Walk-On Stories Still Define Big Red Football
Randy York’s N-Sider
Jeff Jamrog stared at Nebraska’s “suit-up” list Tuesday from last Saturday’s Idaho State game. NU’s Associate Athletic Director for Football focused on the 90 names (of 122) highlighted in yellow, signifying they officially had played in the game. A walk-on who became an Academic All-American at Nebraska himself, Jamrog could not help but wonder how many of those 90 “participating” players walked on.
He counted once and then twice. “We had 30 walk-ons play for us Saturday. That means one-third of our players were walk-ons,” Jamrog said proudly. Yep, 30 Huskers came to Lincoln on their own dime. They all had dreams in their hearts and stars in their eyes, and Saturday was normal routine for most and opportunity earned for others.
Jamrog honed in and kept calculating. Eighteen of those 30 walk-ons made the road trip to UCLA two weeks ago, accounting for nearly 26 percent of Nebraska’s 70-man travel roster. Six of those 18 walk-ons are now on scholarship with more coming next semester. More important than anything, Jamrog could look across his desk Tuesday and say something every Nebraska football fan likes to hear every year. “Our walk-on program," he said, "is still a big part of who we are, and it still defines what we represent.”
Jackson, Choi, Long Anchor the Middle
Nebraska, Jamrog said, is still Nebraska because 25 of those 30 walk-ons that played last Saturday graduated from Nebraska high schools, including five starters – senior center Justin Jackson, senior left guard Seung Hoon Choi, preseason All-Big Ten junior right guard Spencer Long, junior first-team All-Big Ten kicker/punter Brett Maher and freshman fullback Andy Janovich.
Some also consider senior walk-on long snapper P.J. Mangieri another starter because of the crucial role he’s played since he was one of six true freshman – and the only walk-on – to see playing time in 2009. Senior walk-on Jase Dean, the holder for Maher, is also a key contributor on special teams.
Senior fullback Graham Stoddard is another walk-on who has lettered four years and played a vital role on special teams since his redshirt freshman season. The Lincoln native was Nebraska’s leading special teams tackler in 2011.
Janovich: An Unusually Gifted Fullback
I remember how excited Jamrog was last February when I sat in his office and listened to him describe Nebraska’s 2012 walk-on class. Jamrog raved about Janovich, a fullback from Gretna with relentless energy reminiscent of the Mackovicka brothers. “Andy went 99-0 in his last two years of wrestling,” Jamrog said. “He never stops competing.”
Jamrog, however, never dreamed that Janovich would start Game 4 as a true freshman. He started because running backs coach Ron Brown believes Janovich may be the most athletic fullback he’s seen in 22 years. “Andy is really athletic and very powerful,” Brown said. “He’s an unusual athlete at fullback because he can run, he’s fast, he can catch the ball, he can block and he’s smart. He picks things up and just has this tenacious spirit about him.”
He’s diligent, too. On game day, Janovich wrote out every play that he knew and then walked himself through each one. Even though he expected to get meaningful snaps against Idaho State, he didn’t learn he was starting until the last minute before kickoff. He had three carries for six yards, caught an 8-yard pass and blocked like good fullbacks block. “I’ve worked as hard as I could and wanted to prove something,” he said.
He’s not the only walk-on with that mindset. Idaho State also marked the emergence of junior walk-on Ron Kellogg III. The most pivotally positioned walk-on backup quarterback at Nebraska since Monte Christo 14 years ago, Kellogg said Tuesday that he draws his strength and his perseverance from his mother, Latrice, who lives and works in Omaha.
Mom and Coach Beck Motivated Kellogg
“It was good to see all the hard work I’ve put in since my freshman year so I could showcase what I can do,” Kellogg said. “My mom has always encouraged me never to give up, and Coach (Tim) Beck really challenged Taylor (Martinez) and me to get better over the summer. I don't like to quit on anything, so I’ve worked hard, and it was exciting to go out there on the field and get some meaningful plays.”
Like all good leaders, Kellogg wasn’t just focused on himself. He was equally excited for junior offensive guard Brodrick Nickens, senior wide receiver Taylor Dixon, redshirt freshman wide receiver Sam Burtch and Janovich. “Everyone works hard to earn their playing time,” Kellogg said, “but I know those guys a little better than others.”
Jamrog points out that Nickens has worked his way up to Nebraska’s two-deep chart at guard, along with sophomore linebacker Trevor Roach. Senior walk-on Conor McDermott shares the No. 3 tight end spot with junior walk-on Jake Long. Senior walk-on and special teams star Justin Blatchford also makes the depth chart at safety.
Five Out-of-State Walk-Ons Saw Action
The only Husker walk-ons who aren’t Nebraska natives are Seth Jameson, a junior safety from South Lake, Texas; Mark Pelini, a sophomore offensive lineman from Youngstown, Ohio; Wil Richards, a junior safety from Lee’s Summit, Mo.; Joe Rotherham, a redshirt freshman long snapper from Green Bay, Wis.; and Colby Starkebaum, a junior linebacker from Sterling. Colo.
Richards and Starkebaum already have been Scout Team Players of the Week this season, along with Kenny Anderson, a senior defensive tackle from Millard West, and Brandon Chapek, a junior offensive lineman from Wahoo (Neb.) Neuman.
“It was kind of cool to see Colby Starekbaum play Saturday, along with (sophomore cornerback) Joey Felici and (senior wide receiver) KC Hyland,” Jamrog said, pointing out that all three walk-ons have dads who wore Blackshirts at Nebraska – John Starkebaum, Tony Felici and John Hyland.
Hoping Saturday Opens Doors for Others
Other Husker walk-ons who played last Saturday are redshirt freshman offensive lineman Adam Kucera; junior offensive lineman Scott Criss; senior linebacker Matt Manninger; redshirt freshman tight end Eddie Ridder; and sophomore linebacker Austin Williams.
In a game that saw Nebraska fans reinvent “The Wave” for Memorial Stadium, Kellogg saw opportunity knock not only for him, but also for 29 fellow Husker walk-ons. “It was a great day for a lot of players who have worked hard for their opportunity to get on the field,” he said. “Hopefully, this will open up some doors for other walk-ons that are here now and even more who might decide to come here in the future.”
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