The defensive line group is one of the biggest question marks on Nebraska’s defense after losing five of its top six players from a season ago.
Ty Robinson is the only returner with significant playing experience in an otherwise underclassmen-filled room. The coaches turned to the transfer portal in search of reinforcements, landing Stephon Wynn Jr. from Alabama and Devin Drew from Texas Tech.
However, another name has continued to pop up through spring ball and fall camp: junior walk-on and Yutan native Colton Feist.
“Colton Feist is a guy that came in here as a kind of a walk-on guy that not many people outside the program knew about,” defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said. “He’s just worked and worked and worked and he’s put himself in a position to play a ton of snaps this year, whether he gets to be a starter or whether he’s the first guy in the rotation. He’s done an unbelievable job with his technique, he’s a powerful guy, he knows what’s going on, he has good anticipation of the game and he can really run for a big guy. He’s played on some some special teams for us as well.”
Mike Dawson was Feist’s first position coach during his redshirt year in 2018 before he left for the NFL. Dawson returned to Nebraska to coach the outside linebackers in 2020, and now he’s back working with the interior linemen once again.
“It’s been awesome for me to watch Colton Feist kind of grow as a guy that showed up our first year as a walk-on here,” Dawson said. “I remember the first day he was here trying to hit the sled and the sled was kind of hitting him back to a guy that’s an exceptional worker and he’s worked himself into a position to be one of the guys that’s really playing pretty well inside and doing a nice job. I’m looking forward to the rest camp with him and watching him kind of take the final growth in his journey and be an impact player.”
Robinson called Feist a sleeper, describing him as fast, athletic and quick with a “little twitch to him.”
“I really think that he’s going to get a shot and he’s really fundamentally sound,” Robinson said. “I’d say he’s probably got one of the best techniques on the line out of everyone, and he’s just really got that motor. Being from Nebraska, I know it means a lot more to him playing for the Huskers as well.”
While he’s impressed his teammates recently with his technical prowess, that wasn’t always an area of strength for him. He was able to coast on natural talent and effort in high school but quickly learned that wouldn’t be enough once he arrived on campus in Lincoln.
“When I first got here, it was high school football at Yutan,” Feist said. “I was just playing to play; there wasn’t very much technique. That’s the thing, when you get to this level you have to have technique or else you just get beat every play.”
Feist praised the coaches and Dawson in particular for helping him improve his technique. He’s also continued to add good weight throughout his career after being listed at 255 pounds during his first year in the program. He’s now up to 275 pounds at 6-foot-2.
“Feist has always been one of those guys that would have, could have played, but he’s had some injuries,” Henrich said. “So now that he’s healthy, he’s just been a beast. He’s super athletic, knows what he’s doing and just a super hardworking guy. So we’re really expecting him to play a lot of snaps this year … It just is a testament to his character and all the work he’s put in and how far he’s come. I don’t think anyone deserves it more than him.”
Feist redshirted his first season then did not appear in a game in 2019. He played in four games during the 2020 season and, although he did not record a statistic, he was a member of the travel roster throughout the season.
Feist was poised to take a step forward last year, but injuries at the start and end of the season limited him to eight games. Now, with Ben Stille, Damion Daniels and others moving on, Feist sees the opportunity for a big role in 2022.
“The last four years that I’ve been here, we’ve had some very good players that have gone to the league,” Feist said. “Kind of just being behind them and learning from them too, and now it’s my turn. So just kind of taking everything that they taught me and applying it. They’re not here now. We used to watch film with them; now we’re kind of taking on that role, watching film together every day, seeing what we can perfect with our craft.”
The Huskers have eight defensive linemen on scholarship, but through consistent effort over the course of the last four years, it’s a walk-on who has positioned himself as well as anyone in the room not named Robinson to see the field.
“I think you’ve just got to show up every day and show everybody that you’re better than the guys that we picked for scholarships,” Chinander said. “That’s happened throughout our tenure with a few different guys. Some of that happens on special teams, some of it on offense or defense.
“Colton Feist has just shown that he belongs with the starters and/or that first rotation.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. 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.