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By Randy York
"Walk-ons were the heart and soul of Nebraska football when I played. Walk-ons bring the passion and the drive to practice every day, and they help set the tone for Saturdays." Derrie Nelson, 1980 NU Captain, first-team All-America defensive end, Big Eight Conference Defensive Player of the Year
Twenty-one Nebraska seniors have been a part of 37 wins over the past four seasons and will experience their last Tunnel Walk at Memorial Stadium Friday morning in the first-ever Heroes Game against fellow Big Ten divisional foe Iowa. Half the players are walk-ons: center Mike Caputo, safety Austin Cassidy, punter Jon Damkroger, linebacker Jim Ebke, tight end Kevin Thompson, offensive lineman Luke Lingenfelter, fullback Tyler Legate, tight end Jay Martin, linebacker Matt May and defensive back Lance Thorell. Seven of those 10 walk-ons earned football scholarships.
The 10 scholarship recruits making their final Tunnel Walk include defensive tackle Jared Crick, linebacker Lavonte David, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, running back Curenski Gilleylen, offensive tackle Jermarcus Hardrick, running back Austin Jones, offensive tackle Marcel Jones, wide receiver Brandon Kinnie, cornerback Marcus Mendoza and defensive tackle Terrence Moore. Anthony Blue, a scholarship cornerback, also will be honored Saturday after a career-ending injury forced him to miss his senior season.
Cassidy, a senior starter at safety, said: "I know there will be so much emotion coming out of that Tunnel Walk one last time. I'll be thinking about all the people in my life that have helped me get to where I am now and all the time and effort they've invested in me. Each Tunnel Walk has been an incredible experience, but I imagine the last one will be the most memorable."
Thomsen, a senior tight end, played in his first game last year against Missouri and says he can't believe "how fast it all went by. Running out of the Tunnel for the first time doesn't seem that long ago."
Legate, a senior starter at fullback, said he will be completely focused on beating the Hawkeyes because "our seniors want a 10-win season, go out on a high note and give the team momentum going into the off-season."
May, a senior linebacker, is equally focused on a finish that can still produce 10 wins. "It's important we win this first Heroes Game," he said. "No one remembers the 3rd, 4th or 7th game of the season. It's all about how you finish."
Thorell will try to soak up as much of the atmosphere as he can. "I have a lot of family members attending the game and a lot who will be watching on TV," he said. "Throughout my entire career at Nebraska, I've been extremely fortunate and blessed to have such great support from my family, friends and fans. My family is the reason I got to live out this dream of playing Husker football. Without their support, none of this would have ever been possible. They're the ones I think about every time I step on the field, and my teammates are the driving force behind the way I play."
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