Photo by John S. Peterson
Nebraska Football

'Business' of Being a Nebraska Running Back Still Demands Toughness

August 17, 2018
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"You can’t play for me if you’re soft and won’t stick it up in there.” 

Ryan Held, Nebraska running backs coach 

Mike Corgan came with Bob Devaney from Wyoming in 1962 and coached Nebraska’s running backs through the 1982 season, Mike Rozier’s second as a Husker. 

Corgan’s nickname was “Iron Mike, and he was no-nonsense. He often had an unlit pipe in his mouth. He wore sweatshirts on the warmest of days. And he taught running backs “the business.” 

“The business” required going into contact, carrying the ball as well as blocking. Sideline-to-sideline ball carriers quickly learned. Corgan’s way was for a back to take on tacklers when he had gotten as much yardage as he could. Fullbacks knew “the business,” I-backs had to learn it. 

He once told I-back Roger Craig: “All you fancy I-backs should be a fullback at one time or another so you could find out about the ‘working end’ of the business.” 

To play for Corgan, you had to be tough. I don’t recall exactly, of course. That was a long time ago. But Held echoed what Corgan often said, in so many words, following Wednesday’s practice. 

Rozier was as tough as they come, an essential part of his success. It’s been 35 years since he received the Heisman Trophy, and presented it to his mom, 35 seasons since he finished a career that included school records for rushing yards in a season (2,148) and career rushing yards (4,780). 

Rewind to late October of 1982, Rozier’s junior season. Missouri was the opponent, and Warren Powers’ team was giving the Huskers all they could handle. 

Quarterback Turner Gill left the game late in the first half with a concussion, suffered when he was tackled carrying out a fake by Randy Jostes, who was from Ralston, Nebraska. That meant controversy, and back-up Bruce Mathison had to direct the 23-19 victory, aided by the running of Rozier. 

Rozier didn’t start the game. He was sidelined by a hip-pointer suffered the week before. But Craig, the starter, left the game with an ankle injury and back-up Jeff Smith was ineffective, so Corgan turned to Rozier, who entered the game in the second quarter – wearing a flak jacket. 

Rozier discarded the flak jacket in the second half, because it was too bulky, and despite the pain, he accounted for 66 of the 79 yards on the fourth-quarter touchdown drive that gave Nebraska the lead for good. After the Huskers added another touchdown, set up by an interception, Rozier asked for an icebag and limped to the locker room, where he remained for a half hour afterward. 

He had carried 17 times for 139 yards. 

The next week at Kansas, still bothered by the hip-pointer, Rozier carried 16 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns. He also suffered stretched wrist ligaments trying to protect the hip-pointer. 

Neither injury sidelined him when the Huskers played Oklahoma State a week later at Memorial Stadium, however. Late in the third quarter, with Nebraska leading 35-7, Rozier was tackled for a 3-yard loss and couldn’t get up because of cramps in his legs. He was helped from the field by trainers George Sullivan and Jerry Weber. He had rushed for three touchdowns and 195 yards, leaving him 20 short of the Huskers’ single-season rushing record (1,342), set by Bobby Reynolds in 1950. 

Rozier received a standing ovation from the crowd of 76,387. Logically, his day was done. 

On the sideline, however, Craig and Irving Fryar told him he was so close to Reynolds’ record he needed to go back in. That meant persuading Corgan, who uncharacteristically agreed. 

Nebraska’s next game would be at Iowa State, and Rozier wanted to break the record at home. No disrespect to Oklahoma State intended, he went back into the game. 

He gained 4 yards on a pitch play, and 13 off right tackle. Someone in the huddle said he needed 3 yards to break the record. He got 2 to tie it. 

On the next play, a countersweep with guard Mike Mandelko pulling, back-up quarterback Nate Mason handed Rozier the ball and he ran 37 yards to the end zone. Record shattered. 

Rozier admitted he was tired. He had carried 33 times for 251 yards. 

But wait; with 5 more yards, he could break Nebraska’s single-game rushing record, held by Rick Berns. This time Corgan couldn’t be persuaded. One record a day was plenty. 

Frank Solich, who had recruited Rozier, succeeded Corgan as running backs coach in 1983. No pipe, no sweatshirts on warm days, but Solich demanded the same physicality of running backs. 

“You can’t play for me if you’re soft and won’t stick it up in there.” 

I’m sure Solich said the same thing, in so many words, many times. 

But that’s a story for another day.

 
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