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.
#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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
Photo courtesy Nebraska Medicine
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