All this week the Hail Varsity staff will be selecting its Best of 2018 in multiple categories across any sport the Huskers played. It’s a way to remember the year that was, but also some of these selections may have notes of the future for Nebraska athletics and we’re all thinking at least a little bit about the future right now, right?
Here are our picks for the Huskers’ Quote of the Year.
Brandon Vogel: “I know if we’re getting better day by day, we’re going to be really dangerous and hard to beat in the very near future. We’ll see how this first year goes, but people better get us now because we’re going to keep getting better.”
Nebraska fans were used to that type of straight talk from Scott Frost by the time he delivered that quote at Big Ten Media Days in July. But saying it in front of the home crowd is one thing. Saying it in front of the conference’s assembled media in Chicago is another. It wasn’t a surprise when “people better get us now” made headlines.
But it’s not the bluster that sticks with me five months later, it’s the foresight. Frost’s answer was in a response to a question about how long it would be before Nebraska was competing for division and conference titles. Frost wouldn’t put that expectation on his team, instead it was “day by day.”
With the benefit of hindsight, however, it feels like Frost knew what was ahead. “We’ll see how the first year goes,” he said. Contrast that phrase with the one that directly follows, the money quote, the headline-grabber. I wouldn’t call it doubt in the first case, just knowledge that no corners were going to be cut and that meant there might be some struggles along the way.
And there were, but it’s not cutting corners that allows a coach to say the second part without wavering. Could you argue, based on the 2018 season, that Nebraska got better each time out? Sure. It’s not even a tough argument to make.
If that part’s true, well . . .
Erin Sorensen: Let me tell you about a camel named Calvin… Well, as much as I can for now:
“At this time of year, a lot of the coaches have been around each other a lot and all our little habits are starting to wear on each other, I’m always careful to bring everybody together,” Scott Frost said at his early signing day press conference. “There were a few kids here down the stretch that we wanted them to know how important they were to us, and we kind of intentionally put them off to the end to give us the best chance to be as late into the home as we could. Boy, they were fun.
“We were at Ty’s (Robinson) house with the entire staff, had some cornhole going on, some ping pong, a little bit of basketball, a bonfire and a camel and a dog that can go get waters out of the fridge on command for you. It was a fun night, and it ended up paying off for us.”
Yes, Ty Robinson apparently has a camel named Calvin and a dog that fetches water. Calvin doesn’t fetch water, though. He just carries it.
“Calvin the camel, I don’t know…I thought camels carried water around with them, I’d have to check on that,” Frost said.
To explain, Robinson’s mom is a large-animal veterinarian. That’s why Calvin the camel is around. And while Robinson doesn’t want to be a veterinarian like his mom, he does love animals just as much.
And for some reason, Frost’s quote told me a lot about the staff (who apparently love games and who can blame them) and Robinson. Those are the best kind of quotes.
Jacob Padilla: John Cook is known for two things: winning national championships and referencing other sports in his press conferences. I’m used to those references after covering the volleyball program for four years, but even my ears perked up a bit at something he said this season about stud senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke.
“I think it’s just her inner confidence and her ability to raise it a level when everything’s on the line. How’s Michael Jordan do it? How’s Tom Brady do it? Those guys are special.”
Foecke had a knack for raising her game in big moments as her best volleyball seemed to come in the NCAA Tournament – and especially the Final Four – every year. When asked about that trait, Cook went straight to some of the best and winningest players of all time, regardless of sport. That is some impressive company, but if you really examine what Foecke did in a Nebraska uniform, it doesn’t really seem like hyperbole.
Really you could pick out any number of quotes from after the Purdue game on Sept. 29 and slap the “best quote of the year” label onto it. It was that powerful of a postgame press conference.
There is one quote, however, that I think we’ll continue to come back to again and again as the seasons pass for Scott Frost in Lincoln. Because of how real it was and how after it was said, everything changed.
“In three of our games, we’ve played well enough to win a game. In my opinion, we honestly look like one of the most undisciplined teams in the country, and it kills me because it isn’t like we aren’t trying to give them messages, it isn’t like we aren’t trying to hold them accountable,” he said. “That being said, we’ve got a bunch of guys that are warriors that didn’t stop fighting. When I see guys like Ben Stille turning and getting out of the pass rush and running down one of their receivers 30 yards downfield, I’ll go to battle with guys like that anytime.
“It’s up to us as coaches, but it’s also up to that team to stop allowing the other stuff to happen. We can’t get holding calls on interceptions and then talk trash to their sideline and start dancing on the field. I didn’t know what was going on, when we’re down 13 points and we’ve got backups and reserves dancing on our sideline before kickoff. They look like they love losing, and they look like they’re undisciplined.
“I’m tired of looking at it. There’s really no difference from a coaching perspective from ‘I can’t do it’ and ‘I won’t do it’. The people that won’t make good decisions, the people that are hitting people that are 3 yards out of bounds, if that keeps up I’m just going to ride with the guys that are doing it the right way. We’ve got a lot of warriors on this team and a lot of guys that played well enough to win, but I’m tired of coaching an undisciplined team.”
That was after a 42-28 loss, the last of the six-game slide to begin the season. Nebraska had an interception wiped away in the first half because of a flag on one of its defensive backs; Frost made certain to voice his displeasure about it. Purdue had a big play turn into a bigger play when a Nebraska defender leveled a Purdue ball-carrier well out of bounds; Frost made certain to voice his displeasure about that one too.
And up to that point, I had never been in a press conference where a coach had spoken so openly and honestly about his team. Frost was clearly emotional — watch the video, the words don’t quite do the evening justice — but in most circumstances, you see the coach hide emotion in front of the cameras and save it for the locker room. It’s possible (likely) what we got was the watered down version of what the team got.
Regardless, that was one of the more powerful moments in front of a microphone I saw in 2018. And it proved to be the watershed moment Frost thought it would be. Before that quote, Nebraska was one of the most penalized teams in the country; after it saw its penalty numbers drop drastically over the last six games. Before, it was 0-6; after, 4-2. Before, hope was dwindling fast; after, it was renewed in a major way.
Greg Smith: There were a lot of great quotes this year but when I step back and think about all of the things that were said this season, running backs coach and junior college recruiting coordinator Ryan Held’s explanation of Nebraska’s recruiting pitch will stick with me.
“A lot of these kids don’t know we are the fifth or sixth all-time winningest program in the history of college football. We have to educate these kids and let them know that. I start a lot with that. Then [it’s], ‘Hey, listen, we have everything here for you to be a complete student-athlete.’ We have to get some dudes. We gotta get some dawgs in here that want to play and love football, are passionate and are from winning programs that can’t stand to lose.
“We’re selling playing in schemes that are fun to play in with coaches that will treat you right and love you up. We are going to discipline you when we need to, but we are not the group that will be out that cussing you out and downgrading you and everything. People see that at the end of the day. We aren’t Jekyll and Hyde, [where] you see one thing [in the recruiting process] and then you show up and we are different. The word gets out on that if you are that way. We don’t operate like that and it’s been a winning edge for us. We like where we are recruiting wise, we have to finish. We have to keep infiltrating players into this program that create competition, kids that love football and that’ll help us get to where we want to get to.”
What amazes me about this quote is that we saw all of this play out with the 2019 recruiting class. The staff certainly landed some “dudes.” They also targeted and secured players from winning programs that hate losing and know what it takes to win.
The biggest thing in that quote is that Held told everyone what the winning formula is on the trail for this staff. The genuine nature of this staff is widely known and very respected among high school coaches, parents and prospects.
It’s not often that you legitimately and concisely get a staff’s recruiting strategy and get to see it unfold before your eyes.
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.