Photo by Eric Francis
Nebraska Football

Saturday Was the Start of Things

April 21, 2018
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It took Corey Chancellor a little longer than he expected to find a group of four seats that were actually together on Saturday, and we’re talking about a football scrimmage in the middle of April here. 

He and his son, along with a friend and his daughter, had driven into town from Iowa to watch the Huskers’ Spring Game on Saturday. He knew the tickets had sold out; he wasn’t expecting the crowd to actually be there at full mass. Chancellor, a UNL grad and State Farm agent who’s been coming to Husker games for 25 years, has never put too much stock in the on-field product of spring scrimmages but rather felt them more a celebration of what’s to come. He, along with 86,818 celebrated the birth of a new era Saturday.

“You felt an electricity kind of just in town as you’re walking around a little bit. Near the stadium it was an electricity I don’t remember feeling last year or the year before that,” he said. “It feels like an historic event that you were there for the start of it.”

The game itself was inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Frost won’t register a win for it, none of the points scored will actually count, none of the yards piled up will get logged into an online database. A 49-9 final score will be a footnote; the headliner should and will be the fans.

New head coach Scott Frost returned home and with him came a renewed sense of hope and excitement in a fanbase that has endured too much disappointment. Chancellor was in the stands watching his son start his fair share of “Go Big Red” chants. Elsewhere, Nate Callen, a Husker lifer from Kansas City, was experiencing the craziest Spring Game atmosphere he’s seen “by far.”

“It’s definitely the new era,” he said. “I could see Frost being here for 20 years.”

Adam Maciejewski, an IT technician at a hospital in the Kansas City area, saw the excitement before he even got to Lincoln. On his drive into town, he stopped with his wife and two children at a McDonald’s on the highway. They saw Husker license plate covers and stickers and shirts and sweatshirts. “A caravan,” he described it, of Huskers coming back, not just to a stadium but to a program. His bank teller in Kansas City is a Husker too; since Frost was hired the “Go Big Red” chants have gotten a little louder.

There’s a newness Frost has blended with a return-to-form sensation, injecting some pride back into things. 

Chancellor says there’s an energy coming from an up-tempo offense that’s never been deployed in Memorial Stadium, an energy that can excite a younger generation that hasn’t seen Nebraska at the top of the mountain. The sideline full of high school recruits saw the same.

Maciejewski says there’s a sense that the Tom Osborne way of working your tail off and out-grinding the other guys is going to return. “I just expect that there’s going to be a lot more work ethic,” he says. He saw it Saturday.

Everyone watched as the new kid on the block, freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez (the guy Frost flew coast to coast for), ran bits of the old show. Their heartbeats bumped up a little when Martinez took off and rumbled for a 23-yard quarterback keeper that ended with a dive at the pylon.

“We need that,” Callen said. “I mean, it’s Nebraska, we’ve got to have a dual-threat.”

They tried to keep up with a Red side — the presumed first and second-teamers — that raced its way to 49 points, 508 yards and 80 plays in a game that featured a running clock in the second half. 

“That first play they come down and throw that 35-yard pass and they come running up to the line, even from the start how fast they were getting out and playing and finding good players in space, watching some of that offense and knowing that once they get it under their belt it’s going to provide for some fun plays,” Chancellor said. “I think we’ve been starved for that a little bit.”

Nebraska’s offense never topped 500 yards last season.

Granted, this was a scrimmage after all and the first team was going against a defense that was pulling its punches — everyone in attendance knows that — but still, “when you’re looking at it schematically, it’s exciting football,” Chancellor says. 

Maciejewski felt things were a little sloppy — a combined nine flags were thrown — but that’s to be expected given the newness of the schemes in place. He, along with Callen and Chancellor and pretty much everyone else, wanted to see tackling. They wanted to see guys swarm to the football. The wanted to see desire.

“The defense was moving and flying to the ball,” Chancellor said. “That felt fun to see that again. There was a couple times early in the game where someone would make a play on the sideline and there would be six defenders piling on.”

But there was something else on display Saturday that was a better indicator of where the program is heading than any draw play or assisted tackle could: unity. 

Frost’s mantra “Unity of Purpose” made its way into the pregame video. A modernized cover (appropriate, huh?) of The Beatles’ “Come Together” replaced The Alan Parsons Project during the Tunnel Walk. The coaches and support staff formed a mini tunnel on the field for each other to walk through. The players did the same. When cornerback Lamar Jackson picked off his first pass in a Husker uniform, his team mobbed him. When Frost took the field, an entire program cheered him.

“He’s been preaching togetherness ever since he got hired, it was as expected,” Callen said. “You can definitely tell that he wants the entire state going the same direction and having that support, and then the team as well, being together and being brothers.”

There’s still a ways to go. Expectations vary depending on who you’re talking to, but most admit they’re trying “not to drink the Kool-Aid.” Rebuilding this team will be a process, it won’t happen overnight and it won’t happen in one spring. But, Saturday was the start of things.

“As long as he can keep the staff and keep trucking along,” Callen says, “they’re going to build something really, really good here.”

 
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