The players in Nebraska’s program have been through quite a bit of change and turmoil over the past four years. Players have come and gone, and the result is a senior class that includes just 24 players.
Of those 24 seniors, just 15 of them have been with the program since the beginning. Of those 15, 12 are on defense.
“There’s only a small group of us left, most of us on defense: Reid Karel, Avery [Anderson], Eric Lee, Mohamed [Barry], DJ [Neal],” Carlos Davis said. “It’s kind of cool to see that we stuck together, because it got hard and there were times where we wanted to just finish and quit. But we all stuck it out and we’re grateful to be in this situation we’re in now. We always look back on that.”
The defensive line group is particularly tight-knit, and that connection extends beyond the senior class. In that room, it truly is a family. Of course, having a pair of brothers certainly helps, but the defensive linemen from Nebraska have become nearly inseparable (as evidenced by their group interviews).
“We’re probably too close as a group,” Davis said. “That’s how we are. We don’t try to intimidate our freshmen. Everybody’s just welcoming. We’re hard on each other and when it comes to football it’s strictly football, but we just like to have fun outside of it and don’t take anything for granted.”
The linemen did a little extra bonding this summer, taking a fishing trip together for the 4th of July. In fact, when he spoke with the media on Thursday, he was sporting a hat from Crusty’s Feed Store in Arthur, Nebraska. Jason Christensen, the owner of Crusty’s, was the one who took the group of Huskers — seniors Carlos and Khalil Davis and redshirt sophomores Deontre Thomas and Damion Daniels — on the trip.
“Damion wasn’t really suited for all that; he wanted to leave after day one,” Carlos Davis said. “But he stuck it out with us and we went up to Lake McConaughy, caught some stripers, bass, catfish, crappie and we ate pretty much most of it and we just had a good time out there.”
The younger Daniels may not be much of a fisher, but Davis said he’s noticed a difference in him since his older brother Darrion arrived in Lincoln as a graduate transfer.
“Most definitely because that’s big brother, he’s little brother,” Davis said. “Big brother runs the show. They’re better together.”
Another regular position group bonding experience is a trip to the Watering Hole to chow down on as many wings as they can put down, according to Thomas. On and off the field, the Husker linemen have grown to trust each other.
“We hold each other accountable,” Thomas said. “We’re all really close. So when one of us does something wrong, we want to correct it … We’re so tight. We can trust each other. We can trust Damion to be in his gap, I can trust ‘Los will be in his gap. When we trust each other and we play and we know what we need to do, we succeed.”
Like the Davis twins, outside linebackers Alex Davis and Tyrin Ferguson are heading into the fifth year in the program, which means this is their last chance to make an impact.
“It’s his last year.,” Alex Davis said about Ferguson. “It’s only right to want to go out with a bang. This is his last year. We’ve been together since we got here and are still pushing each other, still wanting to see the best out of both of us. Nothing is going to change now. We’ve just got to go out with a bang and show everybody what we’ve been working on.”
The outside linebacker room is a family too, and those ‘backers will have their patriarch back this fall in outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt after his bout with throat cancer during the spring.
“Jovan is doing great,” Coach Scott Frost said. “Back in the office he was just running a special teams meeting for the coaches to make sure we’re all on the same page, and he seems to be lively and be ready to be a part of what we’re doing.”
Dewitt was there at practice and in the football offices as much as his health allowed him to be — probably too much if you ask his doctors. Now he’s back and ready to prepare for the season.
“It feels great,” Davis said. “Just seeing what he’s been through and how he’s come back, but even though he was gone, not there every day, he was still there, still texting us, still letting us know what he saw, good or bad. It feels good seeing him full-go back out there and it’s going to feel good to see him on the field with us every day.”
All in all, Nebraska has shown a pretty unified front through the spring and summer, and that sense of unity is something that has caught their coach’s attention as well.
“I’ve been really pleased with the turnaround of the attitude on the team, the togetherness of the team,” Frost said. “I’ve been around a lot of teams and usually the majority of the team, on good teams, is doing things the right way and looking after each other. There’s always some outliers, and there’s always going to be outliers, but we have very few guys that aren’t completely 100 percent in, holding each other accountable and living up to a standard that we expect. We have it on this team right now to a degree that I haven’t seen very often, so if we can get to work on the field and start executing well with that kind of attitude, I think some good things will happen.”
Trust and togetherness are key to success in team sports, and the Huskers seem to feel like they have them heading into the 2019-20 season.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.