With the 2021 campaign in the books and an offseason full of recruiting and transfer portal-ing underway, it’s as good a time as any to look at where each of Nebraska’s position groups sit heading into spring ball.
We’ll be breaking down this series into nine position groups—receivers, tight ends, running backs, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, defensive backs, specialists and, of course, quarterbacks—and giving them a 1-10 score, with 1 meaning the group isn’t looking too good and 10 meaning it’s in great shape and you, the Husker fan, should be excited.
Next up are the specialists, who will have a full-time special teams coach in Bill Busch, who was hired last week and has a vision for his units. Let’s take a look at who the specialists are losing, returning and adding from the 2022 recruiting class and transfer portal, if any.
Losing: punter William Przystup (transfer), kicker Kelen Meyer (transfer)
Returning (years in the program): punter Daniel Cerni (3rd season)
Incoming: punter Brian Buschini (transfer from Montana), kicker Timmy Bleekrode (transfer from Furman), kicker Spencer Pankratz (transfer from Furman), kicker Charlie Weinrich, longsnapper Brady Weas (transfer from Georgetown)
Walk-ons returning: kicker Chase Contreraz (3rd year), kickoff Brendan Franke (2nd year), kicker Gabe Heins (4th year), kicker Josh Jasek (2nd year), punter Grant Detlefsen (4th year), longsnapper Cameron Pieper (5th year), longsnapper Cade Mueller (5th year), longsnapper Camden Witucki (2nd year)
For the most part, Nebraska’s specialists struggled in 2021 and, at times, made crucial game-changing mistakes that played a role in multiple Nebraska losses. Fans remember Cerni’s mis-directed punt at Michigan State that was returned for a touchdown, which tied the game in the fourth quarter and eventually helped lead to the Huskers’ defeat in overtime. Fans will also remember the season finale against Iowa, where the Hawkeyes scoop-and-scored a blocked punt, which started the rally that ended with an Iowa win in a rivalry game.
In an effort to change things, head coach Scott Frost and his staff went out and got new faces from the transfer portal. The biggest addition may be Buschini, who was the FCS Punter of the Year last season at Montana.
“The coaching staff and the coaches, and how much they cared for me as a person and my wife, and what our life would be there—that’s what really set me over the edge,” Buschini said of his decision to transfer to Nebraska. “We were able to see a clear vision for that at the University of Nebraska, so that was really special to be a part of.”
Buschini averaged 46 yards per punt in 2021 with the Griz, which tied for third-best in the FCS. The specialist had 28 punts that went for more than 50 yards and also pinned 30 of his 69 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Przystup averaged 43.39 yards in his 31 attempts, landing six inside the 20 with 10 traveling 50-plus yards. In 16 attempts from Cerni, he averaged 36.88 yards and didn’t have an attempt go 50 yards or land inside the 20.
On the field-goal front, the Huskers made just 50% (8-of-16) of their tries and were only 3-of-9 on attempts between 30-49 yards. The now-departed Culp went 6-of-12 while Contreraz was 2-of-4. At Furman, Bleekrode was 15-of-18 on field-goal tries with a long of 51 yards. He punted for the Paladins, too, and averaged 42.15 yards on 52 punts with 13 landing inside the opponent’s 20.
The program also has added two walk-on kickers to the mix. Bleekrode’s teammate, Pankratz, transferred to Nebraska, too. The Huskers also brought in Weinrich, a highly-touted Kansas City-area prep kicker.
If there was a bright spot for Nebraska’s special teams, it was Franke. In his first season in Lincoln, the former Morningside University transfer and Gretna High School graduate blasted 38 of his 62 kickoffs (that’s 61%) for touchbacks. That was a welcomed sight considering how the 2020 season went when the Huskers relied on Culp, a field goal kicker, to handle the kickoff duties. Only 30% of Culp’s kickoffs went for touchbacks.
After how last season went, Nebraska’s specialists room needed a complete overhaul. The good news is the Huskers went out and got new faces who have had success elsewhere in an effort to turn things around. The bad news is fans won’t quite know if these new additions—especially Buschini and Bleekrode—will pan out until they show it on Saturdays.
It’s always hard to tell with kickers. They’re not quarterbacks or receivers or linebackers. They just kick, and it’s a unique skillset to have. There’s still quite a bit of unknown in Nebraska’s specialist room, even though the additions look promising. For that reason, the Husker specialists get a score of 5/10.