Tag Archive | Will Shields

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.

OTVCOURBTNXMRJW.20090720222633

#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.”

tumblr_inline_nc4qgowYjF1qm0tji

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.”

pipeline

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.

SONY DSC

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.

11226052_914320561980905_4014568939139141006_n

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.”

zatechka&ryan

Photo courtesy Nebraska Medicine

***

PREVIOUS POST.. Class of 2012, Rex Burkhead!

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

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!

MURTAUGH AND DEVANEY

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.

519i7ZYt4NL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_

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.”

860131866781a75647cf7f0dea629b9fe61f8e8f

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.

jim-unger

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.”

MURTAUGH ON RADIO

 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.”

134728_520817111280888_1060127550_o

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.

***

WEEK FOUR.. CLASS OF 1992 WILL SHIELDS!

NEXT WEEK.. CLASS OF 1991 CURTIS COTTON!

Will To Succeed

Looking back at your life, what are your biggest accomplishments in your eyes?  Perhaps raising good children. Maybe setting new records in your field.  Possibly, experiencing things few others can say they’ve done.

I met a guy last week with a list of accomplishments a mile long.  Still, the theme I kept picking up on throughout our interview was how to impact OTHERS. Ironically, that self-awareness of how the rest of the world can be impacted by one person’s actions makes this one that much more inspiring…

forget the fact that Will Shields is a College Football Hall-of-Famer and recent NFL Hall-of-Fame inductee.

CAUSANNANZRUDXR.20020820232121

Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S THROWBACK THURSDAY HUSKER FEATURE ON WILL SHIELDS!

Giving back, who knows when that lesson was instilled upon the young man born in Fort Riley, Kansas and raised in Lawton, Oklahoma.  Shields himself told me about a moment at Nebraska that greatly impacted him.

It was November 3, 1990, Senior Day at Memorial Stadium.  Shields was a sophomore, watching as his teammate Kenny Walker walked onto the field.

“It was dead silence and we waved for him because he was deaf.  We honored him,” said Shields.  “I wonder what that would’ve felt like, being him at that point.”

Many of the 76,000 fans inside the stadium held their arms above their heads and rotated their hands, the American Sign Language symbol for applause.  The moment made national news, inspired a book, and Shields says, taught him parts of the game of football were bigger than anything else.

CGWMBTPSSOAGCKG.20020807213351

Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics

By the time Shields was a senior, he was a dominant offensive lineman at Nebraska named a First Team All-American, a Lombardi Award semi-finalist and the 1992 Outland Trophy winner.  At the height of that college success, drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993, Shields and his wife also started the Will To Succeed Foundation to help abused and neglected women and children.

11209726_863121767092798_2200675171175685576_n

Shields was out in the community, trying to be a positive influence and also make a tangible difference in countless lives.  According to the Will To Succeed Foundation website, the organization has created 12 different programs in the last 12 years to financially and emotionally support abused families.  100,000 people have been touched by the foundation since it’s inception.

Kansas City Chiefs guard Will Shields (68) celebrates during the Sept. 8 2002 away game against the Cleveland Browns. The Chiefs won 40-39.

Photo courtesy the Kansas City Chiefs

On the field, Shields was a MACHINE.  #68 was a Pro Bowl player every year from 1995 to 2006, a Chiefs team record, also tying him with just two other players for the most Pro Bowls every played by one athlete.  SHIELDS NEVER MISSED A GAME in his entire career.  He started 231 STRAIGHT games, including playoff games.

This isn’t flag football.  Shields was PUMMELING huge guys for hours on end every, single, one of those games.  How does the human body, the human spirit, sustain that for 14 YEARS?!?

“They say I’m on the mental edge of being mental,” Shields laughs.  “I just loved the game, love the sport, loved my teammates and wanted to be there for them week in and week out.  It might have been one of those selfish things, I didn’t want anyone to play my spot.”

Aside from his charity work.. and his awe-inspiring career.. Shields is also a husband and father.

WILL TO SUCCEED, NFL HALL OF FAME

Photo courtesy the Will To Succeed Foundation

He seems to be doing a pretty darn good job at home, too.  Their daughter, Sanayika, played basketball for Drury University.  Son, Shavon, is one of the stars of the Nebraska basketball program.  Their family owns and operates a gym and sports facility in Overland Park, Kansas.

314033_202572169814431_580812417_n

Photo courtesy the Will To Succeed Foundation

Looking back, Shields says he know he would play professional football if given the opportunity, but I asked him if he ever dreamed of accomplished such amazing things in his life. For his work on the field, he’s been inducted into both the College Football and the NFL Hall of Fame.  For his impact off the field, the NFL named Shields the league’s Man Of The Year in 2003.

“You know, I just envisioned what the next day would hold, to work hard for that next day,” Shields answered.  “I never really thought about what it looked liked.”

Now, he says, he will try to live up the billing of all of the guys who came before him.  A great message for the young men in Lincoln following in Will Shields’ footsteps, playing every Saturday under the retired #75 on the wall of Memorial Stadium.

“Still some work in progress, but we’ve got some guys that are out there fighting pretty good.  I think there’s some things we have to work on,” said Shields.  “You want them to do well, you always do because you’re forever counted as a Husker.”

HUSKERS.COM 2

Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics; CLICK HERE to learn more about #75 Will Shields.

Click here to visit Will Shields’ official website.

Click here for more information about the Will To Succeed Foundation,

and click here to visit the foundation’s Facebook page.

**

WEEK THREE.. CLASS OF 1971 JEFF KINNEY!

NEXT WEEK.. CLASS OF 1970 JERRY MURTAUGH!

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