Thomas Fidone II clawed his way up dirt roads of bad luck and circumstance before flooring the gas pedal back onto the freeway of opportunity.
The Nebraska tight end wanted to play last season. At times, coaches hollered from the sidelines that he should play. In the first week of October coaches estimated he was 90% healthy, in daily meetings and running at full strength. Fidone added muscle coming back from his second knee injury but ran as fast as he ever did. He stayed focused on his rehabilitation and training throughout the setbacks. He never capitulated to circumstances, he simply adjusted his timeline for his goals. Fidone’s competitive spirit never wavered despite medical precaution.
— Thomas Fidone II ²⁴ (@ThomasFidone) October 7, 2022
Fidone’s competitive drive throughout winter workouts made him a team captain. Nebraska’s new coaching staff split the football roster into a dozen teams and the Council Bluffs native emerged a leader. Coaches liked how he rallied teammates and, when needed, give them a motivational kick. Among a roster that coaches discovered was highly competitive, few maintained that internal fire quite like the Fidone.
“First and foremost he’s a relentless competitor,” tight ends coach Bob Wager said last week. “And that’s what drives everything at practice. Thomas is another player very versatile, long, runs well in space, physical, there’s a lot that stands out about Thomas, as well as the rest of the guys in the room.”
Wager explained last week that Nebraska’s tight end group cheers for each other Through their triumphs and tribulations they’ve bonded with each other. They’re eager to develop and became students of the new playbook that demands a lot from tight ends. This spring gives coaches an opportunity to put players in the spots to make them, and the team, most successful.
Fidone’s competitive leadership carried over from the winter into the spring. Aurora native Nate Boerkircher is gaining steam this spring and getting coaches excited. He’s already showing improvement from what he provided on the field last season. Boerkircher was asked about being in that competitive tight end group and what Fidone provides that unit.
“Thomas is a leader, he’s a warrior, he’s been through a lot,” Boerkircher said. “Just happy to have him with us. He’s always going to compete. Iron sharpens iron, he’s going to make us better and hopefully we can make him better too.”
Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield likes to utilize dynamic tight ends in his offense. That involves moving them off tackle, shuffling them into the back field and, often, utilizing two in 12 personnel to give the appearance of a special run push while moving capable big pass catchers downfield. Satterfield, Wager and head coach Matt Rhule like that room’s potential.
Rhule typically has a few players each year he loves to work hands-on with. And Fidone is “one of my guys,” the head coach said. Fidone is driven, competitive and wired kind of like Rhule. The head coach explained that sometimes when someone is so driven and anxious to get back on the road, they hammer the gas and steer off course. Or they get discouraged when the car doesn’t run clean with the pedal down. But Fidone’s motor never stopped running despite an inability to get back on the road. So when Rhule tried to limit the former No. 1 tight end recruit in the country at the start of practice, Fidone pushed back.
“I’ve tried to limit him and he just fights me every time,” Rhule said. “So I just love his competitive nature.”
In response, Rhule has effectively limited his limitations of Fidone going into the final two weeks of spring ball. Fidone doesn’t fully engage in each live drill, although he took more live reps in last Thursday’s practice. Rhule believes fully that a player’s best ability is their availability. He’s invested in player rest and rehabilitation, which includes a pointed specialty among strength and conditioning staff, as well as recovery-focused areas in the new football facility. So Rhule trusts Fidone to listen to his body.
Fidone showed coaches in the first few weeks of spring ball that he’s an exceptional seam-route runner, stays committed when blocking and makes plays during 2-minute drills. He brings a dynamic ability to the evolving tight end group that could be one of the team’s strengths. And at the heart of it is Fidone’s unshakeable motor.
“He’s clear,” Rhule said. “He’s come a long way. I think, for him, it’s always hard learning new offenses and finding that niche. I think he’s starting to find that niche.”