Randy York’s N-Sider
Everybody, it seems, is talking about Nebraska’s Big Ten-leading offense and its explosive potential to be the 30th anniversary sequel to the Huskers’ legendary Scoring Explosion, the most widely used descriptor for the highest scoring team in college football history. That team was also fondly called Earth (Mike Rozier), Wind (Turner Gill) & Fryar, as in Irving, who addressed Nebraska’s football team Thursday with a joint presentation that helped Husker players understand the criticality of accountability.
Friday afternoon, The N-Sider went one-on-one with Nebraska’s projected starting offensive line that will open up the holes and set the stage for the 2013 version of Earth (Ameer Abdullah), Wind (Taylor Martinez) and Fire (Kenny Bell) – the Huskers’ proven premier playmakers from Homewood, Ala., Corona, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., respectively. Friday was Fan Day and while most of the nearly 6,000 Husker faithful flocked to get signatures from the biggest sticks of dynamite in Nebraska’s up-tempo offense, Spencer Long, the Huskers preseason All-America offensive guard from Elkhorn, Neb., found a shaded spot in the South end zone. There’s a reason why he’ll head to Medical School whenever his football dreams run their course, but make no mistake. Every projected Nebraska offensive line starter that we interviewed has a keen sense of great expectations not only from fans and media, but also from coaches and teammates.
Long Loves Blocking for Triplet Playmakers
“What did the Scoring Explosion team average – fifty points a game?” asked Long. “If we do that, it would be pretty amazing and hard to lose a game. It’s an honor that people are thinking about us that way. It gives us some swagger. We’ve accomplished some things, and we know we’re good. I think we have what it takes, and I’m excited, real excited. Look at the plays these guys have made. Kenny and Taylor are two of the most athletic guys I’ve ever seen, and I would fight for Ameer as much as anybody else. I love that kid more than anyone will ever know. He’s a stand-up, talented, hard-working guy. You should see some of the work that guy puts in. I mean, it’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen. I just love blocking for him.” A 6-4, 315-pound senior, Long is one of three native Nebraskans projected to start in the offensive line, joining 6-6, 305-pound junior guard Jake Cotton and 6-2, 275-pound senior center Cole Pensick, both Lincoln natives. The other two likely starters we see are tackles Brent Qvale, a 6-7, 315-pound senior from Williston, N.D., and Jeremiah Sirles, a 6-6, 310-pound senior from Lakewood, Colo. Since Friday was all about fans, facilities and the tone that Fryar and fellow NFL player Luther Ellis set in a Thursday life skills session, we asked each offensive lineman for his personal take on all three topics. We share their thoughts in reverse alphabetical order while pointing out an important fact – Andrew Rodriguez, a 6-6, 330-pound offensive tackle from Aurora, Neb., gives the Huskers a fifth experienced senior who will battle for significant playing time. A-Rod splits time with Qvale and may even be considered technically ahead of him going into fall camp.
On fans: “They’re incredible. I can go anywhere in this state wearing nothing but shorts and a tee-shirt and people recognize me – and I’m an offensive lineman. I’ve been to some places with Taylor and Rex (Burkhead) and they can’t even walk through the door. It’s both a blessing and a curse, but more a blessing because fans have filled up our stadium every week for 50 straight years no matter what happened the week before or the year before. They’re awesome.” On facilities: “Oh, man. What a thrill it is to watch that East Stadium grow. I can’t wait to see it all full of red with more than 90,000 fans. We have four seniors in the offensive line. We’ve been brothers since 2009. We’re close, and we want to be a staple that puts the next stamp on the stadium. We want to win a conference championship and give people something important to remember from this class.” On Fryar: “He talked about life in general and life after football. He was very inspiring for the whole team. I think Kenny Bell might have what Dr. Fryar had when he was here. Kenny can turn a simple little screen pass into an 80-yard touchdown. Taylor can make a broken pass play go a hundred yards, and Ameer can hit almost any hole and go the distance. People can try to focus on one or the other, but it leaves someone open. I think we can really keep some people off balance.”
On fans: “Coming from North Dakota, I’d never seen anything of this magnitude. I’ll never forget my official visit when I saw Memorial Stadium for the first time. I still have a picture in my mind of all those fans cheering during the Tunnel Walk, and I can honestly say that each time I make that Tunnel Walk myself, it’s still just as great as it was the first time I saw it. It’s a new experience every time. Every player on this team knows we have the best fans and the best following in the nation.” On facilities: “That East Stadium looks huge. It’s amazing; it’s awesome; it’s insane. This is my fifth year here, and I get blown away every year with all the new things that keep making a great place even greater than it was before.” On Fryar: “He gave a great message. He talked about going back and getting his degree, his master’s and his doctorate. He had an amazing career in the NFL, and the most important thing is he’s made himself a better person. Being compared to a team like the one he was on here is an honor. Just being in the same sentence with guys from that era is crazy. I know we’re all excited to start practice on Monday. Nebraska is known for its offensive line leading the way. That’s why they called it The Pipeline. They opened the holes for the skill players to make plays. If we give our guys space, they’re going to make plays. They have great speed and make great cuts. It’s really up to us to be the front and center of the offense.”
On fans: “Where else would fans show up at 3 a.m. to be first in line for Fan Day in August? I grew up here. I know how crazy Lincoln is, and really, that’s the norm. I know everyone says it, but it really is true – there is no place like Nebraska. When people leave this state, they keep coming back. You can walk down the street here and 10 or 15 people will say hi. Some places, you don’t get any. I love our fans. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them. They come and watch us play and fill the place up every time.” On facilities: “I know flash is great for recruiting, but Nebraska does it the right way. We’re here to play football and go to school, and we have some of the best facilities in the country. We have the best weight facility with the best technology. We care more about what we do in it than how it looks. I remember how loud it was here when we beat Oklahoma when I was a true freshman. I can’t imagine anything louder than that, but it will be louder now that we've expanded the East Stadium. Sound will be echoing off that side and going all over the place.” On Fryar: “My dad (former Husker Dan Pensick) knew Dr. Fryar and said he was a freak athlete, but we’re more impressed with what he’s done after all those years in the NFL. I don’t know if it was awkward for Kenny (Bell) to be in the same room with him because he might be the next Irving Fryar. I say more power to something like that. What a great goal to strive for. Dr. Fryar looks like he can still play. He helped us understand how important it is to think before we act. My dad said Dr. Fryar went through a rough patch in his own life. When you hear somebody who’s been through it all, you listen and you learn. It was a great session.”
On fans: “Today is another great example of our fans. They give us more motivation than you can describe. I grew up in this state watching Husker football, and there’s a lot of pride in how this team does every Saturday. A lot of people think it’s just a game, but it’s not, especially not for me and especially not for my team. We take every little thing we do to heart, and we have fans that feel exactly the same way.” On facilities: “I’ve had a monumental career here already. The first game I suited up for was our 300th consecutive sellout. I was here for our last year in the Big 12 and our first year in the Big Ten. My fellow seniors and I now get to play in the first year of a sold-out stadium that's twice as high on one side then it's ever been. It’s an honor and a privilege to try to bring back The Pipeline – something we’ve been known for and proud of for a long time, and we’re ready to follow in their footsteps.” On Fryar: “He really showed us how to carry ourselves and why we have to take into account every single thing that you do because it reflects on who you are. It’s an honor for me to be a captain. I’m proud to have that role and really ready to take it on. I don’t want to let anybody down, and I’m going to give it my best shot. We want to establish real leadership, and honestly, it has more pull with captains. We can have an influence on the rest of the team and become better leaders because we have the confidence and the reassurance of those above us.”
On fans: “A day like today shows the greatness of our fans. They come out and support us. They rush the field at the Spring Game. They talk about football all year long. Because of our fans, there is no off-season at Nebraska, and it’s not just here. It’s all the way to Scottsbluff, plus all across the country – in the South, the North, the East and the West. Everywhere we go, our fans are there, from California to Florida. Anytime you can add our fans and their voice to Nebraska football, it gets more exciting.” On facilities: “We have the best – everything you could ask for. The expanded East Stadium is a great complement to our West Stadium.” On Fryar: “I loved his candor. I asked him if he had any regrets at Nebraska, and he said one – going for the two-pointer (in a 31-30 national championship loss to Miami in the Orange Bowl). The regret wasn't that they went for two; the regret was they didn't make it. The NFL players were great speakers and had a great message for us. Even to be mentioned in the same breath with that Scoring Explosion team is an honor. They were so dynamic and such a fabled group in the history of our program. To listen to Dr. Fryar, who played 17 years in the NFL, was an honor. He’s been everywhere, but still wants to come back here, like all of our loyal fans. I think our seniors have paved a great path for us to follow in the offensive line. They’re the ones bringing back The Pipeline. They’re all great leaders and all good character guys, and I'm honored to be in their mix.”
Teacher, Season Ticketholder Both Get It
Honored is an appropriate word for Big Red fans who waited in line to get autographs from Husker offensive linemen. Nora Lenz taught Pensick in his sixth and eighth-grade Spanish classes at Lincoln's Mickle Middle School. "Cole is a great kid, and so are his parents," she said. "That's what I came to see today – the offensive line. They're the key to the game, aren't they? They're our unsung heroes. I've watched Cole get moved from position to position and know he never quit working while trying to find his role. I know how hard he works, and I'm sure other linemen must work just as hard. I don't get to many games, so I've really enjoyed getting inside the stadium and seeing everything that's new." Ben Mares, a 54-year-old Lincoln housepainter, has been coming to Husker games since age 10. "We've had season tickets for a long, long time," he said. "I've always liked the tradition of The Pipeline. To me, that's the key to every offensive team. I came to see every group I could today and was glad I got to see those big offensive linemen. If they get it done, our offense can pretty much do whatever they want to do."
As a co-captain along with Martinez, wide receiver Quincy Enunwa and cornerback Ciante Evans, Long would be the last to dispute such a statement. "I would love nothing more," he said, "than seeing the backs of Taylor's, Kenny's and Ameer's jerseys while they're running to the end zone."
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