Going strictly off of Nebraska’s roster once Scott Frost took over in December of 2017, 25 of those 65 scholarship players left NU either by transfer, retiring from football (like Tre Bryant), or declaring for the draft (Tanner Lee). With JD Spielman’s departure from the team, five of the six scholarship wideouts who were already on the roster when Frost took over transferred away with remaining eligibility.
Of the classes Frost has signed since, 13 have left NU with remaining eligibility, 11 of them from the 2018 class. Just since last season ended, 14 players (scholarship and walk-on) have left the team.
Over that three-year time period, Nebraska has won 13 of its 36 games.
Frost’s rebuild of one of college football’s most dormant blue bloods has been challenging—in some ways more so than coaches thought when they arrived—and lengthy. Culture throughout the infancy stages of a rebuild can be overplayed or undervalued depending on the situation. At Nebraska, it’s been at the forefront of the conversation for seemingly three years.
It was a problem when NU began 0-6 in 2018, then started to turn. The 2019 season tested NU’s mettle. A 5-7 campaign ended with losses in six of the final eight games.
Frost talked about culture once again Tuesday when he held a Zoom call with reporters.
“I think this is the first time we feel like the team culture is where we want it,” he said. “It can always get better, but I feel really good about where we are as a football team right now and the type of people we have on our team.”
A big part of that is the leadership group within the team.
One of Frost’s coaching beliefs is that a team with vertical leadership can succeed, but to be great a team needs horizontal leadership. Instead of coaches policing players, its the players who need to hold each other accountable when coaches aren’t around.
The intangible “leadership” trait is made for the offseason. Coaches can’t see players working out, can’t instruct them during those workouts. Players need to take it upon themselves. Culture keepers, Frost calls them. So, instead of talking about who’s throwing the ball well or which wideouts are doing what, we spend months talking about leadership roles and who’s stepping up and this and that.
More: Frost on Free Speech | Frost on Scheduling | Farniok to RG
Frost wanted to set up a Unity Council similar to what Tom Osborne-led Husker teams had when he first got to Lincoln but thought the team wasn’t ready for that then.
It seems they are now.
“We basically have that started,” he said. “We have a leadership group on the team that’s helped our operations guys and our weight guys handle some of the things that need to get handled, a lot of the communication that needs to get handled.”
Communication has been key in this pandemic-influenced offseason. Nebraska had something similar last year as well, but this group right now is large and includes guys from every position.
Count third-year sophomore Cameron Jurgens and senior linemen Brenden Jaimes and Matt Farniok as members, as well as senior defensive backs Dicaprio Bootle and Deontai Williams. Those are the ones Frost mentioned directly by name.
“Our leadership on the football team has been invaluable throughout this time because without complete access to our players, a lot of stuff has to be led by them and organized by them,” Frost said. “Really, through the challenge of this, I’ve seen the leadership grow, Coach Duval’s seen the leadership grow.
“Going across the board I think our leadership is going to be a lot stronger this year than it’s been, and in some ways the challenge of this virus has brought our team together. I feel like through adversity, our team’s tighter than it has been since I’ve been at Nebraska.”
The Huskers are 3-9 in one-possession games since Frost took over. They’re 5-8 in games following a loss the week before. NU’s ability to respond to adversity is certainly important, but we’ll all have to wait a few more months to find out what kind of impact a tighter-knit team will have on the field.
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.