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Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska Football Embraces ‘Team Competition Week’ to Finalize Winter Workouts

March 08, 2023

For seven weeks during winter workouts, Matt Rhule and staff selected veteran players as captain of several teams. They earned points for community service and attending matches of other Nebraska programs—part of Rhule’s personal philosophy of being involved in the community. Teams also lost points for things like missing study hall or being late for team meetings. They’re collective steps taken to install Rhule’s vision of culture within the football program. That involves accountability for everyone. He’s learned the Huskers are a competitive group. So he set out steering their competition.

“You learn very quickly that your accountability, your ability to do what you say you are going to do, is really important,” Rhule said on Monday. “We want to be a team that when we play, we don’t beat ourselves, we’re measured against reward for what gets done. We’re rewarding guys for doing the right thing and going above and beyond.”

Special teams coordinator Ed Foley leads the competition. That sometimes involved re-drafting, including a final re-draft last Friday. Competitive players realized they can’t stay in their collective group. They need to branch out in order to optimize success. They created Twitter handles and attacked this week—team commitment week—with a fever.

‘It’s pretty important that guys start to realize ‘hey, if my physical ability can match my accountability, and that can be joined with availability, that I can be a pretty good player,’’ Rhule said. “We always want to talk about people’s physical ability or their recruiting or their production. That’s great but tell me how accountable they are, and tell me how available they are, and I’ll tell them if they are a good player or not. It’s a fun time for me.”

Thomas Fidone emerged as one of the leaders from winter competition. He arrived at Nebraska as the top tight end in the 2021 recruiting class. Back-to-back ACL injuries essentially shut down his production. He felt he was ready to play last year, he claimed some coaches did too. All were thwarted by the medical team. Fidone returned over 250 pounds and captained the winning offseason competition team. Rhule complimented Fidone, saying he was one of the best captains in terms of willing a team to victory in the head coach’s history of utilizing the offseason competition module. Fidone’s team pulled away for a convincing victory last week.

The Council Bluffs native has loved the offseason. Fidone likes the competition and camaraderie. He shared his belief on Monday that winter workouts stressed mentality more than physicality. It’s meant to push limits. Some left the program since workouts began. As someone who’s mentally strengthened himself through injury, he’s endured workouts and emerged a leader.

“Me being a captain, I thought I had to show them they picked a great captain and show them why I am going to be the best captain of captains that they picked,” Fidone said. “And I believe I did that, with my team winning. Obviously it’s not just because of me that we won, but I believe I had a big part in that.”

Newcomer Chief Borders impressed with his willingness to jump right in. He and Elkhorn South graduate Teddy Prochazka were the co-leading points earners during the competition. Rhule praised Borders’ willingness to help in the community while also staying ahead in school work.

“Me and a couple of my teammates were able to go to several different elementary schools and just give them an assembly,” Borders said. “We talked about bullying, standing up and being a leader, things of that nature. As a newcomer I felt it was important for me to get in the community and show my face, and give back to the community.”

Borders gave a shoutout to wide receivers coach Garret McGuire for helping push sleds in the snow on Tom Osborne Field last month. Coaches fed into the competition to build their physical attributes while drawing the team together. The physical work won’t be on display until spring practice or this fall. The community they’re building is fully on display this week.

Players wore shirts of their high school during workouts on Monday. It’s a small hat tip that allows athletes to support their high schools and potentially re-kindle old rivalries for a day. That’s something former Rhule assistant Joey McGuire implemented at Texas Tech. Their roster largely consists of Texas high school graduates. They wore their old colors to get one final round of bragging rights. After the workouts they build bridges and draw themselves closer. On Tuesday, Foley orchestrated point-gathering on Twitter, where the public can follow the final winter activities ahead of Spring Break and spring ball. Other optional team activities included a special team viewing of Creed III on Monday evening.

“There are team competitions every morning and there is optional team building activities at night,” Rhule said Monday. “It’s a great chance for us to get to know each other, not just as football players but as people.”

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