Senior outside linebacker JoJo Domann took a few moments to himself on the field after Saturday’s game.
Nebraska had put three points on the board and brought the margin to just seven with a little under 4:30 to play in the game. Nebraska needed a stop and to march down the field and score. Instead, Minnesota salted away the remainder of the clock. Where the defense had been stout for most of the game, Gopher running back Mohamid Ibrahim finally hit the pain point. He gained 45 yards on five straight runs, including a 31-yard carry that flipped the field and all but ended it.
Nebraska had held Ibrahim, the Big Ten’s leading rusher, to just 49 yards to that point. He got over the century mark with 59 on the final drive. After nearly an entire game of offensive struggles, Nebraska asked the defense to stand up once more. They couldn’t.
Senior Day ended with a huddling of players at midfield and Husker heads hung low.
“You just try to capitalize on every time you get to step out on the field, and the fact that it could potentially be the last one, it didn’t really hit me before the game, but definitely after the game started and then especially at the end of the game, it really started to sink in,” Domann said.
Nebraska group of seniors runs deep into the double-digits. Thirteen of them either start currently or began the year as starters. While a 24-17 loss to Minnesota to close out the 2020 regular season doesn’t technically have to be their last games at Memorial Stadium (and depending on what the Big Ten decides for next week, it might not be), the emotions of a Senior Day, however abnormal it might have been, still hit hard.
“It was extremely emotional for me,” said corner Dicaprio Bootle. “I love each and every last one of those guys. I love just about everybody else that came through this building since I’ve been here that has come and gone. And you know (I) was just kind of thinking of all my memories here.
“Just being in Memorial Stadium. All the good times. The hard times. There was just a whole lot going through my head. More love than anything else and just feeling the love and just knowing that there was just a lot of love around me between players, coaches, faculty, staff, everybody.”
Guys like Connor Culp, Will Honas, and Deontai Williams might entertain sticking around a little longer. Their time at Nebraska has been short. Culp, the team’s starting kicker, just arrived this offseason. Williams and Honas have both missed whole seasons due to injury.
But for others, guys like Bootle and Domann and Ben Stille and Brenden Jaimes, they’ve been through more than their share of hard times at Nebraska. The NCAA has given them a do-over card, an eligibility freeze that would allow them one more year to play in 2021. Will they want it?
Someone like Christian Gaylord, if he used the extra year, it would mark seven years spent at Nebraska. Farniok and Stille and Domann would enter into their sixth years. Would they rather just move onto the next chapter?
That becomes a key question now.
Some were significant pieces of a 2017 team that saw their coach fired, their Athletic Director replaced, and their season fall apart. They’ve experienced the rush that was Scott Frost’s hiring, and then had to endure the 11-20 record that has come in the three seasons since.
“We’re disappointed in the result today, but our time here at Nebraska hasn’t been about winning and losing,” Domann said. “The adversity that we faced in this senior class and the guys that were able to make it through it to be here today, that’s what I’m proud of. The brotherhood that we formed and the men we’ve become in the process, that’s what it’s about.
“You know, guys have decisions to make. They’ve got to do what’s best for their future. But for all intents and purposes that was our last game and it stings.”
Frost was asked after the game whether he thought the team’s motivation would take a hit. Nebraska is guaranteed only one more game, and as it came off the field to close out the regular season, it had no idea who that final opponent would be.
“The kids will stay in it,” Frost said. “This team’s together. They care about each other. I’m not worried about that.”
Added quarterback Adrian Martinez: “This team’s been hungry since the offseason and I know there’s plenty of guys who want to go play.”
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.