Nebraska has to replace three seniors who have played a lot of football on the offensive line, including one captain in Jerald Foster and one of the best quotes on the team in Tanner Farmer.
Developing leadership in that room will be a focus for offensive line coach Greg Austin and the Huskers this spring. The Huskers are short on seniors with playing experience, so that places the burden of leadership onto some of the underclassmen who will be filling prominent roles come the fall across the entire team.
“You’ve got a true sophomore quarterback; that guy’s still learning, even in the role that he’s in,” Austin said. “I’m not going to go into any other position, but a good example. We don’t have a senior leader on offense, so we’re going to have to ask guys that are underclassmen and some slightly upperclassmen — I call them slightly upperclassmen, that’s what I call juniors — ‘Hey, you’ve got to take a leadership role, you’ve got to do it as if you are a fifth-year senior.’ Good for them, good growth opportunity for them but more so, in many things it’s a great growth opportunity for the team.”
He has already singled out junior right tackle Matt Farniok as one player who has embraced that leadership role. He’s as vocal as anybody in that room. Farniok said he and his teammates tried to learn as much as they could from those now departed senior leaders.
“We’ve always kind of been the leader within our group,” Farniok said. “The O-line is every man. We’ve never really been too quiet about ourselves; we’ve always cared about doing the right thing, getting the right things done. They definitely helped create a path and showed an example of what a leader needs to be and I think we’ve kind of, as a whole, embodied the way that they play.”
Farniok is the most vocal, but Farniok said they are trying to develop a group leadership mentality in the offensive line room.
“It’s kind of like everyone,” Farniok said. “Everyone’s got the responsibility and care about this game to be able to speak for this group. We all respect each other and we all know that we care deeply about where we’re heading and what we’re going to be. When someone in our group talks, we respect what they’re saying and listen to what they’re saying.”
Austin said that group leadership mentality is important and he hopes to see guys like Brenden Jaimes, a two-year starter at tackle, continue to grow in that regard.
“We need as many leaders as we can get,” Austin said. “There’s going to be adversity this year, and if it’s the same guy… We had good leaders last year but we didn’t have very many. As many leaders as we can get up front at every position on the team the better. Now, leadership has its different roles. Jaimey is not as vocal a guy as Matt Farniok. Bye Wilson is not as vocal a guy as Matt Farniok or Jaimey. But all of those guys have some sort of a leadership quality that we’re looking to extract from them that they can affect the man to the right and to the left of them. Certainly, Jaimey has been more vocal and we’re asking him to be more vocal. But more so than being vocal, we’ve got to be doers. There’s a standard; hey, set the standard and then hold each other accountable, hold the man to the right and left of you accountable.
“Right now, in some of those cases, we need to just work on the first standard and he’s doing a good job with that.”
Nebraska has a good foundation to build off of with experienced players in Jaimes, Farniok and Wilson. The next step is for them to transfer their experience into leadership and that process will continue to play out throughout spring ball.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.