Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of last week, Hail Varsity posted up on the fourth-floor suite level inside Memorial Stadium for its annual Yearbook Photoshoot. The set photographer Paul Bellinger shot on was huge and encompassing and not lacking in color. If you got last year’s Yearbook, think the exact inverse for this one. Music was playing and the general vibe was one that players wanted to hang around in.
So they did.
Hail Varsity shot close to 70 or 80 Huskers over the three days, and we’re here now to share some behind-the-scenes nuggets from that time.
>> Number news: This is maybe my favorite part of the offseason for no rational reason. It’s like a rebirth of guys when they change numbers; a little more symbolic than a hairstyle change or adding a bunch of tattoos. Nebraska’s long-snapper, Jordan Ober, who not only changed numbers but added a sleeve of tattoos to his left arm, has changed from No. 54 to No. 84. (He also looked to show no ill effects from a knee injury that limited him in the spring.)
Incoming Husker wide receiver Jaron Woodyard is getting No. 88. Mike Williams, another JUCO wideout, wore No. 19 during the spring but said that might change.
>> Trimming down: While the theme of the summer was bulking up and piling on the muscle, sophomore defensive lineman Deontre Thomas looked incredibly trim during his time at the shoot. He’s still listed at 280 pounds, but Thomas looks as good as any on the defensive line just in terms of physical profile.
He confirmed he is playing outside at defensive end, instead of inside where he played the majority of last season, but it wasn’t a situation where the coaches came to him and said “we want to move you” and Thomas just went along for the betterment of the team; he likes end.
“I’m not a nose guard,” he told me. Thomas likes being outside at end and feels like he has a quickness advantage over the offensive line.
>> Getting better: Senior safety Aaron Williams was injured in the spring game on April 21. When Greg Smith and I went to watch an individual workout he and a few other Huskers were participating in, Williams had a brace on his right arm and a shoulder sling. He had neither during the photoshoot and looked to be moving that right arm around pretty freely. He said he was feeling fine but didn’t elaborate much after that.
Williams was the only Husker player to come through without a set of shoulder pads on.
>> Coming back: Keeping with the injury theme, linebacker Luke Gifford and defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg both said they were good to go for summer workouts and participating with the team. Joining them is defensive back JoJo Domann.
The sophomore said he is participating fully in summer workouts, he just can’t take contact yet. Domann tore his ACL last April and has been rehabbing since. He suffered a setback in that recovery that kept him out of spring ball, but he expects to be able to go for the fall.
>> Burner talk: With the news cycle being recently dominated by burner Twitter accounts, I thought it interesting to ask guys who would be the most likely Husker coach to have his own burner account.
Outside linebacker coach Jovan Dewitt was the nearly unanimous answer.
Guys also settled on former linebacker coach Trent Bray as the most likely candidate from the last Husker coaching staff. Something about those linebackers I guess.
Dicaprio Bootle, a sophomore cornerback who’s also working with special teams, said Dewitt will yell and talk trash out on the practice field. He also said Dewitt listens to Spanish music all the time. Multiple players said Pitbull or something similar is likely to be bumping over the speakers when guys arrive for special teams meetings.
Dewitt continues to prove to be a fascinating member of the Husker coaching staff. He has coaching experience at Army West Point and a degree in physics and mathematics that earned him a job offer from NASA (which he turned down to coach football). Those could all be ways to find his burner account… just saying.
>> Stop hitting: Speaking of Bootle, the Husker coaching staff actually had to rein the corner in this spring. He was hitting people too hard. Don’t mistake that for limiting his aggressiveness, but Bootle joked he was getting into too many fights on the field. I answered that’s exactly the mentality you want in a corner and he just nodded his head. He’s undersized for a corner at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, but it sounds like he’ll take your head off if you’re not paying attention.
>> A different vibe: Bellinger and I touched on this in the latest Varsity Club podcast, but it bears repeating here as well: there was a different kind of excitement to this year’s shoot. I spoke with the photographer from Huskers Illustrated as well and he said the same thing: everyone is optimistic in the summertime but guys that came through the 2018 photoshoot had this extra pep in their step.
Part of that has to do with spending all offseason hitting the weight room as hard as possible and seeing results everywhere (everyone looks built; for example, walk-on wideout Christian Banker looks ripped). But part of that is the #FrostEffect.
Pretty much everyone says Frost expects business to be taken care of on the football field. The second guys step between those lines there are goals and those goals have to be accomplished. It’s a workmanlike approach to the task at hand. But, off the field Frost is pretty chill with the team. He hangs out with guys in the player’s lounge. He plays pool with them, he chats with them, he works out with them. There’s this big brother vibe.
Each guy that talks about Frost says he’s a player’s coach and that’s the same thing they said about Mike Riley, but Frost’s aura is a little more relatable and seems to come more natural than Riley’s did. That might just be simply looking at Frost and seeing he could probably strap on a helmet and go play football with them tomorrow, or it might be something deeper. Regardless, the team loves its new coach.
>> Not just a bunch of noise: Andrew Bunch is taking sign language this summer. The sophomore quarterback needed another language class to take to fulfill a credit requirement. That class began Monday. There’s probably a little bit of football carry-over there or strategizing that can be done with a class like that, too.
But up until Monday, it was just eat, sleep, football. Bunch said he was living the dream. He’s spent the offseason working his name squarely into the thick of the quarterback competition.
Despite what has and will be written about the competition, neither quarterback coach Mario Verduzco nor Bunch himself thinks the walk-on signal caller is just on this roster for filler (and they’re the only two whose opinion on that front really matters). Bunch thinks he’s got a shot. He’s confident. He’s impressive to talk with as well; lots of optimism, lots of self-assuredness. And just from a physical profile, Bunch more than holds his own. He’s added some muscle this summer and it shows.
>> Out on an island: Cornerback Avery Anderson is a great big ball of energy. The second he walked on the set he was dancing to the music, breaking out in various Fortnite moves and constantly pulling out his phone to fake important phone calls. He had safety Reid Karel with him (both have moved around in coach Travis Fisher’s secondary but neither will be officially changing positions) and that only boosted the good vibes. So it was surprising then to hear him talk about something with not so good vibes.
Anderson said the corners have felt a little boxed in over the last couple seasons, not really able to make moves they want or need to make to be aggressive because they’re worried about help or fits. That’s not a new thought but it is interesting to continue hearing the same thing from pretty much every member of that secondary. Anderson said he’s excited about the opportunities Fisher affords his corners in the new defense while adding that safeties get the chance to be even more aggressive.
>> Too long: There’s a photo of Tom Osborne hanging on the fourth-floor wall in West Stadium. Pretty famous picture. An AP photographer captured Osborne being carried off the field in 1995 following Nebraska's Orange Bowl win over Miami.
The guy on the right holding up Osborne? That’s a Vedral.
Noah Vedral, the Wahoo native that left for Central Florida then came back with Frost, joked his family has been around too long. But Vedral has a pretty clear picture of not just what it takes to be a successful quarterback in Frost’s offense, he has a pretty clear picture of what it takes to be a successful football player at Nebraska. Vedral was the last player to have his photoshoot on Thursday and he hung around well after it ended just chatting about Nebraska football, where it has been and where it is going. There’s that proverbial “it” everyone talks about? Well, Vedral gets it.
Most likely, he’ll redshirt in 2018. As of last Thursday, to Vedral’s knowledge, the Huskers had not yet applied to the NCAA for a waiver that would allow him to play right away. He said there’s a lot that goes into that application process and it just takes time. He also said in most situations like his, where a redshirt is still available, the NCAA will simply tell the player to use his redshirt and be done with it. Vedral said it’s somewhat comforting to know the decision, and subsequent stress, is out of his hands.
And for a 19-year-old kid, Vedral has a tremendous amount of maturity. He acknowledged the pros of a redshirt college season to get things in order and prepare for the later seasons rather than rush the early ones.
>> Shoe takeover: Stanley Morgan Jr., Aaron Williams and Antonio Reed walked into their photoshoot on Friday all wearing these monochromatic adidas cleats: red outsole, red upper, red laces, red lining and a red tag on the back. The thing that makes them stand out — the same thing that resulted in probably a hundred pictures just featuring the shoes themselves — is the fact that the entire toe of the cleat is covered in spikes. If you get kicked by these, congratulations, your skin now features a polka dot pattern.
Tyjon Lindsey had Yeezy cleats and he was certainly feeling them.
Noah Vedral was the only Husker to rock some of the brand new adimoji cleats adidas announced ahead of the new football season. There are gold shoes that feature the money bag emoji, green boots that feature the flying money stack emoji, white and gold with the goat emoji, white with the frost emoji and red with the 100 emoji. Vedral bought his own red 100s and wore them proudly. “Sometimes you’ve got to take matters into your own hands,” he said. He’s still trying to convince Frost to let him wear them in-season.
The shoes are a big deal, folks. And there were times during our photoshoot where they completely took over.
The Hail Varsity 2018 Husker Football Yearbook is off to press next week and will arrive in mailboxes and on newsstands shortly. Make sure you don't miss out by subscribing today.
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.