

The Husker Olympics commenced across campus. Husker football standouts also competed in casual games like bags, table tennis and pickleball when not at Hendricks or Hawks. Athletes from the other sports helped coach along the football players. Some of them already know each other from high school. For example, golfer Megan Whitaker is from Elkhorn South so she knows a few Huskers from home.

“It’s nice to have them here, they’re definitely all in on Nebraska,” women’s golf coach Jeanne Sutherland said. “All in on all the sports. It’s a pretty fun atmosphere, honestly.”

Sutherland said a few of the football players drove the ball well but she wasn’t ready to offer them a future in golf. She was named Nebraska golf coach back in May. She’d spent the previous season as associate head coach for the Huskers following 10 seasons at SMU and 15 at Texas A&M. This last week provided something unique in all her years of collegiate coaching.

The inaugural Husker Games provided a unique experience for the Husker soccer team. John Walker is the only head coach in Nebraska soccer history. While relationships between football and soccer players aren’t new, a collaborated coaching effort was. Walker said the football staff approached him about a soccer skills competition. They worked on headers, dribbling and penalty kicks. Walker said, “it was a lot of fun for both teams.”

At one point this offseason, Rhule brought up how he missed the communal atmosphere of college athletics. The NFL is the highest level of football in the world. But it doesn’t offer that inter-sport community. At the start of “Team Competition Week,” a few days before the inaugural Husker Olympics, Rhule thanked the winter sports programs and athletes. Along with fans and staffers, Rhule broke potential barriers and acknowledged the hard working staffs and athletes in the other sports.

“I want to thank the winter sports,” Rhule said last Monday. “It’s been pretty cool watching Silas (Allred) win the Big Ten championship yesterday in wrestling, watching men’s and women’s basketball, beach volleyball, just all the sports, watching them compete. I know our team has probably seen more sports competitions this winter than they have previous, and I think it’s really good to be part of this campus community, athletic community.”

This week marks spring break. When the Huskers return to the athletics facility, they’ll start their spring season. And they won’t be the only ones.

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