As Coach Matt Rhule discussed his football team on the first day of fall camp Monday, he gave a shoutout to university housing at Nebraska for facilitating his idea of moving the entire team into dorm rooms for camp.
Between the 120 players on the active camp roster, a handful of other players like Marques Buford rehabbing injuries, the coaching staff, strength and conditioning staff and trainers, there are close to 160 people living in dorms on campus, and Rhule thanked those responsible for making it happen.
In fact, Rhule said the team’s living situation in the dorms is almost too nice for the players.
“I want our whole team to get comfortable being uncomfortable,” Rhule said. “They’re not allowed to leave campus without permission, like we told them ‘Don’t tell me your dog needs walked.’ You’re here. So I think for me, we just have to get comfortable with new things. But more importantly, we’re trying to build brotherhood. We’re trying to build a sense of common purpose by getting to know each other. So having those guys over there, Gus [Felder] and his people put a bunch of board games and cards hoping that they’ll maybe get off their phone and talk to each other.”
Veteran offensive lineman Turner Corcoran called the camp set-up “different,” but is on board with Rhule’s goal, and Virginia wide receiver transfer Billy Kemp IV agreed.
“Coach just kind of wanted to get us away from the home, get us together, kind of bring us together as a team before we start our season, and I think it’s a really good way of doing that,” Corcoran said.
“This is something new, but a good experience,” Kemp added. “I love being around the team and spending time with them outside the facility. So definitely something new, but I’m enjoying it.”
As nice as Rhule may think the dorms are, the players still get a chance to be uncomfortable, particularly the larger ones like Corcoran and defensive lineman Ty Robinson (both listed at 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds) who have to sleep on twin beds. Corcoran called the beds “terrible.”
Rhule is also attempting to facilitate further team-building by pairing players up with teammates they may not normally spend a lot of time with otherwise. Corcoran is rooming with defensive back Tommi Hill. Kemp is staying with freshman walk-on defensive back Mason Jones.
“I think he just wanted the guys that didn’t know each other as well to really interact with each other and get to know each other,” Corcoran said. “… I’m Getting to know [Tommi] really well. We see each other in the locker room all the time and we say what’s up to each other, and now it’s going to be even better.”
Living in the dorms isn’t all about teammates spending time with each other or being uncomfortable. Rhule also has another objective.
“We don’t just play for ourselves, we don’t just play for the football team, we play for the University of Nebraska in the state of Nebraska,” Rhule said. “And so returning to the heart of campus, to me, is really important. So I think it’s that and it kind of divides camp up. You’re in the dorms for two weeks, then you have a week of kind of being at home coming in, then school starts and then we have 10 days before the first game.”
Another unique logistical quirk of Rhule’s first fall camp is that he opted to split practice into two different parts to maximize reps for all. The group that practiced first was made up primarily of veterans and players with a great chance of cracking the two-deep while the second group consisted primarily of younger players with some veterans mixed in.
“I don’t remember who I took it from, maybe it was like Willie Taggart or someone along the way,” Rhule said. “Every year has been a little different. Some years where we don’t have a big freshman group and we haven’t done it, or sometimes it’s four days, sometimes it’s three days. But you can even kind of tailor the play calls for them. We’re able to be a little bit slower with them, a little bit more methodical with them. And there were some older guys that came down just to get reps. But the most important thing to me is reps. As I told the young guys at the end, a lot of places in the country the freshmen showed up and they got five reps in practice today, but our guys all got 40.
“So it’s just, like Coach Osborne told me like, make sure they all get reps. It’s a little bit of a strain on the coaches and the staff because you’re having to be out there for a little bit longer, but it’s fun and it’s good to see them, their personalities. You see Chubba [Purdy] now goes from being kind of one of the young guys, now Chubba’s the vet out there leading that third offense.”
Both Corcoran and Kemp thought the practice split was a good idea, particularly for the young players trying to get up to speed.
“I think it will help,” Kemp said. “It’s definitely a different format than what I’ve seen but I think it’s a great format, especially for the younger guys coming in. It could be a little bit more teaching so when we all get together we can all hit it rolling and running. So I feel like the format is good, just different.”
Regardless of which group players may fall into early in camp, Rhule’s message to the team as they began was simple.
“Just come out and compete,” Corcoran said. “We’ve got a long camp ahead of us and he just wants us to stay healthy, do our job of recovering and hydrating, getting to know our playbook and stuff like that and just come out ready to compete.”