I love softball.
I used to be alright.. even good as a kid. I remember once getting an in-the-park homerun when my friends came to watch my summer team in high school. Not a lot of power, but I was quick.
Two babies and xxx pounds later.. I am slow. No, really, you can hear Chariots of Fire playing in the background as I hustle to first. And since I still don’t have a lot of power, I also earned the nickname 1-3, courtesy of my friend and current ESPNU superstar, Matt Schick. STILL, I love softball. So I was pretty geeked up when I was asked to take play in this summer’s Celebrity All-Star Softball Game as part of the 2015 AAA-All Star game at Werner Park.
I was pretty terrible. In fact, I was the only girl of the four of us who did NOT get a hit.
The MVP of the game was also one of the most popular targets for autographs after..
Joe Ganz not only PUMMELED the first home run of the game, he casually mentioned that he actually planned to be a baseball player rather than a college football quarterback.
Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics
THIS is the Joe Ganz most people know and remember, the guy who started as a backup behind quarterbacks Zac Taylor and Sam Keller, then took Nebraska on an offensive thrill ride when he became the go-to QB in the second half of the 2007 season. All of this might never have been in a different place and time.. picture a scene from the Sandlot, in south side Chicago, with a shorter Joe “The Jet” Ganz playing baseball with his buddies. It may not be so far-fetched; sources tell me Ganz’s Palos Heights Pony League team once played Papillion’s 10-year olds in a bid for nationals.
“I love baseball, it was my first love, growing up I played it and it’s all I wanted to do,” Ganz told me recently. “Before Bill Callahan got here, I was going to play baseball for the University of Illinois-Chicago.”
That all changed the summer before Ganz was supposed to leave for college, when his parents received a phone call while Ganz and his siblings were on vacation in the Dominican Republic.
“They called me upstairs after I got done packing and they told me Nebraska offered me to play football,” said Ganz. “The first memory I have [of Nebraska] is Tommie Frazier’s run against Florida. I was hooked, both my Dad and I. It was really a dream come true.”
Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics
Fast forward to the Texas game in 2007. Sam Keller hurt his shoulder late in the game. Joe Ganz took the field and brought Nebraska within 3 points of clinching the game, finishing a touchdown drive and converting a 2-point play.
Two games later was one of Ganz’s favorite moments. He started the game, and his parents and friends got to hear his name announced and see him on the big screens at Memorial Stadium. He also TROUNCED one of college football’s biggest prospects, Josh Freeman. The Huskers beat Kansas State that year 73-31. Ganz shattered several Nebraska records that day including 7 touchdown passes, and 528 yards of total offense.
“It was just something about beating Josh Freeman that really got me going,” said Ganz, who beat Freeman TWICE in his collegiate career. It was a highlight for a team that saw plenty low points and ultimately, ended with Coach Bill Callahan losing his job in November.
Ganz was the starting quarterback when Coach Bo Pelini took control in 2008, not only learning a new offense but embracing it. Ganz was named one of four team captains, the Husker’s MVP of the 2008 season and the MVP of the 2009 Gator Bowl. When he threw a football for the last time as a Nebraska athlete, he held 23 Nebraska school records.
“You wish you were still out there playing the game,” said Ganz. “For me, I only got 16 games to play, so I always wanted to play more, play more.”
And clearly, Coach Pelini still wanted Ganz around, hiring him as an assistant. Ganz learned an entirely new element of the game under his mentors and coaches, Bo Pelini and Tim Beck.
“I had some great teachers that really taught me how to teach kids the game of football, not just to go out there and coach,” said Ganz, who says he formed an extra-special bond with one player in particular.
“Probably the kid throwing the ball a little bit. I’m always pulling for #4,” said Ganz. “Tommy [Armstrong] and I are so close, to this day. We talk all the time, I text him, wish him the best of luck. He’s got all the talent in the world. Now, it’s just–can he understand the different steps of this West Coast Offense Coach Riley and Coach Langsdorf are going to bring in?”
And Joe Ganz will be watching how that plays out much like every other Husker fan. He was released from the Nebraska coaching staff along along with Pelini and his other assistants last fall. Ganz talked quite a bit in our interview how difficult that is for coaches after recruiting these players, spending countless hours with them and their families, and building incomparable relationships with them in an environment few get to experience.. you just MISS that. Ganz hopes he’ll get another opportunity to coach at the college level in the near future.
For now, Ganz is putting his Communications degree to use, offering radio analysis every week through the fall on The Bottom Line with Mike’l Severe. The Chicago kid calls Nebraska home for now, often flying under the radar among Nebraska fans who don’t always recognize him.
“I don’t have the Kenny Bell afro, I’m not the polarizing figure,” said Ganz. “Everyone always says ‘you looked a lot bigger on TV’, everyone thinks I’m really small. I’m like, I used to be bigger, but after you’re done playing, you don’t want to go up!”
To those who do know and remember Joe Ganz, #12 hopes to show his appreciation.
“It’s very flattering,” said Ganz. “I always take time to try and talk to everyone I can because you never know when that’s going to run out and people are going to forget your name.”
From what I saw this summer, the line of dozens upon dozens of fans standing in blistering heat for an autograph and a handshake, no one is forgetting Joe Ganz anytime soon. It’s just one of those things about Nebraska Football; these aren’t just players, they ARE statewide celebrities.. often during their time on the field and sometime years after when they trade that football jersey for a Sunday softball replica.
“Soak everything up. Relish everything,” Ganz says to today’s players. “When you’re done, you miss going to work every day, going to practice the game that you love. Relish it. Embrace everything Nebraska’s about.”
Thanks to Nebraska Athletics for the Photo!
For more on #12 Joe Ganz, CLICK HERE to read his official bio from Nebraska Athletics.
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