Tag Archive | dr. rob zatechka

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.

Jack-Hoffman

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!

Paging Dr. Husker

A few years ago, photojournalist Dave Hynek and I chronicled an AMAZING story about a father, donating a kidney to his young son.  We followed their journey from start to finish, including in the moments leading up to the transplant.  We interviewed a very brave Dad as his anesthesiologist inserted his IVs to prepare him for sedation.

You’d think I would’ve learned…

I don’t handle needles well.  Like, I pass out when I see one.  (Really.  It’s not embarrassing AT ALL.)

So here I am, in the surgery preparation area of the Nebraska Medical Center, getting more and more lightheaded, trying to conduct an interview.

Right at the moment I feared I was going to lose my breakfast or crash head first into the floor, I STOOD UP AND LEFT THE ROOM MID-INTERVIEW. Dave finished it for me.  Apparently, it was pretty obvious I was having ‘problems’.  Dave came out of the area laughing, and noted that the anesthesiologist had noticed, too.

‘You know who that was, right?’ Dave asked me.

DR. ROB ZATECHKA.  As in Husker legend turned doctor Rob Zatechka.

REALLY.  Not embarrassing AT ALL.

Clearly, I was not destined for a career in medicine, but a lot of Huskers have been.  ‘Dr. Rob’, Judd Davies, Sean Fisher… and now..

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Dr. Mike Stuntz, Nebraska Free Safety (photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics!)

#16 permanently sealed his place in Nebraska Football history as a freshman, taking part in one of the most memorable plays in recent years.  Nebraska versus Oklahoma in 2001, a key game in Nebraska’s journey to the national title game and Eric Crouch’s to the Heisman trophy.  Out of nowhere in the 4th quarter, Crouch tosses the ball to Thunder Collins, who tosses the ball to Stuntz.  Stuntz, just 18, delivers a rocket to Crouch downfield, who runs for a 63-yard touchdown.  Nebraska beats the #2 team in the country, 20-10.

“I can’t think of one [play] that meant more to our team that I contributed to. I can’t think of one that people talk about with me more often than that one,” Stuntz told me in a recent interview.  “We started practicing it early in the week.  I knew about it, even starting that Monday, I think.  We ran it throughout the week and it never really worked that well in practice.  During the game, they told me even in the first half they were think about running it.  Whey they finally called it, I was a little surprised, it was so late in the game and the game was so close.”

During what many might consider a nerve-rattling moment, Stuntz just ‘played the way he’d always played’.

“It’s almost one of those ‘ignorance is bliss’ things,” said Stuntz.  “I didn’t really realize just how much people cared about Nebraska football, college football in general, how big of a game it was.  You’re just kind of oblivious to all that when you’re 18 years old.”

You want to talk nerves, imagine this: HOLDING YOUR NEWBORN DAUGHTER FOR THE FIRST TIME.

Dads, do you remember that moment?  Mike Stuntz does; it just happened a month ago when he and wife Natalie welcomed their first child, Blakely Autumn.

“I knew what I was doing on that play, I played football all the time. I’d never been a dad before,” said Stuntz.  “So that was, definitely, without a question, more nerve wracking, the first time I saw Blakely.”

“He did use the football hold, though!” added Natalie with a smile.

Stuntz doesn’t just know football, he was pretty darn good at it.  An incredibly versatile player, Stuntz saw time at free safety, split end, and reserve quarterback at Nebraska.  Off the field, Stuntz also excelled in the classroom, a 9-time Academic Honor Roll member in the Big 12 and a 2005 First-Team Academic All-Big 12 student.  His college major also attracted attention; Stuntz earned his degree in professional golf management.

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This photo shows Stuntz golfing Lilongwe Golf Club in Malawi in 2011, his former career colliding with new.  See, Stuntz told me he loved golf, but didn’t know if he had passion to pursue it for 40+ years.  He discovered a new passion: medicine.

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Natalie Stuntz is also a doctor, a pediatrician with CHI Health.  Mike is in his first year of residency at the Nebraska Medical Center, specializing in ophthalmology.  The two didn’t meet in medical circles, but certainly have A LOT in common professionally now, including the summer they spent together in Africa working at a Pediatric AIDS hospital.

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They even found a Husker fan, thousands of miles away!

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THAT is pretty normal for Dr. Mike Stuntz, still recognized nine years after hanging up his cleats, 13 years after that legendary play.

“I’ll be in the hospital or in the clinic or something like that, and it’ll be a patient and they’ll just say ‘aren’t you that guy?'” said Stuntz.  “It happens much more often than I thought it would.  I always enjoy talking about it.”

ESPECIALLY with his biggest fan.  Miss Blakey is also his smallest.

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“I come downstairs, and whether she’s awake or not she comes with me.  We sit on the couch right here, we turn on the TV and we don’t move for the next 12 hours or so,” said Stuntz.  “I’m pretty sure she’s very engrossed in the games, and then afterwards we have a nice group discussion about it.  Her input is limited, but it’s growing.”

Stuntz’s message for today’s players is about the bigger world outside of football.  Even when he bumps into his former teammates Dr. Judd Davies or Dr. Kyle Ringenberg, they talk about research and their goals in the hospital now, not what they used to be on the field.

And when Dr. Stuntz, Dr. Stuntz, and Lil Stuntz are at home, the focus is on family.

“I want to be Mom and Dad,” said Natalie.  “When we’re at home, we leave work.  We’re Mom and Dad, Mike and Natalie, and I want that for her.”

And when that little beauty opens up her gorgeous blue eyes to gaze up at her mom and dad, it’s easy to see why.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S THROWBACK THURSDAY FEATURE ON MIKE STUNTZ!

For more on #16 Mike Stuntz check out his bio with Nebraska Athletics.

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Click here to Throwback to the Class of 2003, Brett Lindstrom!

Next week, A SPECIAL FINALE of the 2014 Throwback Thursday Series, Coach Milt Tenopir!