The week before, Monte Anthony had been a back-up fullback. But he was switched to I-back because junior John O’Leary was sidelined by injury.
O’Leary suffered a cracked jaw and broken teeth in a 21-20 upset loss at Wisconsin in the second game of the 1974 season. Nebraska had been ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press poll. The winning touchdown had come on a 77-yard pass play with 3:29 remaining.
O’Leary’s injury occurred in the first half, but he had played some in the second half. He wasn’t going to play in the third game against Northwestern at Memorial Stadium, however. So senior Jeff Moran was No. 1 on the depth chart at I-back, and Anthony became a back-up at that position.
Anthony was a freshman. Two years before, when Anthony was a junior at Bellevue (Neb.) High School, the NCAA had restored freshman eligibility in football.
Freshmen were already allowed to compete on the varsity in other sports.
Quarterback Earl Everett had made the Husker varsity in 1973 but hadn’t played enough to earn a letter. The participation chart showed only 14 minutes beside his name.
So Anthony’s inclusion on the varsity was no small accomplishment. And as it turned out, he would play more minutes against Northwestern than Everett had played during the entire 1973 season.
Moran carried five times, and scored a touchdown, before leaving the Northwestern game with a foot injury and creating an opportunity for Anthony.
Sophomore Dave Gillespie, who had been listed third on the pre-fall depth chart, carried eight times for 29 yards and the Huskers’ third touchdown. But the day belonged to Anthony, who carried 14 times for 111 yards and the fourth touchdown in a 49-7 victory.
Afterward, Coach Tom Osborne was asked if Anthony had earned the starting job. Not yet, Osborne said, but, he told the Omaha World-Herald, “I think Monte’s got as much ability as any freshman back we’ve had around here for a while.”
Anthony would remain an I-back that season, sharing time with O’Leary and finishing as Nebraska’s leading rusher during the regular season, with 587 yards and six touchdowns. And he would continue at I-back the next two seasons before returning to fullback as a senior.
Junior Richard Berns and sophomore walk-on I.M Hipp were the top I-backs in 1977.
Anthony was slowed by wrist and shoulder injuries his final two seasons at Nebraska. Even so, he finished third on the Huskers’ career-rushing list – Nebraska still included bowl-game totals. He rushed for 2,274 yards, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, and scored 21 touchdowns.
Few freshmen played enough to earn letters early in Osborne’s time as head coach. It wasn’t until 1984 that more than one freshman lettered, and during Osborne’s 25 seasons only 43 true freshmen earned letters, including three walk-ons, and never more than three in a given season until his final two recruiting classes. Four freshmen lettered in 1996, six in 1997.
Anthony had been only 17-years-old when he made his Husker debut. He didn’t turn 18 until the week before the 10th game of the 1974 season against Kansas State.
Nebraska’s fourth, and final, non-conference game in 1974 was also against a Big Ten opponent, Minnesota in Lincoln. Anthony rushed for 81 yards and two touchdowns.
The Huskers won 54-0.
Tom's Time, is a regular feature that will take a closer look at the life of Tom Osborne. Nebraska has a storied history in football that dates back to the earliest years of the game, but the tradition to which Husker fans hold Nebraska is mostly a reference to Osborne's 25 years as head coach. And that will always be worth exploring in greater detail. Click here for all of the entries in the series.
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.