There’s a banner lining the inside of the fence surrounding the Huskers’ outdoor practice field. It reads “Can’t Be Beat… I Won’t Be Beat.” The team-issued Day-by-Day shirts the Huskers wore throughout the offseason had the phrase “One More” across the back. It’s what strength coach Zach Duval would preach in the weight room.
It was the theme of the offseason.
“If you just walked in and saw our team right now compared to where it was a year ago, some of the kids don’t even look like the same kids,” head coach Scott Frost said in Chicago during Big Ten Media Days. “We’re starting to look like a Nebraska football team’s supposed to look. We’re starting to run like a Nebraska football team’s supposed to run. Bigger, faster, stronger never hurt anything.”
His mentor, legendary coach and former athletic director Tom Osborne, has seen that, too. Frost has the right people in his program and he has a foundation in place, but the biggest piece of the equation is the strength and conditioning component. The work that’s put in before the cameras come out and the lights heat up.
“I always felt when we started practice in the fall that the season was already about 60 percent determined by what people did in the weight room in January, spring ball in March, and then summer conditioning,” Osborne said Friday, shortly after announcing a new initiative for his TeamMates mentoring program.
“I believe we’ve got a great strength coach in Zach Duval. He’s right there with [Frost], a great motivator and Scott mentions that he’s seen a lot of physical changes in those players. I think with that comes chemistry and with that comes culture, and all those things that are important, and confidence.”
The hall-of-fame coach and all-time wins leader at Nebraska hasn’t been able to be around much throughout the summer to watch workouts, but he’s been around enough to see a difference.
“I’ve walked through the weight room a couple times and I would agree that they certainly look the part more,” he said.
It’s just not easy to transform an athlete’s body in a short amount of time. “It takes a lot of work and a lot of time,” Osborne said, but he thinks Duval is the right man to be leading that charge. He mentioned the walk-on program, too, saying that in the right environment it’ll still take two or three years to get contributions from that group. He sees a handful of guys who have come up through the program who are ready to make a contribution.
Inside linebacker Joey Johnson was a popular name for coaches throughout the spring and left guard Trent Hixson might have the edge in the starting job next to left tackle Brenden Jaimes. Things, as Osborne sees it, are moving in the right direction.
“It’ll be steady, it may not be overnight but it will be better,” he said. “[Frost] knows what buttons to push and he’s pushing those buttons.”
Frost sees confidence from his offense and he sees excitement from the defense. The work Duval has demanded each of the last two offseasons is starting to pay dividends from a psychological standpoint. The hope is that the same thing will happen on the football field.
“With this work, with the investment they’ve made, I think confidence comes with that and I think these guys are just as hungry as Nebraska fans to move the needle and do something special,” Frost said last week.
Athletic Director Bill Moos’ expectation is, at a minimum, six wins this upcoming season. Frost said he’s not sure too many people would be happy with only six, but he’s hesitant to put a number to things. Osborne felt the same way.
“You can’t really predict those things, but you can control your effort, your preparation,” he said. “So the process is really important and if the process is right, then you’re going to show steady improvement. I think that’s what they’ll do.”
Osborne’s mentoring program, TeamMates, made over 10,000 mentor matches last year of grade school-aged kids across five states, but Osborne said Friday that they couldn’t provide mentors for nearly a third of the families who signed up. There are actually waitlists for students looking for a mentor in each of the five states — Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Wyoming and South Dakota — the program serves.
This year’s Back-to-School Challenge kicks off on Aug. 1 with a goal of adding 2,000 more mentors to match with kids in the program. Anyone who becomes a mentor between Aug. 1 and Sept. 1 will be entered into a drawing for a prize that includes a pair of plane tickets to anywhere in the continental US and three nights at a hotel of the recipient’s choice.
TeamMates is for any high school graduate over the age of 19. The program doesn’t ask for trained specialists, Osborne says, just people who will show up, listen and care about these kids. You can learn more about TeamMates here, and sign up to become a mentor here.
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.