There are many great things about being a sports writer—the games, the people, the stories—but my favorite thing is the thing we get to do each June.
I like previewing things. The future is a riddle that can never be totally solved. If it could, all our lives would be much easier but less interesting. That it can’t is the appeal.
Hail Varsity’s annual Husker Football Yearbook is our best attempt to make sense of what hasn’t happened yet. We put a lot of time into that quixotic quest. What information is useful? What isn’t? How do you capture the essence of what Indiana, Iowa and Illinois football have been and could be in the space of about 600 words? I’ve come to think of our opponent pages as high-intensity previewing; short but effective bursts that pay off down the road. Nice thing is, you get to read them now—at the pool, on the beach, in the tractor—when the football hunger pangs are just starting to emerge again.
The challenge for the subject of this Yearbook—Nebraska football—is often the opposite. Have we turned over every rock? What about the redshirt freshman walk-on who might make his first impact on special teams? What about, in this year at least, the sixth-year seniors we think we know everything about? What have we missed? Our 2021 Yearbook has 36 pages dedicated just to previewing the Huskers position by position.
The process for previewing the home team may be different than it is for the teams Nebraska will play, but the goal is the same: Let’s try to reach a better understanding of this thing that we all love to think and talk about. It’s a privilege to try and craft a magazine for the most obsessed and the great thing about Nebraska fans is that tends to include just about everyone.
But, wait! There’s more!
We treat the features section of the Yearbook as something of a showcase each year. We are after the biggest and best stories we can find, the deepest dives, the passion projects. That’s true all year, of course. It is at the heart of what we do, but there’s always something a little extra that makes a story a “Yearbook story.”
In this year’s issue you’ll find stories on:
- The still-remarkable stinginess of the 1971 Blackshirts. Nebraska’s defense gave up seven or fewer points in 10 of 13 games that year, powering the Huskers to their second national title. Mike Babcock spoke with members of that defense to collect details and stories that often get lost with the passage of time.
- The can’t-miss stature of Austin Allen. It’s about more than just his height, though as a young athlete that led him to believe basketball was his path to a college scholarship. Then things changed, as he told Jacob Padilla for this story. Now Allen, Nebraska’s leading returning receiver, stands out for his ability on the football field and his leadership off it.
- The ongoing disappearance of recruiting borders. Nebraska has always had to recruit nationally. It was never easy, but the Huskers were at least good at it. In today’s recruiting landscape, however, more teams are starting to look beyond their traditional backyards for players. Greg Smith explores what that could mean for Nebraska.
- The unending competitiveness of Cam Taylor-Britt. When the freshman defensive back, a quarterback in high school, arrived at Nebraska he immediately asked to cover the Huskers’ best receiver in practice. Those who have known Taylor-Britt the longest—Derek Peterson spoke with many of them—have plenty of similar stories that help show why the senior cornerback enters the year as one of Nebraska’s most important players.
- The fact that Nebraska is counting on contributions from two FCS players who last played in 2019. For most of the past 40 years, the road between FCS and FBS football was a one-way street—players went down, they didn’t come up. That’s starting to change and the Huskers are betting wide receiver Samori Toure and linebacker Chris Kolarevic will show the gap was never as big as it seemed.
- The reason Ben Stille is back. When you’re out of college, a sixth year of carefree campus life sounds great. When you’re in college, and trying to weigh what maximizes your chances at an NFL career while also considering life beyond that, it’s less of a no-brainer. Luckily, as he shares in this year’s cover story, by Erin Sorensen, sober decision-making has always been one of Stille’s strengths.
Intrigued? Make sure you get your copy of Hail Varsity’s 2021 Husker Football Yearbook by subscribing today.
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.