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Nebraska Football

Tom's Time: An Option Runner Before an Option Caller

August 15, 2017

Welcome to Tom's Time, 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.

Tom Osborne’s move from a more pass-oriented offense to the option in the late 1970s was based on the belief that in order to succeed in the Big Eight a team had to play as Oklahoma did. The Sooners ran a Wishbone offense, and though Nebraska didn’t go to that extreme, Osborne began recruiting quarterbacks who could win by running as well as passing. Jeff Quinn, out of Ord (Neb.) High School in 1976, was the first such Husker quarterback. Osborne has said as much.

His interest in running quarterbacks goes back much further, however, if it's as a teammate at Hastings (Neb.) College claimed. Osborne played quarterback for the Broncos, who ran an option offense according to the teammate, and 90 percent of the time, he kept the ball.

Hail Varsity A game program from Osborne's time at Hastings (Neb.) High School.
“He thought running plays were for him,” the teammate said with a laugh.
Nebraska showed some interest in Osborne following his graduation from Hastings (Neb.) High in 1955. He was the state Prep Athlete of the Year, earning first-team all-state recognition in both football and basketball as a senior. He played quarterback, as a back-up his sophomore year, before directing the Tigers to an 8-1-0 record and starting for a Class A state championship team as a junior.

He was the only non-senior starter on the Tigers’ Class A state championship team, which featured a pair of first-team All-Class A players who stood 6-foot-5. Osborne was a slender, or skinny, 6-3 guard. As a senior, he averaged 19.2 points per game for a team that finished 13-4.

The premier Nebraska high school player in 1955 was Omaha Tech’s Bob Boozer.

Osborne also competed in track and field and played American Legion baseball.

Nebraska football coach Bill Glassford, who was preparing for what would be his final season in Lincoln, and basketball coach Jerry Bush, preparing for his first, both contacted Osborne to gauge his interest and offered scholarships. But neither was aggressive in recruiting him. Wyoming, pre-Bob Devaney, offered a football scholarship, and Denver University wanted him for basketball.

But Osborne decided to stay home and play football and basketball at Hastings College, opting to pay his own way instead of accepting the scholarship that was offered. His father and paternal grandfather had both gone there, and son Mike would go there as well – and start at quarterback for three seasons. Osborne was as successful in both sports as he had been in high school, enough so to earn recognition as the State College Athlete of the Year twice.

His future, professionally, was in football and was a result in large part to his play in the Mineral Water Bowl in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, on Nov. 30, 1957. Hastings College, which had lost to Missouri Valley in the bowl when Osborne was a freshman, lost to William Jewell that Saturday afternoon. Even so, Osborne would attract the attention of the San Francisco 49ers.

The Broncos took a 7-0 lead with 4:15 remaining in the first quarter of the Mineral Bowl after an intercepted pass at the William Jewell 30-yard line. They would score on the next play, Osborne’s 30-yard touchdown pass.
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