Tom's Time
Photo Credit: Nebraska Athletics

Tom’s Time: A National-Championship Season Begins

August 26, 2021

Vinnie Murphy was among four quarterbacks who played in Nebraska’s 1994 Red-White spring game, backing up Tommie Frazier on the Red team.

Brook Berringer and Matt Turman played for the White team.

Jon Elder, a member of the Huskers’ 1994 recruiting class, was not yet on campus. And as was noted in the previous Tom’s Time, Elder would leave before taking a snap at Nebraska.

Anyway, the names Frazier, Berringer and Turman are familiar. But only the most passionate Husker fans could probably say much about Murphy.

And even they might do a double-take at the name.

Murphy was a freshman walk-on from Colorado Springs, Colorado. And he was evidently gone from the team by fall camp; his name wasn’t listed on the fall-camp roster.

He didn’t play much in the spring game, throwing one incomplete pass but rushing four times for 41 yards. Berringer also took snaps with the Red team in the second half.

Murphy’s presence on the roster in the spring underscored Tom Osborne’s concern about depth at quarterback. As long as Frazier and Berringer stayed healthy, the plan was to redshirt Elder, with Turman, a walk-on from Wahoo (Neb.) Neumann at No. 3.

Monte Christo, a quarterback from Kearney, Nebraska, would walk on in the fall and be there just in case. Otherwise, the plan would be to redshirt him as well.

Murphy wasn’t the only walk-on whose Husker career began and ended with a spring game, of course. The leading tackler for the White team in 1994 was Jeff Sakalasky, a walk-on from Omaha Gross. He never played a down in a regular-season game, according to the records. And Sakalasky, though on the 1994 roster unlike Murphy, wasn’t included on the 1995 fall-camp roster.

Sakalasky and Murphy weren’t topics of post-game conversation.

I-back Lawrence Phillips definitely was. The sophomore-to-be from West Covina, California, spent the better part of a half hour signing autographs on the field afterward, after rushing for 156 yards and a touchdown in the Red team’s 43-19 victory.

Phillips would have to “stand the test of time,” Osborne said. But he had shown the potential to be as good of an I-back as Nebraska had ever had.

He had size—he was listed at 6-feet, 200 pounds—and speed. And it was difficult to square up on him, said free safety Mike Minter, also a sophomore-to-be.

Phillips was replacing Calvin Jones, who had opted to bypass his senior season and enter the NFL Draft, after leading the Big Eight in rushing and scoring. Despite effectively missing three games—he had been on the field for one snap in one game to qualify statistically—Jones rushed for 1,043 yards and 12 touchdowns and scored 78 points; he also caught a touchdown pass.

He was among five starters lost on offense, while outside linebacker Trev Alberts was the most notable of six starters lost on defense.

Alberts, a consensus All-American, Butkus Award winner, Big Eight Defensive Player of the Year and now Nebraska’s athletic director, led the 1993 Huskers in tackles with 96, including a school-record 15 sacks, as well as forcing three fumbles. His 29.5 career sacks and 45 tackles-for-loss were also school records.

In addition to Alberts, the defense lost tackle Kevin Ramaekers, SAM linebacker Ernie Beler, MIKE backer Mike Anderson, rover Toby Wright and free safety John Reece, the other starters.

Split end and punt-kick returner Corey Dixon, left tackle Lance Lundberg, center-right guard Ken Mehlin, and tight end Gerald Armstrong were the offensive starters lost besides Jones.

Mehlin had moved from center to guard when Brenden Stai suffered a season-ending broken right fibula seven games into the season. Rob Zatechka, who started 11 games at left guard, moved to left tackle in the spring, replacing Lundberg, a consensus All-Big Eight selection.

Right tackle Zach Wiegert also was a consensus All-Big Eight pick.

Despite the departures, the defense had been in control much of the spring. The difference in the spring game was allowing the quarterbacks more movement. They had worn green practice jerseys at spring practices, meaning they were off-limits to hits but couldn’t run as much.

That was relaxed in the spring game. Frazier, Berringer and Turman each scored a touchdown, and Turman and Berringer threw touchdown passes, Berringer’s a 51-yard hook-up to Riley Washington to tie the score at 7 early in the first quarter.

Darin Erstad punted twice and kicked two extra points, then joined the baseball team for a game against Kansas at Buck Beltzer Field.

Defensive tackle Terry Connealy, a returning starter; linebacker Phil Ellis; safety Tony Veland, a converted quarterback; nose guard Scott Saltsman; and offensive tackle Eric Anderson all missed spring drills because of off-season surgeries, while offensive tackle Chris Dishman and cornerback Eric Stokes were sidelined for the spring game because of injuries suffered during the spring.

Wiegert, fullback Vershan Jackson (who would move to tight end), tight end Tim Carpenter, defensive tackle Christian Peter and cornerback Tyrone Williams were held out of the spring game for disciplinary reasons.

Based on what he had seen during the spring, the Huskers had a chance to “have a better team coming up than what we had last year,” said Osborne.

How that translated into wins and losses remained to be seen. But there was reason for optimism, as long as the top two quarterbacks remained healthy—that was a primary concern.

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