Tom's Time
Photo Credit: Randy Hampton

Tom’s Time: Osborne Plants Recruiting Roots in California

September 19, 2017

When Bob Newton made a recruiting visit to Nebraska in late 1968, Husker assistant coach Jim Ross, who also was assistant athletic director to Bob Devaney, picked up Newton at the Lincoln Municipal Airport. Newton was wearing a light coat when he got off the plane.

As Ross recalled many years later, the weather in Lincoln was frigid that day, below-zero frigid. So his first thought was: “We’re not going to get this guy.”

Newton was from La Mirada, California, an offensive tackle who had earned All-America honorable mention at Cerritos Junior College. Ross was filling in as Newton’s short-term host until assistant Tom Osborne, who had recruited Newton, returned from California, where he was still recruiting.

Osborne got back in time to show Newton around campus, and seal the deal.

In January of 1969, Newton and Bob Terrio, another California junior college recruit (Fullerton Junior College) crammed into Terrio’s Volkswagen and drove to Lincoln to enroll for second-semester classes and spring practice. Newton was 6-foot-3, 235 pounds; Terrio, who arrived as a fullback but switched to defense after playing on the scout team as a redshirt, was 6-2, 208.

They had neglected to bring blankets or bedding for their dorm room, though there hadn’t been much room in Terrio’s Volkswagen for too many things, anyway.

Osborne bought blankets and pillows from home until they could get settled.

Midwest winter weather was a surprise to Terrio, too. He had met Osborne for the first time at a Denny’s Restaurant in Fullerton, California. Among his first questions: “Where’s Nebraska?”

In addition to assigning Osborne to redesign the offense following 6-4 seasons in 1967 and 1968, Devaney decided Nebraska needed to bolster the offensive line.

“There was a great hue and cry,” Osborne has said of fan disaffection in the wake of those seasons.  “We felt we weren’t any lesser coaches. The coaching staff was as knowledgeable as it ever had been. But we just ran out of players at certain positions.

“I mentioned that (California) junior colleges were a source of immediate help. We had never really gone that direction. Bob (Devaney) said he wanted me to do that.”

Nebraska hadn’t previously recruited in California. But Osborne had been with the San Francisco 49ers and had taken graduate classes at USC. So he knew something about the state’s junior colleges.

Not every transfer he brought back was an offensive lineman, or from California. Terrio was a starting linebacker on the national championship teams in 1970 and 1971, when he led the team in tackles and earned second-team All-Big Eight recognition. And there were others. Osborne brought in a junior college receiver in each of those first two seasons – Dale Didur from Long Beach City College in 1969 and Woody Cox from New Mexico Military in 1970. But offensive linemen were a priority, and Osborne landed three besides Newton, a consensus All-American in 1970.

The three were all in the 1970 recruiting class: guards Dick Rupert from Los Angeles Harbor Junior College and Keith Wortman from Rio Hondo College in Whittier, California, and tackle Carl Johnson from Phoenix (Ariz.) Junior College. Rupert started on both national championship teams and was first-team All-Big Eight in 1971, as was Johnson, also a third-team All-American. Wortman backed up Rupert on the left side in 1970, then moved to the right and earned All-Big Eight honorable mention.

Osborne “was a great recruiter,” Ross said. And not just in junior colleges, though his recruiting classes as a head coach over 25 seasons included more than 40 junior college transfers, among them Wonder Monds and Mike Rozier, both of whom earned All-America honors.

Rozier, who committed to Nebraska out of high school in Camden, New Jersey, before spending one season at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, was a two-time All-American and the Huskers’ second Heisman Trophy winner. He remains Nebraska’s career-rushing leader.

That Newton elected to come to Nebraska despite the winter weather is evidence of Osborne’s ability as a recruiter. Even though he had experienced it on his recruiting visit, when he and Terrio pulled into Lincoln after their cross-country trip in Terrio’s Volkswagen, “it was kind of a shock. ‘Holy Smokes,’” Terrio said many years later.

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