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Signing Day

Does football season every really end in Nebraska?

No.  No it does not.

There may be lulls in the action.. times that are quieter than other.. but there is ALWAYS something going on in Husker nation.  Practices, Spring Game preparation and of course, RECRUITING.  Tomorrow is National Signing Day and we’ll find out who will soon join the iconic Big Red.

It wasn’t so long ago a straight-A student at Lincoln East High School was counting down to this very day, ready to announce his intentions to stay in his hometown and play college football for the University of Nebraska.

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#56 Rob Zatechka, Nebraska Offensive Tackle 1990-1994 (Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics)

When you think of Nebraska Football in the 90’s, you think DYNASTY.  DOMINATION.  But when Zatechka came aboard as an 18-year old young man, perhaps the state of the team wasn’t all that different from today.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S THROWBACK THURSDAY FEATURE ON DR. ROB ZATECHKA!

“At that time (in 1991), we hadn’t won a conference championship in three seasons,” Zatechka told me last fall.  “In that era, it was considered abysmal.  It was hot seat material for a coach at that time.”

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Photo courtesy HuskerNsider.com

Zatechka was a red-shirt freshman that year, but played in almost all games, including Nebraska’s victory against Oklahoma.  It was Zatechka who blocked the Sooners late in the game, clearing the way for Calvin Jones to get a first down, then a touchdown on the next play to win.

“It was one of those things you think about growing up as a kid in Nebraska, or growing up in Lincoln, for what you think about as classic Nebraska football,” said Zatechka.  “Conference title on the line, playing Oklahoma, it was in a freezing rain, the weather was horrible.  Come from behind, win the game, we won the Big 8 title and went to the Orange Bowl.”

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Photo courtesy Brendan Stai Golf Classic

Perhaps that was the beginning, a sign of what WOULD be for this powerhouse group that has become legendary in the history of Nebraska Football.  Dubbed ‘the Pipeline’, Nebraska’s 1994 starting offensive line produced some of the best players Nebraska has ever had.  (CLICK HERE to read more in my interview with longtime Offensive Line Coach Milt Tenopir.)

“You had Joel Wilks and myself over at left guard and left tackle,” said Zatechka.  “Aaron Graham was very business-like as a center.  Over on the right side of the line you had Zach Wiegert at right tackle; guy was a three time All-Conference, three time All-American, Outland winner.  You had Brendan Stai, another All-American, and prior to Brendan you had Will Shields, again, another All-American and Outland Winner (CLICK HERE to read my interview with Shields earlier this season.).”

These guys were SO GOOD, they probably could’ve whispered their game plan to the opposing team and STILL won.

WAIT… THEY DID.

“About every third play of every single game they would line up and tell the defensive linemen what the play was, where the ball was going,” said Zatechka.  “Again, you’ve got a couple Outland Trophy winners there, how are you going to stop it? Will Shields, Brendan Stai, Zach Wiegert; those guys were so good, the defensive players could know exactly where the ball was going and there really wasn’t anything they could do to stop them.”

A humble guy, Zatechka used the word ‘them’ throughout our interview, though he was a standout leader in that powerhouse group on and off the field.  By 1994, Zatechka was named Team Captain and led Nebraska to the Huskers’ first national championship since 1971.  The same season he racked up award after award for his athletic performance, he also nabbed nearly every academic honor available, including Nebraska’s Male Student-Athlete of the Year 1994-1995 and more than $50,000 in postgraduate scholarships.  Zatechka actually graduated BEFORE his senior season on the football field with a biological sciences degree, becoming the first student athlete in University of Nebraska history to win the Student Leader of the Year award.  He was also Coach Tom Osborne’s first graduate with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.

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Photo courtesy Nebraska Medicine

Zatechka played for the New York Giants from 1995 to 1998, a way to continue his love for the game and pay for his venture onto a new playing field.. to become a doctor.

“I always waned to do medicine, I always had a strong interest in science, a big interest in biology,” said Zatechka.  “It’s a great way to help people and work with people.”

Now as an anesthesiologist in the Omaha area, Zatechka and his wife Jennifer are also active philanthropists, volunteering their time and donating money to numerous causes including the Aksarben Coronation Ball, MemoriesForKids.Org, Omaha Performing Arts and the Rimington Trophy Award benefiting the Boomer Esiason Foundation.

And in his ‘spare’ time, Zatechka still talks football, stepping up to the mic every week with longtime Omaha sportscaster and friend Travis Justice.

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The Husker Doc Talk podcast at HuskerMax.com draws in as many as 75,000 listeners a week, many tuning in to hear ‘Dr. Rob’s’ insight in today’s Huskers and what he envisions for their future (CLICK HERE for a complete list of the team’s podcasts.)  Some of those same fans may argue Nebraska will NEVER have a team like the 1994 or 1995 Huskers.

(Travis: “What do you call the ’95 Huskers, Rob?”  Dr. Rob: ” ’94’s backups!”)

Ironically, the guy who looks at that ’91 win over Oklahoma as his favorite Husker moment, points to this year’s upset win over Michigan State as a landmark moment.

“That was probably one of the best offensive performances we’ve seen out of Nebraska this year, especially in terms of offensive line production,” said Zatechka.  “I love what I’ve seen from Coach Cavanaugh (Offensive Line Coach).  You’ve got to have hope, especially with a new staff.  I’m one of those guys where I’ve said, historically, you gotta give a new guy at least three to five years.”

HOPE.  A great word on the eve of National Signing Day. Tonight, as he does most days of the year, football season or not, Dr. Rob is online fielding tweets and messages about this year’s prospects and NEXT year’s possibilities.  And to the Recruit Class of 2016 and current Huskers, a message from Dr. Rob Zatechka, member of the Nebraska Recruit Class of 1990 and one of the best to ever play at Memorial Stadium..

“Keep doing what you’re doing,” said Zatechka.  “You’ve just got to find that spark a little more consistently and I think those guys will.”

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Photo courtesy Nebraska Medicine

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PREVIOUS POST.. Class of 2012, Rex Burkhead!

For a FULL LIST of 2015 Throwback Thursday Huskers, CLICK HERE!

When Good Guys Win

We’ve done it!  Two Husker wins in a row!  In a season that’s been, at times, one to forget, most Nebraska fans will celebrate every victory and milestone with enthusiasm and a smile.  In fact, in our Sunday poll on ketv.com, a majority of voters said they think the Huskers will BEAT the #5 undefeated Hawkeyes on Black Friday!  Who knows!!

For KETV producer Jay Roberts, the secret to Nebraska’s recent success is pretty simple.. I’m NOT covering the games.

I was in LA when USC beat Nebraska in 2006.

I was at Memorial Stadium when Nebraska BARELY lost to Texas a few weeks later.

I was in Kansas City when Nebraska lost in the Big XII Championship game that December.

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I was at Camp Randall when Wisconsin crushed Nebraska 48-17 in 2011.

And I was at Ohio Stadium when the Buckeyes blanked the Huskers 63-38 in 2013.  Actually, I think it was at this game I shared my 0-5 Reporter Record with Nebraska wide receiver Kenny Bell, who then responded ‘maybe you shouldn’t go on the road with us anymore!’

Assistant News Director Vonn Jones, hasn’t let me cover the Huskers since.

BACK TO OHIO STATE… I will always remember a handful of moments from that trip.  The Buckeyes Athletic Department, for whatever reason, provided FREE McFLURRIES IN THE PRESS BOX, and I think I gained 19 pounds in 3 hours.  While I am a HUGE fan of the Pride of Nebraska Husker Marching Band, the Buckeye Band was downright PHENOMENAL, performing a halftime show based on old-school Nintendo games. INCREDIBLE.

Finally, the professionalism and kindness exhibited by Nebraska star Rex Burkhead.

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#22 Rex Burkhead, Nebraska I-Back 2009-2012 (Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics)

Burkhead had a hell of a game that day.  He recorded the longest run of his career, pushing his own total at Nebraska to 3,046 (only the 7th Husker in history to reach the 3K mark), and he marked the 13th 100-yard rushing game of his career.  Then, in the 3rd quarter, Burkhead went down, badly injuring his left knee.  Even up in the press box, we could see that Rex, who’d taken hit after hit throughout his time at Nebraska, was hurting. The following week, he started against Northwestern, but left the game.. and didn’t return for the four following games.

After each game I covered, I tried to find players or coaches willing to do a live interview with Jon/Andy during our Big Red Zone post-game coverage.  Burkhead was a clear fan favorite and had talked to us several times before.  Looking back to Ohio State, I wonder how much pain Rex Burkhead was in both emotionally and physically, perhaps already worrying how much of his senior year he would miss because of his injury.  Not knowing at the time how bad it was, I once again approached him after the game.  He could’ve just ignored me.  He could’ve cussed at me, or shot me a dirty look.  Rex Burkhead APOLOGIZED, saying he was sorry, but wasn’t up for it.

 A moment for me that revealed character and maturity, probably isn’t even a blip on this guy’s Husker Memories radar.  He was the Team MVP, Team Captain his senior AND junior year, a Sports Illustrated Honorable Mention All-American, a Doak Walker Semifinalist, Guy Chamberlin Trophy winner, and a First-Team All-Big Ten member.

Those are just his awards for his work ON the field. 2011 in particular was a remarkable year for Burkhead, still arguably one of the best rushers in Nebraska history.

Click here to watch KETV’s Throwback Thursday feature on #22 Rex Burkhead!

“Probably my favorite [moment] was the Ohio State game my junior year,” Burkhead told me recently.  “It was our Big Ten opener and we were down by a hefty margin.  I think, at the time, it was the biggest comeback in school history.  We came back and won in the final few minutes.  The crowd was going crazy; it was just an unbelievable atmosphere that night.”

Burkhead also loves that game because a friend of his got some national attention for the first time.

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KETV’s Thor Tripp was interviewing Burkhead for a profile story, and asked why he was wearing a ‘Team Jack’ bracelet on his wrist.  Burkhead told him about a little boy with brain cancer who had asked for an autograph; instead, Burkhead invited him to Memorial Stadium to look around.  An incredible gesture, one that to this day, Burkhead doesn’t take credit for.

“Really, it all started with Coach Pelini taking him in, allowing him access to practice, then putting him up in a suite during a game and really, Jack just becoming another teammate with the guys,” said Burkhead.

KETV OCTOBER 2011: Click here to read about Jack’s first Game Day, and how the Huskers all became Team Jack fans.

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Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics

Pelini, a father of 3, and Burkhead brought back Jack and other children with pediatric brain cancer, to take part in team activities and traditions.  Through that, Nebraska fell in love with these kids.. and we also learned the terrible truth about this horrific disease.  Isaiah, the little boy in this photo with Jack doing the ‘Tunnel Walk’ with the team before the Wisconsin game in 2012, died just a few weeks later.

KETV MAY 2012: Click here to learn about Jack Hoffman and his family’s mission to spread national awareness of pediatric brain cancer.

8-million people and counting saw what happened next.. the Nebraska Cornhuskers rallied around Jack, bringing the pint-sized player onto the field during the Spring Game in 2013. Wearing his friend Rex’s #22, Jack Hoffman ran for a touchdown, cheered on by 60,000 fans.  In the weeks and months that followed, the Hoffman family was invited to the White House to meet President Obama, they won an ESPY for Best Moment of 2013, and best yet, THE WORLD was talking about pediatric brain cancer.

Click here to read my blog about Jack’s incredible moment at Memorial Stadium: See Jack Run.

Nebraska Fullback CJ Zimmerer (another Throwback Thursday Husker!) was the brainchild behind that magical moment, but the connection, THE FRIENDSHIP between this little boy and Nebraska football players and coaches began because of Rex Burkhead.  He was named Captain of the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, a 3-time member of the Brook Berringer Citizenship Team and the 2012 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion.  Since Rex Burkhead responded to the Hoffman family’s request in 2012, just asking for an autograph, the Team Jack Foundation has raised more than $2 million dollars for pediatric brain cancer research.

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“Myself and Jack and Andy and his family never would’ve thought it would expand like it did,” said Burkhead.  “It’s been unbelievable just to see the expansion of the Team Jack Foundation, how much support is still out there, not just in the state of Nebraska but across the country as well.”

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Rex and Jack still keep in touch, the Hoffmans even going to see Burkhead’s new team play.  After graduating from Nebraska, Burkhead was drafted by the Cincinatti Bengals, a team that’s only lost ONCE so far this season.

“I’m really enjoying it, it’s a great team and a great bunch of guys on our team who love the team camaraderie aspect of the game,” said Burkhead.  “It’s a lot tougher to do that in the NFL, just because of the business aspect.”

Burkhead also follows his alma mater, and calls Nebraska’s firing of his coach, Bo Pelini, very tough.

“Bo was a huge reason that I went to the University of Nebraska,” said Burkhead.  I just loved everything about him.  I loved the character he was instilling in the program with the players.  How he taught me not only things on the football field but off the field as well.  Very disappointing and sad to see them make that move, that switch.  Even though I may not have agreed with it, I’m still always going to support the Huskers no matter what.”

Burkhead adds that he met Coach Mike Riley in the spring and that he seemed like a great guy.  Fitting, coming from a guy I once heard described as ‘the most beloved Husker football player since Brook Berringer.’

To the Huskers fighting to the finish line of 2015, Burkhead says keep going forward and stay positive.

“Keep fighting, you never know what can happen toward the end of the year,” said Burkhead.  “Just know the former players have your backs and we look forward to Saturdays every weekend.”

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And to all Nebraska fans, from the Hoffmans watching from Atkinson, to the parents who named their baby boys ‘Rex’ (we met two of them!), to the journalists who remember a star athlete and all-around nice guy, Burkhead says he’s honored you DO remember.

“Definitely an honor, a privilege,” said Burkhead.  “That’s Husker football for you.  The support there is unbelievable.”

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(Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics)

Click here to read more about #22 Rex Burkhead via his bio with Nebraska Athletics!

Click here to learn more about the Team Jack Foundation on their website; Click here to connect with Team Jack on Facebook

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PREVIOUS POST.. Class of 1982, Dave Rimington!
NEXT WEEK.. Class of 1994, Dr. Rob Zatechka!

Supporting Red & Blue

Some weeks.. I just need a giant PAUSE button.  Those times when my to-do list just gets longer and longer.  Those nights when I’m lying awake, thinking of everything I need to get done the next day.

We have had one of the most exciting adventures of our careers in the last month here at KETV, moving into our new home at 7 Burlington Station.  Along with planning, boxing up desks, and rehearsals in our new space, we were also keeping up (or trying to) with day-to-day news operations.  YOWSA–I think I speak for all of us when I say we were READY to move in and get back to normal!!

I tell you all of this… because I did not give this week’s Throwback Thursday Husker his much-deserved blog post in association with his story.  However, HE is so busy, I’m guessing he’s got more important things he’s focused on.. like keeping Omaha safe, and recruiting a new generation of heroes to do the same.

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#44 Gregg Barrios, Nebraska Kicker, 1987-1990

Lieutenant Gregg Barrios is one of the highest ranking officers to serve with the Omaha Police Department.  He’s active in his church and community, and he’s the father of eight children.  Barrios is also known for the four years he played football for the Huskers.

“Some people, when they get my name, they’ll recognize it, or ‘are you related to that guy who used to kick for Nebraska?’  I get that once in a while,” Barrios told me recently.  “Probably the most avid Nebraska fans, they can remember that far back.”

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S THROWBACK THURSDAY FEATURE ON #44 LT. GREGG BARRIOS!

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Barrios is a Nebraska guy, born and raised.  The Creighton Prep remembers listening to the Huskers as a kid, a boy with big dreams early on.

“Playing football in the backyard, listening to Lyell Bremser and all that, wishing that someday I could play for Nebraska,” said Barrios.  He still remembers his first game, one he got to suit up for, a privilege allowed to a few, select freshmen.

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“I’m nervous, some hot shot California upperclassmen is like, ‘what are you nervous for? You’re not even gonna play.’  Some Nebraska guy’s like, ‘you don’t get it,'” said Barrios.  “I remember running on the field, it was a night game against Florida State.  And at the end of the game, I ended up getting to play.”

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Barrios’ favorite game came the following year, when #2 Nebraska played #10 Texas A&M to kick off the 1988 college season.

“I found out the night before I’d be starting.  I was like ‘oh my gosh!'” said Barrios.  “I’m put into the game, had a really good game.  I kicked three field goals and there were three records for the Kickoff Classic, including longest field gal in a game.  Then, we won, of course.”

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Off the field, Barrios’ was interested in law enforcement, a curiosity sparked by having a dad in the military and by a professor specializing in criminal justice.  He joined the Omaha Police Department in 1996.

“I started uniform patrol like everybody else did,” said Barrios.  “I also worked in the warrants unit, working in training, worked in investigations, and now in backgrounds and recruiting.  This department is one of the best in the Midwest, by far.  We have a lot to offer for candidates.”

Barrios says there are many parallels between being a Husker football player and being a police officer (or firefighter, as his friend across the street, Asst Fire Chief John McCormick told me last year! Click here to read more!)  We are living in post-Ferguson times when police officers nationwide are facing increased scrutiny; similarly, today’s 3-6 Huskers are criticized, insulted and coached from couches across Nebraska.

“There’s the whole expectation that we are role models in society and we need to live up to a certain standard,” said Barrios.  But the Lieutenant is also quick to point out moments like Officer Kerrie Orozco’s funeral procession, when thousands of people in the Omaha metro area lined streets in the rain to pay their respects to Orozco and law enforcement officials everywhere.  People have brought food to local precincts, have posted messages showing their support and have held countless fundraisers for not just Officer Orozco and her family, but for other officers when they need it.

“That’s what makes the job a really fulfilling job and rewarding,” said Barrios.  “For the right person, it’s that service mentality.  We get to go out, do a job and we get a lot in return for it.”

And no matter what Nebraska’s record is, Barrios wants today’s players to know fans will be on their side.  He’s one of them.

“I will stick with them no matter what,” said Barrios.  “No matter who the coach was the last few years, I try to be a fan the best I can.”

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Photo courtesy CoachTomOsborne.com

Barrios remembers seeing Coach Tom Osborne’s reaction when other programs around the country rolled through coaches and administration every few years.

“He was frustrated by that because he saw it’s difficult to build a program, to build up your recruits and instill your game plan and everything you’re going to do with a program,” said Barrios.  “I think over time, Nebraska will be back.  It’s just going to take the right fit, the right recruits, to put it all together.”

Barrios’ advice for the 2015 Huskers is the same he gave his son, ALSO a collegiate kicker. (Russell Barrios graduated from Omaha Gross and is currently playing football for the Colorado School of Mines.)

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“I always talked to him about something that kickers do, keep your head down, follow through,” said Barrios.  “That’s something about life.  Keep your head down, stay humble, keep focused on what you’re doing and follow through.  You make a commitment, you stick with it.”

Editor’s note… this advice works for working mommas as well as football players.  Deep breath.  Shut out the noise.  Head down and focus.  Follow through.

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CLICK HERE for more information about becoming an officer with the Omaha Police Department!

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LAST WEEK.. Class of 2008, Zach Potter!

THIS WEEK.. Class of 2003, Curt Tomasevicz!

Zach Potter and the Sea of Red

I’m going to let you in on a little secret..

the four main anchors at KETV are Harry Potter nerds.

Ok.. I’m probably the only NERD of the group.  But both Bill and Andy know the stories after years of reading with their children, Rob is making his way through the JK Rowling stories right now.. and I’ve read them more times than I can count.  I LOVE escaping into Rowling’s incredible world of magic, mayhem and muggles.  Rowling lays out a scenario in the first book, symbolizing so much of what readers see in their hero throughout the series: Harry, the youngest seeker in a century, snags the coveted Golden Snitch in the opening Quidditch match of the season, winning the game for his team.

#NerdAlert.

Stick with me, folks! I’m heading somewhere with this!! Meet Nebraska’s Potter, who also made quite the name for himself as a young man on the field at Memorial Stadium.

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#98 Zach Potter, Defensive End 2005-2008 (Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics)

“Growing up in Nebraska, it helps you understand it, but at the same time, until you actually experience it, you walk out on that field and see 90,000 people every Saturday; it’s pretty special,” Potter recently told KETV photojournalist Tyler White.  “The further you get from it, the further you are from playing, it’s that much more special to look back on those memories.”

Potter’s football memories have local roots; he is a Hall of Fame Creighton Prep graduate (inducted in 2014), where he where he helped the Junior Jays win a state football title, and vie for a state basketball title.  The Lincoln Journal Star named Potter the co-Boys High School Athlete of the Year, and B’Nai B’rith’s Bert Rend Award as the state’s top male athlete.

Still, even the best of high school players don’t often make a name for themselves as true freshman in division one sports. Potter did.

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Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics

2005, Zach Potter played in all 12 games, arguably saving two of those games for the Huskers.  Against Pittsburgh, Potter blocked an attempted filed goal and secured Nebraska’s 7-6 victory.  Less than two months later, Potter blocked a Kansas State PAT, and Nebraska won 27-25.  Potter grabbed the Golden Snitch for the Huskers, twice, in his first season on the field.

“My favorite playing memory,” said Potter.  “Pretty fun to do, pretty exciting, big moments of the game.”

CLICK HERE to watch KETV’s Throwback Thursday feature on #98 Zach Potter!  http://m.ketv.com/huskers/tbt-zach-potter/36144822

It was the start of an exciting four years for Potter, who also volunteered his time at local schools and facilities focused on kids, and excelled in the classroom. Potter was an Academic All-American and on the Honor Roll all four years.

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Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics

After graduation, he did what many athletes dream of, joining the National Football League in 2009.

“I enjoyed a nice 6-year career in the NFL, playing tight end for the Jets, the Jaguars, the Rams and the Texans,” said Potter.

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Photo courtesy zimbio.com

And now, Potter has come full circle returning to where it all started, working as an Audio/Visual Integrator with CCS Presentation Systems in Omaha, Nebraska.  Big Red Recipes recently reached out to Potter, asking him to contribute a favorite recipe for their cookbook collection from former Huskers.  Each player that takes part gets to choose which charity will benefit.  Just as he did in college, Potter once again thought of children he could help.

“My Dad’s been involved a lot [with the Ronald McDonald House], so I’ve taken part in some of the golf tournaments, kind of involved secondhand,” said Potter.  “This was really my first chance to get into it and do it myself.  It’s a great charity.  They give back to many families who have children who need help here and gives a spot for their families to come to, to relax after a long day at the hospital.”

Thursday, October 15th, Zach Potter revealed another talent; cooking.  Potter and a few assistants (including his beautiful wife and little girl!) made sweet potato casserole, meat balls, and bruschetta for the out-of-town families staying at the Ronald McDonald House, while their children receive medical treatment here in Omaha.

“Hopefully the guests here will enjoy it, and hopefully we don’t mess it up too much!” joked Potter.  (Editor’s note: I didn’t get to try the feast.. but boy, it looked FANTASTIC.)  “Myself, being here in Omaha, I wanted to be part of this and give back to a great fan base that obviously supported me through four years down in Lincoln.”

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A quick history lesson.. not all of Potter’s years at Nebraska were ‘fun’.  As I heard from his quarterback, Joe Ganz, these were also the seasons that saw an outcry from Husker nation after some rough losses and the firing of Head Coach Bill Callahan.  Social media was also coming into play, allowing hundreds, if not thousands of fans, to connect directly with the players.

“I think the biggest thing now about social media is you get to see how crazy the fans are about Nebraska football,” said Potter.  “You’ve got X number of followers on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter.  You post one thing and people are just going nuts, asking questions, whether it’s good or bad.  Advice for the players would be to not pay attention to the media.  Put your head down, work hard.  The results are going to come if you work hard.”

Potter told us despite the team not being where anyone wants them to be right now, he think Coach Riley and his staff will do a great job.  He’s watching his former team, and hoping for the best.

You face hard times, you press on and you eventually come out of it.  You look back on an adventure in your life, and the good stands out, not the bad.

“My favorite memory is still always going to be the friendships I created with the guys down there,” said Potter.  “Obviously, we always wanted to win every, single game, but looking back now it’s those friendships you still have today you created back then.”

To end this, I’ll do what I do and tie it all together.  In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Dumbledore tells Harry “it is our choices that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities.”  Here’s a guy who had the physical makeup, had a gift for the game, and had opportunity.  Zach Potter worked hard on and off the field, delivered under pressure, and even today, is trying to give back to the community who helped shape him.  He’s also beginning a new phase of life as a daddy, welcoming his second child and first son the day our story aired on KETV.

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Who knows.. we could be looking at another legendary Potter.  Baby Beckett weighed in at 9 pounds, 9 ounces.  No sign of any lightning bolts on his forehead, but word is, his black shirt is already on standby.

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Photo courtesy zimbio.com

Click here to read Zach Potter’s full bio at Huskers.com!

Click here for more information on Big Red Recipes!

Click here for more information on Omaha’s Ronald McDonald House!

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LAST WEEK.. Class of 1990, Lt. Gregg Barrios!

NEXT WEEK.. Class of 2003, Curt Tomasevicz!

Doctor’s Orders

It’s human nature.  When something’s wrong, you instinctively want to fix it.

Nebraska Football is 2-4 for the first time since Eisenhower was President. (My thanks to hilarious columnist Brad Dickson for that bit of trivia..)  Saturday night, I was in the audience at the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County pageant and my friend Grady nudged me, showed me the score and whispered ‘WHY CAN’T WE FINISH A GAME?!?!’

When we lost over the final play against BYU, it was heartbreaking.  When we lost in OT against Miami, it was bad dejavu.  When we lost in the final moments against Illinois, it was annoying.  HOW DID IT HAPPEN AGAIN against Wisconsin?

If I’m frustrated as a fan, I CAN ONLY IMAGINE how guys like Tommy Armstrong and Coach Riley feel.  Maybe that’s why at least one former player isn’t judging, isn’t making assumptions.. he’s just giving his full support.

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#4 Judd Davies, Nebraska Fullback 1999-2003

“A lot of things go into having a new staff, I’m definitely sympathetic to that,” Davies told KETV in a recent interview. “It’s easy to become frustrated and upset once you start having difficult games, but they’ve played extremely well, they’ve played close games, they’ve only lost by a number of points total between wins and losses.”

A glass half-full statement from a guy who’s been a longtime model of composure and maturity.  In the early 2000’s, Judd Davies was the hometown guy who delivered in Lincoln on and off the field.  He headed to Nebraska along with several other Millard North Mustangs (including Pat Ricketts and Eric Crouch), and took the Huskers to the 2001 national championship game.

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S THROWBACK THURSDAY FEATURE ON #4 JUDD DAVIES!

As I wrote about last season (click here to read Brothers in Blue) I first met Davies through my longtime friend Jeff Nathan back when we were in college.  (Part of the same group, I should mention, so excited about Judd’s Rose Bowl touchdown they fell on an elderly woman seated in front of them in the stadium.)  I also had Davies in a speech class at UNL, where he presented an informative speech on how to run the option, and I found out that even at 245+ pounds of sheer muscle he was terrified of the movie Candyman. (Quoting Judd, “don’t even joke about that.”)

Back in those days, Judd Davies was a studious guy in the classroom, focused on his job as a student and his faith.  (Quick story, when KETV photojournalist Tyler White arrived for our interview, Davies still remembered him as a fellow member of Omaha’s Christ Community Church many years ago.)  Family and his close circle friends has also been priority for Davies, who married his longtime girlfriend, Tracy, the summer before his senior year at Nebraska.  It was a busy time for the Nebraska Team Captain, an Academic All-American who also earned the 2002 Brook Berringer Citizenship Award for the time he spent volunteering in his community and across the state.

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Davies taking part in a Special Olympics event, photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics.

12 years out, most of the stats, touchdowns and awards are a blur to Davies

“It’s really the relationships you remember as you get a little further out from it,” said Davies.  “You remember the coaches, the guys you played the same position with because you were with those guys every single day.”

And Davies remembers his awareness that someday, his football days would come to an end.  He was focused on his next step, medicine.

“I love it.  I always wanted to do something with surgery that I thought I would be able to treat conditions, to cure conditions,” said Davies.

After graduating from Nebraska, Davies studied at Vanderbilt before returning to Omaha to open his own private practice and work with Nebraska Medicine.  Dr. Judson Davies is now a respected urologist and surgeon across the Omaha area and beyond.

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“Sometimes I sit down, people will look at me, look at my name on my jacket, then they’ll look back up and me and say ‘I swear, I remember you from somewhere,” said Davies.  But he’s quick to say that football connection doesn’t give him any special insight into today’s team or coaches.  When we first talked several weeks ago, hopes for the season were high with a new program, unknown to most Nebraska fans. When we circled back to Davies just last week, his opinions about the team were the same, even with a losing record.

“It’s about the process.  Don’t worry about where they’re at now.  You want to see improvement and the season is still very early,” said Davies.  “There’s a lot of room for them to grow and improve and hopefully they will.”

And Davies is excited about the guy playing his old spot, Andy Janovich, another Nebraska native just like Davies (Janovich is from Gretna.)

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Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics

“I think he’s doing a great job!” said Davies.  “If he would’ve played in a different era, in my era, he probably would’ve started ahead of me.  So I’m glad he wasn’t there when I was there or I might not have ever played!”

To players EVERYWHERE, Huskers, Mustangs and everyone else, this doctor has some solid advice.

“GO TO CLASS!” said Davies, looking right into the camera before laughing.  “But in all honesty, I’d say GO TO CLASS, GET A DEGREE.”

As for the 2015 Huskers, there may not be any universal fix.  Dr. Davies suggested treatment and prescription for success.. to learn from the experience itself.

“Those lessons you learn day in and day out, how to handle adversity, how to deal with poor performance and improvement and critical feedback, those are extremely valuable,” said Davies.  “You’re going to have lots of ups and downs in your career, business, personal and otherwise, but having the discipline to go through what they’ve gone through, you can’t duplicate that or replicate that anywhere else.”

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Click here to read more about #4 Judd Davies via his bio from Nebraska Athletics.

Click here to visit Dr. Judson Davies’ website to learn more about his work with The Urology Center, PC.

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Note from the author:

THANK YOU to Dr. Davies, his staff, and Nebraska Medicine (especially Jenny Nowatzke) for facilitating TWO interviews due to technical difficulties on our end. Your patience and time are MUCH appreciated!

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WEEK SIX.. CLASS OF 1991 OFC. CURTIS COTTON!

NEXT WEEK.. CLASS OF 1990 LT. GREGG BARRIOS!

Calling The Shots

It’s a historic moment in sports history.. Babe Ruth steps up to the plate, points at the outfield fence, then delivers.. home run.  I do this at softball then strike out; the only guy who can actually do it is KETV meteorologist Kyle Gravlin (also the reigning Media Homerun Derby champ–watch the proof here).

In sports today, what would happen if an athlete called his shot?  Just imagine, switching sports, what would happen if a D-1 college football player addressed reporters and said ‘we’re going to win a national championship!’

Ladies and gentlemen, #42 Jerry Murtaugh.

Nebraska football player Jerry Murtaugh. Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics

Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics.

Heading into his senior year, Murtaugh was already a 2-year starting linebacker, had broken school records for total tackles and was a unanimous All-Big 8 pick in 1969.  Nebraska had never won a national football championship, but Murtaugh knew something big was on the horizon.

“I remember before the season I predicted we were going to win it all, in front of reporters,” Murtaugh told me recently.  “Devaney found out about three minutes later, sends Jeff Kinney over, Jeff grabs me, takes me back, says ‘Murtaugh, you can’t keep your mouth shut!’  But at the end of the year, we ended up with this.”

Murtaugh held up his hand, curled into a fist, a giant ring reflecting off his finger.

“A national championship.  So the prediction did come true.”

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S THROWBACK THURSDAY FEATURE ON #42 JERRY MURTAUGH!

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Dan Schneiss, Coach Bob Devaney and Jerry Murtaugh, taken in 1970.  Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics

That conversation symbolizes so many things about Murtaugh and his time at Nebraska.  He’s an outspoken guy to this day who recently published the book, ‘If These Walls Could Talk’.  Murtaugh bluntly writes about everything from his volatile relationship with Bob Devaney, to his ‘near-jail’ experience in Mexico his junior year, to his time at Colorado’s Playboy Mansion for a college football photo shoot.

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Adventures aside, Murtaugh is proud to say he was a Nebraska football player, part of a long history of talent and tradition.

“Being a Blackshirt, the older I get, which I’m old now!, I can’t describe the word.  It’s an honor.  It’s an honor to have earned a black shirt,” said Murtaugh.  “I thank all of the players before me because I think the world of the Frank Solich’s, the Barry Alvarez’s, the Mike Kennedy’s.  I could go on and on, great football players before us.”

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Photo courtesy FanBase.com

Murtaugh is also proud to be an Omaha native, a triple-sport athlete for Omaha North High School in the 1960’s.

“Expectations were high from fellow Omaha kids at Nebraska.  Bobby Churchich, Denny Morrison, Dicky Davis,” said Murtaugh.  “They said, Hey, we have a standard here.  You better keep it high.  So we tried.”

So does Murtaugh still hold that bar high for today’s players?  After all, it’s been 18 years since Nebraska players have earned national championship rings like Murtaugh’s.

“People have to remember, 1968 & 1968 we were 6-4 and I was part of that,” said Murtaugh.  “They wanted to run Devaney out on a pole.  I had threatening calls, things like that.  It was nasty.  These young men now, they do the best they can.  It’s a game! We forget about that.”

Murtaugh DOES expect all of the Huskers to give 110%.  Today, he reaches out to athletes who have done just that, given their all despite their challenges.  Murtaugh is the President of the Nebraska Greats Foundation, offering financial assistance to letter-winning athletes from colleges and universities across the state facing medical expenses.  Recipients include Nebraska football player Dave Humm, wheelchair-bound due to multiple sclerosis; Creighton basketball star Josh Jones, who faced multiple surgeries due to a career-ending heart condition (see more here); and Jim Unger, the first gymnast in UNL history to receive All-American honors.

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Jim Unger, Nebraska gymnast 1972-1975.  Photo courtesy the Nebraska Greats Foundation.

“About three years ago riding his bike, [Unger] hit a pothole, hit a tree, paralyzed neck down,” said Murtaugh.  “Things like that, we come in and help with their medical expenses, what the insurance doesn’t pay or if they don’t have insurance.”

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 Longtime Nebraska Coach Ron Brown and Murtaugh.  Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics.

So what’s Jerry Murtaugh’s prediction this time around, as a new Coach takes the reigns and Nebraska starts a season 2-2?  Murtaugh, who talks Husker Football on his weekly Legends Radio Show in Omaha, says he DOESN’T predict.

“I’m going to sit there and watch and hope for the best for these young men,” said Murtaugh.  “They’re still inexperienced.  It’s going to take them awhile.  All I ask is give 110-percent.”

Murtaugh supports Coach Riley, Shawn Eichorst and all of the players.  Most of all, just as he did in another time and another place when he called his shot before his historic senior season began, he loves Nebraska fans.

“The excitement. The loyalty. The niceness.  The–EVERYTHING,” said Murtaugh.  “Greatest fans in the country.”

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For more on #42 Jerry Murtaugh, click here to read his complete bio from Nebraska Athletics.

Click here for more information about the Nebraska Greats Foundation via their website; click here to visit the organization’s Facebook page!

Click here for more information about Murtaugh’s book, ‘If These Walls Could Talk’ by Murtaugh, Jimmy Sheil, Brian Rosenthal, George Achola and Brian Brashaw.

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WEEK FOUR.. CLASS OF 1992 WILL SHIELDS!

NEXT WEEK.. CLASS OF 1991 CURTIS COTTON!

The Good Ol’ Days

1969.  Nebraska was selected to play in the Sun Bowl against Georgia.  No big titles on the line, no history book story lines from this match-up, but some might argue December 20, 1969 marked THE BEGINNING.

“We beat Georgia really badly,” remembers Jeff Kinney.  “Vince Dooley (Georgia’s then Head Coach) said neither one of us should’ve been in the bowl game.  They should’ve been in a better one, we should not have been in a bowl game.  But I think at that point, you could just really see things turn around.”

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Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics

Kinney was a sophomore running back at Nebraska that year, the Big 8 Sophomore of the Year in fact in a conference that would later claim the #1, #2, and #3 ranked teams in the country.  Kinney’s Huskers had tough years in the seasons leading up to that game, but followed up that Sun Bowl victory with Nebraska’s first two national football championships in 1970 and 1971.

Those Huskers were nothing short of legendary.  Jeff Kinney was an integral part of it.

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Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S HUSKER THROWBACK THURSDAY WITH #35 JEFF KINNEY!

Kinney grew up in McCook, Nebraska.  His memories of Nebraska football mirror thousands, if not millions of others spanning generations of Husker fans.  Families, tuning in to the radio or television every Saturday, ears and eyes glued to every moment.

“I was a fan before I was ever a player,” Kinney recently told KETV’s John Oakey.  “I knew that side of it, I knew how important it was and how much fun it was.”

As a Husker, Kinney was an offensive machine. In 1970, Kinney rushed for 684 yards, caught 20 passes for 206 yards, and scored five touchdowns… all of these numbers despite splitting time with another Husker great, Joe Orduna.  Fast forward to 1971, Kinney set the career rushing record with 2,420 yards, and he set a new Husker career touchdown record with 35.

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Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics.

Kinney had arguably the biggest game of his college career with 55-million people watching, the Game of the Century versus Oklahoma in 1971.  Kinney set a new season best rushing mark of 171 yards and scored four touchdowns, one of those putting Nebraska ahead of the Sooners with just minutes left to play.

Click here to watch highlights from the Game of the Century, thanks to HuskerTapes.com!

“Every play in that game had to happen for us to win.  Richie Glover, had he not played, we wouldn’t have won the game,” said Kinney.  “That particular season and that particular team just continues to live on.”

Especially when those dynastic teams seem like a distant memory at times.  Kinney, now living and working in Colorado, says it’s been discouraging sometimes watching parts of the program deteriorate.

“Every program goes through that.  It takes some retooling to get back up,” said Kinney.  “I’m really excited what they’ve got going on right now.  I love the coach, I love the athletic director, I really look forward to some good things happening.  May take two or three years, but I think the foundation is being laid, just like what we talked about, how WE started to get better after some tough seasons.”

Funny how teams and times can seem so different, and yet sometimes, seem so much the same.  Will Nebraska ever have a team like Kinney’s 1971 Huskers?  I don’t know.  Some things, though, will never change.

“This gal walks up to me and says ‘Mr. Kinney, I just want you to know you’re my Dad’s favorite player’,” Kinney described.  “She said, ‘he passed away about a month ago, but my fondest memories were riding on the tractor, every Saturday, he’d have the radio up full blast listening to the game.’  That scenario plays out a million times every Saturday in Nebraska.’

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Win or lose, Husker Nation will still wear red every Saturday.  We’ll still pack Memorial Stadium waiting to let go of our balloons after that first touchdown.  We’ll still turn out in droves to meet and get an autograph from legends like Jeff Kinney.

Perhaps THAT is why we can debate what was the beginning of the Nebraska Football dynasty, but there is no end.

“I just loved playing football at Nebraska,” said Kinney.

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Click here for more on #35 Jeff Kinney, courtesy Nebraska Athletics!

WEEK TWO.. CLASS OF 2008 JOE GANZ!

WEEK FOUR.. CLASS OF 1992 WILL SHIELDS!

For a full list of KETV’s Throwback Thursday Huskers, click on the Throwback Thursday index at the top of the page!