Mohamed Barry had 38 tackles for the Huskers last season. That was ninth on the team. Only one of those tackles was for a loss. The junior linebacker wasn’t a regular starter — his first career start came in the eighth game of the season against Purdue — and probably wasn’t a guy that jumped to the mind of Husker fans when they thought of defensive leaders. But, Barry is exactly who this new Husker coaching staff wants.
“I love working hard and [strength coach Zach] Duval gave us all of the workouts that pushed us to the edge,” Barry said when asked about the offseason training program. “To really just push people to the point of almost breaking, that’s what I liked about it. Just seeing people be pushed to that point, it’s exciting. It’s a nice feeling when you love football and you love everything about football and lifting. It’s hard but I enjoy it.”
Even for Barry, winter conditioning was challenging. He shared a saying he has: “if it’s easy, you’re not trying hard.” He tried to push himself each and every day.
That’ll make head coach Scott Frost and the rest of the coaching staff happy. That’s what they want. But, that mindset isn’t representative of the entire team, at least not yet. And that’s okay, this coaching staff just went through the same thing at Central Florida. They know how to get that passion back.
“Most of those guys [at UCF] are the same guys that were 0-12. Those guys just pretty much shut it down, didn’t like football anymore, didn’t like coming in here and coming to work out, didn’t like watching film and that’s kind of what I see from this group,” defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said. “Probably not as bad, I don’t know them all right now, but I do see that from this group. I do see guys that don’t seem like they really like football too much. That’s probably why they went 4-8. I really think that had a lot to do with it.
“When practice starts, practice will be fun for these guys. There will be some competition periods in practice where they’ll go for an hour, hour-and-a-half and they don’t even think they’ve been going for over 15 minutes. That’s when you really got it going. When the guys are flying around for an hour and they want to keep going, when you blow the whistle and they say, ‘No coach let’s go some more.’”
Fisher saw the drained spirit in watching the Huskers’ film from a year ago. “Body language, not looking like they wanted to be there,” he said. The culture change starts in the weight room, with Duval, and then continues on the practice field. That’s why “fun” has become one of the buzzwords of this new staff; the goal is to get the team back to practicing like they were as kids and from there, the love just spills out.
“I know when I watched it, my first practice, I was like, ‘Damn, I want to play again,’” Fisher remembered. “I wanted to play again as a coach, I wanted to be a part of that because it’s fun. Even though it looks a little chaotic, it’s fun.”
Mick Stoltenberg, a senior who has, by almost all accounts, taken a significant leadership role in the locker room, has seen some early progress.
“I think there has been a big change as far as accountability,” he said. Obviously, with what happened we know last season didn’t work. We had to change, otherwise, we would see the same results. … I think guys are realizing how hard we do have to work. It is great we have new coaches and all that stuff is changing but at the end of the day, we still have to work really hard to be successful. It is not an easy process, it doesn’t just happen by being there and showing up. You have to put in the work yourself, and I think guys are starting to realize that.”
This whole coaching staff seems ready to tell it like it is, but Fisher, maybe more so than others, isn’t afraid to break “coach speak” every now and again and say something needs to be better. He says the progress everyone has made is evident. “I saw some turnover in some guys’ bodies already,” he said, but there’s still work to be done.
“Some of them are still looking at that deal like punishment,” he said. “It’s not punishment. It’s tough, so tough equals punishment. That’s not what it’s all about. Tough equals championships. That’s what tough equals, championships, and they don’t understand that right now.”
Changing that begins again on Tuesday. Championships are ultimately what everyone wants. Barry wants to be a player who “changes the game for my team and helps us get to the Big Ten Championship game.” As a defense, he wants to be hungry and tenacious.
“You have to attack [practice] with the mentality that you are the best in your position and every individual. That’s how we are going to become a better team,” he said. “If you are striving to become the best player not only on the team but in the nation, then it creates competition. Competition brings the best out in us.
“Day one, attack day one. Day two, attack day two. Strive to be the best you can be”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.