Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos and a collection of Husker coaches made their way across the state on Thursday as part of the Big Red Blitz which included stops in Norfolk and Fremont as well at the SAC Museum.
Football coach Scott Frost, men’s basketball coach Fred Hoiberg, women’s basketball coach Amy Williams, wrestling coach Mark Manning and softball coach Rhonda Revelle accompanied Moos on the tour, addressing the assembled Husker fans at each stop.
Here’s a round-up of what the coaches had to say to the fans in Fremont.
The softball team is coming off a tough 21-31 season, but coach Rhonda Revelle expressed some optimism for the future when addressing the crowd.
“I’ve always said that any time you have a break through—just think of those two words: break through. There’s usually a little pain involved,” Revelle said.
She noted the youth of the pitching staff with three freshmen and a sophomore as the core of the group this season, pointing out that the team ERA was cut in half over the second half of the season compared to where it was during the first half.
Revelle said she modeled her coaching after Nebraska legends Terry Pettit and Tom Osborne, and a big part of that was in-state recruiting.
“Their motto was to always get the best and the finest right here in our state, so that’s always been my motto,” Revelle said. “I don’t care where they’re from in the state. For instance, we had a pitcher from Wayne, Nebraska, Molly Hill, who had a wonderful career. Those communities, they rally, they come down, they have Molly Hill days. Or if they’re from Omaha—of course we pull more of our players out of the larger metropolitan areas—but any time you can have a Nebraska native on that field of play and succeeding, it’s a source of pride for all Nebraskans. It is one Nebraska.”
Revelle was sporting what she called a “war wound,” walking up on stage with a boot on her foot.
“I was coaching third base,” Revelle said. “Tristen Edwards had made an adjustment to the kind of pitcher we were facing and she pulled the ball right into my foot. I got this foot out of the way, so I was batting .500. This one got me, I fell down and got back up. Long story short, two broken bones, well-earned. I’m just on the DL for a little while.”
The wrestling program has been a perennial power under coach Mark Manning, but Manning said the secret to that sustained success has been the buy-in from the team.
“When you walk in our wrestling room, you see ‘Effort. Attitude. Always.’ and that’s what we really try to establish with our guys,” Manning said. “It all starts with them. We’re just guiding those guys and helping them prepare for life along the way to be the best people they can be but also the best student athletes. We have four returning All-Americans next year so if they overcome the head coach, they’ll be all right.”
Manning emphatically called the Big Ten the best wrestling conference in the country. What will the Huskers need to do to get over the hump and win the conference?
“What we have to do is just keep doing what we’re doing right now,” Manning said. “That’s hard sometimes when five consecutive years we’ve been in the top 10 and we just need to take that next jump. It starts with our guys, it starts with belief, faith in themselves and it’s all about development.”
Manning also noted that Lincoln will be hosting the Final X on June 15, the final qualifying event for the senior world team for the 2019 World Wrestling Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan, Sept. 14-22. Two former Huskers—Jordan Burroughs and James Green—will be competing and Manning encouraged fans to show up and offer their support.
The Nebraska women’s basketball team finished two games below .500 this season, but the Huskers are set to return all but one of their key contributors. Lincoln native Maddie Simon was the only senior in the rotation and Coach Amy Williams said her leadership and overall impact on the program will be missed, but she’s excited about what’s coming back.
“Having everybody else back is really exciting for our team right now,” Williams said. “Seven of our top eight scorers were all freshmen and sophomores this past year so it’s a just a very exciting time for our team. We feel like we’re going to be able to lean heavily on that experience that those players got heading into this next season.”
Williams highlighted one of the freshmen who made a big impact this season—Moorhead, Minnesota native Sam Haiby. She credited Nebraska baseball coach Darin Erstad for helping her secure a commitment from Haiby as the 5-foot-9 guard was also an accomplished pitcher in high school—not on the softball team, but on the baseball team. She’s the only girl to have pitched a scoreless inning in a high school baseball game in Minnesota. Haiby also missed a few of Wiliams’ calls during her recruitment because she was out playing pick-up hockey. Haiby went on to finish as Nebraska’s second-leading scorer this season as a freshman.
Williams noted that—just like the men’s team—the women’s squad will be taking a foreign tour this August. The Huskers will be visiting Italy and Spain.
Asked about her incoming recruits and who might be able to make an impact right away, Williams highlighted Australian forward Isabelle Bourne. She won’t be able to compete with the Huskers during the foreign tour, though she will join the team for it. Currently, the 6-foot-2 Bourne is in training camp for the Australian National team in preparation for the U19 World Championships in Thailand in July.
Hoiberg opened with a dive into his Nebraska roots as he has with most of his speaking engagements since accepting the job, then discussed what the last couple of months has been like for him.
“It has been a whirlwind,” Hoiberg said. “It’s been crazy. I’m still living in a hotel and that has not been a lot of fun, although it is an Embassy Suites so I get free breakfast and they have a great happy hour.”
Unlike Williams, Hoiberg had a lot of work to do with his roster to field a team for next season.
“Amy had to replace one; I had to replace 11,” Hoiberg said. “It’s been an overhaul of the roster but I’m really excited about the class that we’ve put together. In seven weeks, to get 11 players to come in and say they want to put on the Nebraska uniform is pretty incredible, and a lot of that has to do with the facilities that we have.”
Hoiberg said he built this team in a similar fashion to his first team at Iowa State, bringing in five transfers including two graduate transfers in addition to three freshman. He touched specifically on the last of those high school recruits to join the class.
“We just got a commitment from a kid named Samari Curtis who was the player of the year in the state of Ohio,” Hoiberg said. “He averaged 34 points a game. He was committed to Cincinnati, his coach went to UCLA, he opened up his commitment, drove 12 hours through the night and committed on his visit, right there on the spot. We’re very fortunate to have him.”
Hoiberg also mentioned retaining the commitment of Omaha Creighton Prep forward Akol Arop who had committed to Tim Miles previously. The other freshman who got a shoutout from Hoiberg is French forward Yvan Ouedraogo, though hoiberg passed on attemtoping to pronounce his surname.
“I’ve got twin boys — my twins are 16 years old,” Hoiberg said. “They’re identical twins who will be moving to Lincoln here probably at the beginning of August. Yvan is one year to the day older than my twins. My twins are about 5-9 and maybe 140 pounds. Yvan’s 6-8, 265. We feel good about Yvan and his future. He’s raw right now but I think he’s got a chance to be a special, special player.”
Hoiberg closed out his session with a message for the fans about what they can expect from the program under his watch.
“We’ve always played an up-tempo style,” Hoiberg said. “That’s the thing that we try to do is really put an exciting brand of basketball on the floor. We feel good about the guards that we have that can push the ball—I talked about Jervay [Green] and I talked about Cam Mack. The other guy that sat out last season at Nebraska is Dachon Burke and I think he’s another player that’s really fast and can get downhill. We’ve always shot a lot of 3s—we led the nation in 3s one of my years at Iowa State, we’re always in the top 10, we led the Big 12 every season—so we’re going to space the floor as best as we can where those guards will have shooters around them to spray it out and knock down shots.
“I brought back Doc Sadler; I’m really excited about that hire. If our defense isn’t any good, it’s Doc’s fault. But I brought Doc back in—we’re going to have to be creative with this team. We don’t have a lot of size so we’re going to have to get creative with some defensive schemes and I think Doc’s the perfect guy to help plan for that. It’s going to be fun, I promise you that. We’re going to put a team on the floor that’s going to play together—we’ve always been a high-assist team and a low-turnover team and that’s one thing I can promise you won’t change.”
Frost opened his session with an update on the status of the team heading into June.
“I’m really happy with where we are right now,” Frost said. “We’re continuing to make progress. The coaches just got back off the road from recruiting. The players showed back up about two-and-a-half weeks ago so we’re two weeks into our summer cycle. We make the most gains in our winter conditioning program and our summer conditioning so our guys are getting bigger, faster, stronger. We’re starting to get trickling in all the new players that are going to be a part of our program this year are coming in almost daily with some new guys, so the team’s really starting to take shape and we can’t wait to get started.”
Running down the roster, Frost spoke highly of the quarterback, running back (once everyone arrives), tight end, the offensive tackles, the defensive line (which he called their deepest unit, “three-deep”) and the secondary, which he called vastly improved.
Frost said the competitions at left guard and center are still ongoing and he hopes they can build some more depth at those spots. He called receiver the big thing on offense: “We need to put some other guys around JD [Spielman] that are going to be consistent playmakers for us.” He said he feels good about the guys who are going to play at linebacker, but they need more depth and they need more production from the edge rushers.
As for special teams, he said that phase of the game will continue to improve as they continue to add more athleticism to the roster.
If there’s a theme heading into the preseason, it’s toughness.
“We’re teaching our kids every day,” Frost said. “I’d say if there’s an emphasis this year, I want to be a tougher team. I want to be a more physical team, a tougher team. Our attitudes have really changed in the locker room. I feel great about where our kids are from a mentality standpoint. You guys all remember Nebraska—it was nasty, when people got on the field with you they were going to lose the next week too because we beat the piss out of you.
“I want to get a little of that nasty back and, to give everybody out here a compliment, I want our team to represent the people of Nebraska. The people of this community and the others that we’ve been in have been through a lot this year. There’s a lot of persevereness and toughness and character that exists in Nebraska people. Our football team needs to resemble that and mirror that. I think we’re bigger and stronger to the point that we can be a little more physical, a little tougher, and I want to see that come out of our team this year.”
Frost wrapped things up by speaking about the fan base and the kind of asset it is to the football program.
“Sometimes they’re awesome, sometimes I think they’re crazy but 100% of the time they’re the best fans in college football and the most supportive,” Frost said. “When I have kids on campus, I tell them the best asset that the state of Nebraska has is its people, and the kids see it quick because when they come on campus, their Twitter blows up more when they come to Lincoln than any other place because Nebraska fans are involved and they know what’s going on. When they go around and meet people everybody is friendly. People know who they are more in Lincoln than anywhere else they go.
“Our biggest challenge in recruiting is getting kids to Lincoln. We’re not in a highly-recruited area where we’re going to sign 25 kids a year out of the state. Most of the kids are in other places. Our biggest challenge is getting them to Lincoln because once we get them to Lincoln and they see what Lincoln’s really like and meet the people of Nebraska, we’ve got a great chance to make them Huskers.”
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.