Ask seniors Nathan Gerry and Josh Banderas what makes this year’s team different than any in the past and they’ll just smile. The answer is much simpler than people realize. They’re friends.
“I think the thing that is different that I notice now is that everybody knows everybody,” Gerry said. “We’re one of the biggest teams in the country but the bond we share in the locker room is so special. Just knowing that if we get put in the corner, we’ve got a bunch of guys that are going to swing out of the corner with us. We count on each other.”
Gerry has the experience, too. He has played with guys much older than him, like Josh Mitchell and Ciante Evans. He called that a “fortunate experience,” but having his friends around him on the field? That’s something extra special.
“We’re so close to each other,” Gerry said. “We have a good feel for each other and what to expect.”
Banderas feels the same. As his senior year progresses, he’s noticed that he’s really starting to make the memories that so many before him have.
“It just reminds me of all the stories former players and my dad told me as I’ve grown up,” Banderas said. “They’re friends for life and they have all these stories to share, some I’m not even allowed to hear yet. Just to know that I’m making my own stories and making my own path… it’s a good feeling.”
Gerry credits those bonds to the hard work of the senior class. He believes they’re the ones truly setting the tone on and off the field.
“We have a lot of senior meetings,” Gerry said. “It’s one of those things that we talk about every day. We understand how good we can be. I think who’s steering this bus is the senior class. I think that the bonds we have, if we keep those tight, it’s going to be tough for us to be stopped.”
The camaraderie of the senior class doesn’t hurt either. Just mentioning the fact that quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. and wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp are roommates solicits a laugh and a quick response.
“We’re all roommates, honestly,” Gerry said. “I’m probably technically a roommate to Tommy and Westy too for the amount of times I’ve slept at their house.”
It’s not only Gerry, though. The entire senior class considers themselves to be roommates.
“There’s a street where the whole team lives, if not around there,” Gerry said. “Every day after practice, we eat at the training table together and then we’ll end up at a house together. There will be 13 or 14 of us there, walking in and out. I think that’s what’s helping us on the football field. It’s just the bonds that we have. It’s really special. I haven’t been around things like this.”
As for Gerry and Banderas, they actually are roommates. They live a little farther away from the other seniors – mostly because Banderas likes it quieter – but they might as well live on that same street with everyone else.
“Everyone is kind of on one street all the time,” Banderas said. “Doors are unlocked. People share things and give rides to each other. It’s a fun deal.”
The senior class knows this won’t last forever, though. That’s why they’re working hard to cherish what they have together now.
“Winning football games is fun and all but I think I’m going to miss the weight room, waking up at six in the morning and getting ‘SWOL’ with all the guys in there,” Gerry said. “When I’m 40 years old, the energy level isn’t going to be as high as the testosterone that is in [the locker room] now. I’ll miss the locker room and just getting to be a kid, be on our own and live free. I’ll miss the friendship. That will be the biggest thing we’ll all miss.”
Banderas gets it, too. He’s aiming for a shot at the NFL but he knows the relationships there won’t be quite the same.
“A lot of the guys I’ve talked to that have gone up to the next level say it’s different because guys have families and it’s their job now,” Banderas said. “Some guys are 10 years older than you and they don’t want to hang out with the rookies or the young guys. It’s definitely a part of the college experience that I’ll miss, just being the same age as the guys and going through four years with them. I’m comfortable with them and I’ll have to start again.”
After talking to both Gerry and Banderas, it’s clear that they believe this team is different. If for nothing else, it’s because they are friends first. Teams that have come before have likely been friends too, but this group has a unique bond that even they can’t explain. It’s one they plan to keep alive, even after they’ve left Nebraska.
“You’ll always remember the stories and stay close with them,” Banderas said.
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.