Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska’s Defense Adjusting to Play Without Team Captain Henrich

November 03, 2022

Sophomore linebacker Nick Henrich started writing “Never out of the fight” onto his arm tape before the Indiana game. At that point Nebraska, and especially its defense, became the butt of national jokes and ire from Husker fans after losing to both Georgia Southern and Oklahoma. The head coach who was supposed to return the program to prominence was fired and his right-hand man got dismissed a week later.

The Huskers were on the mat during that bye week. They’d been knocked down and ridiculed. But they weren’t out of the fight and Henrich wrote so on his arm.

“We just as a house, the people I live with, started writing that saying, that mantra, so I just wrote it on my arm Indiana and then just kind of started saying it on the sideline to just speak it into existence and it has kind of picked up,” Henrich said before the Purdue game. “A lot of other guys on the team like it so we are going to keep rolling with it.”

Henrich suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second half of that Purdue game. On the stat sheet, the sophomore team captain had 15 solo and 22 assisted tackles in five games this season. Beyond statistics, he was at the heart of the defense. He pumped the blood to the unit’s extremities and the one they’d look to when they needed reassurance.

A lot of the injury discussion this week has centered around the offense and the quarterback position. Understandably so, considering the spotlight nature of the position and its importance in offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s offense. But the defense is also down a leader and a captain. And it’s no mystery if he’ll be back or not. So the Huskers are forced to carry on without him.

“Gaw! That’s a kick in the gut, losing him,” defensive coordinator Bill Busch said ahead of the Illinois game. “He’s a great player. He’s a better person, he’s a better leader. Nick Henrich is a game changer for us. The room changes when he walks in. And the amazing thing is the room still changes when he walks in.”

Junior defensive tackle Colton Feist said Henrich always did an admirable job making sure the defense was set and in positions to make plays. Henrich’s linebacker companion, Luke Reimer, took over the communication role that the former Omaha Burke standout occupied. Then, in personnel replacement, Chris Kolarevic filled in behind the start from true freshman Ernest Hausmann. Coaches praised Hausmann’s resiliency to come back into the starting lineup and make the most of his opportunity.

“We’re going to be without Nick the rest of the season so we’re going to have to step up,” Feist said on Tuesday.

Another team captain, edge Garrett Nelson, thought Kolarevic, Eteva Mauga-Clements and Hausmann all performed well against Illinois. He said Reimer “wore that hat really well,” and that interim head coach Mickey Joseph encouraged Reimer to “be a bigger voice.” Nelson was proud of their performance even in defeat.

“I don’t think there was one miscommunication — might have been one or two but for 70 or 80 snaps that’s phenomenal,” Nelson said. “Those guys stepped up big time and did a great job.”

They face a similar but different challenge this week in Minnesota. Another veteran quarterback who manages the game behind a tough running back who will fight for yards. It doesn’t get any easier there with games against Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa to follow.

But that’s why Henrich started writing the mantra where everyone could see it. Don’t count Nebraska out. For all the football team’s been through this season, and in the seasons leading up to it for those who experienced them, they’re still standing and able to fight back.

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