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Padding the Stats: Projecting Huskers Seniors Who Will Return in 2021

September 18, 2020

Each week, Derek Peterson calls for your questions and each week, we answer them in the Hail Varsity Mailbag. Sometimes, those questions deserve more than a few sentences to answer. I felt like this question, from our friend @3rdLargestCity, was one such question.

“Of the 13 football seniors, how many do you think will opt for the additional year of eligibility? Same question for volleyball (four seniors). If all four return and with the incoming class, does the NCAA move the NU VB team to the international pro league to ensure parity?”

Let’s start with football, which was a tougher question to answer than I expected when I really started looking at the players in question. The players in question need to evaluate what they have to gain with another year of game tape, how much they want to spend another year in college and how important playing that senior year is to them.

For example, Christian Gaylord is currently in his sixth year of college. After losing his father and then suffering a season-ending injury, it was important to him to get that sixth year of eligibility and go out the way he wanted. Will that motivation still be there for a seventh year in college, especially with him not necessarily being in line to play a prominent role?

Of the other 12 scholarship seniors, all but one of them have redshirted, making 2020-21 their fifth year of college. How many more classes do these guys want to take before they head off into the real world? That’s a question only they can answer, which makes it tough for me to project who would look to return, but here we go.

I’ll start here with Dedrick Mills. I think there’s a chance he could have put himself firmly into the “draftable” category with a good senior year in 2020. That opportunity has been taken away from him, but he still had a strong second half of 2019, enough to put some good play on tape. With the typical lifespan of a running back in professional football and the 538 carries he’s already logged between his three stops, I think Mills would be better off taking his chances at the next level.

As much pride as Ben Stille takes in being a Husker, I think he’d jump on the opportunity to play another season. A good year could give him an opportunity to make some money at the next level as well.

As I wrote for the 2020 Football Yearbook, Greg Austin thought Brenden Jaimes would have been draftable had he declared for the 2020 NFL Draft. But he said Jaimes had unfinished business in Lincoln, and as the only senior who hasn’t redshirted, I’m not sure one more year of college would be too tough for him to handle. I’d expect Jaimes to come back and improve his draft stock with a good season.

Erin Sorensen wrote about Dicaprio Bootle for her Yearbook feature, and I think he’s in a similar place as Jaimes. He’s a multi-year starter with a lot of production. I’m not sure if he is draftable right now, but he’d at least get a shot in a camp somewhere I’d imagine based on what he’s accomplished to this point and his speed. However, if he comes back and proves himself to be a shut-down corner, he could play himself into a draft slot. I’ll guess he’d look to return.

If Matt Farniok has a future in football, it’s probably at guard, and he could really help himself by showing NFL evaluators that he can be a difference-maker at that position by returning.

JoJo Domann has had a good bit of his college career taken away by injuries, so I’m guessing he’d jump all over getting one more year to fly around and make plays for the Huskers.

Boe Wilson is a guy I could see choosing to move on unless he wants to extend his football career as long as possible. Wilson wasn’t guaranteed to start this year as it is, and if you give the young guards in that room another offseason to keep developing he might have an even tougher time earning a starting spot. After starting quite a few games as a Husker, would he be interested in coming back for a sixth year of college only to be a back-up? Perhaps not.

I think Deontai Williams has a chance to be a good NFL player down the line, but in order to make that happen he has to put some real reps on tape. I’d expect him to come back, tear it up and then enter the draft (even though he likely could apply for one more year of eligibility if he wanted it after missing two seasons with injuries).

That leaves me with a group fo four guys that I see in a similar light: Jack Stoll, Collin Miller, Will Honas and Marquel Dismuke. They were all set to be starters in 2020 and were all basically starters last year as well. I think they’re all pretty solid. However, do they have enough upside to where one more year could get them drafted? I’m not sure I can say yes to that question.

So to recap, I’ll call my shot and say that Stille, Jaimes, Bootle, Farniok, Domann and Williams all choose to return while Gaylord, Mills and Wilson move on. I think Stoll, Miller, Honas and Dismuke are wildcards. Nebraska really does have a chance to return almost every important senior except for maybe Mills, which is the upside of not having clearly draftable upperclassmen.

Shifting sports, Nebraska volleyball has four seniors: Lauren Stivrins, Jazz Sweet, Lexi Sun and Hayley Densberger. What complicates this question is that I think a true spring volleyball season including the NCAA Tournament is likely to happen unless things with other conferences go very poorly this fall. Unlike the football players, Nebraska’s seniors will get a chance to compete for a championship.

If Nebraska wins the natty, will the whole senior class ride off into the sunset? What if they make it to the championship match and come up a bit short? Will they run it back? I’m sure John Cook would love another year of Lauren Stivrins, but he’s also got potentially his best recruiting class ever coming in and there’s only so much room on a team.

Ultimately, if I had to guess, I’d say Stivrins will play in the spring and then move on. She’s a redshirt senior, so she’s already in her fifth year of college right now. I think she’ll have plenty of opportunities to continue playing professionally as well if she has the season I expect her to. As a walk-on, I’m guessing Hayley Densberger would move on as well.

As for Lexi Sun and Jazz Sweet, I think a return would be more likely for at least one if not both of them, and if that’s the case, we could be looking at a redshirt year for at least two if not all three of Nebraska’s incoming outside hitters. Add one or both of Sweet and Sun to returners Madi Kubik and Riley Zuhn plus newcomers Lindsay Krause (the No. 2 recruit in the 2021 class), Ally Batenhort (No. 3) and Whitney Lauenstein (No.16) and you’re looking at an absolutely stacked position.

No matter what happens this fall and spring, there are a lot of Husker seniors and coaches who will be facing some tough decisions. Depending on how those decisions go, however, it could set Nebraska athletics up for one heck of a 2021 season.

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