Randy York's N-Sider
Sweet ... awesome ... cleaner ... more elegant ... very Nebraskan-ish ... cool ... tasteful ... classy ... can’t wait to put that uniform on! Those were rapid-fire reactions from the first nine Nebraska football players I talked to Tuesday after they saw former linebacker Will Compton model the adidas TECHFIT alternative uniform the Huskers will wear when they host UCLA on Sept. 14. It was interesting to watch the news break nationally on social media. But as much as I value the positive vibes, no reaction is more important than the 100-plus players who walked out of NU’s second-floor football auditorium with smiles on their faces, renewed passion in their hearts and the inspiration they envision wearing a uniform that has gone through the required internal scrutiny prior to Tuesday’s release.
There’s nothing like throwing a black-and-white changeup in Nebraska’s heavy-duty scarlet-and-cream world, especially when you get feedback that can only enhance recruiting. “Kids like different things, and any time you can jazz it up and make it a little more flashy, our players get excited,” said Ross Els, Nebraska’s linebacker coach/recruiting coordinator/special teams coach. “At a place like Nebraska, it’s obviously important that we don’t stray too far from tradition, but if we change things up every once in a while, I think it’s good for the program. Our kids want it, and they understand it.”
Els sees two key outcomes from Tuesday’s announcement: 1) A national press release that catches fire on the Internet and gets fans and recruits discussing Nebraska football before June turns into July; and 2) The long-term benefit for fans and recruits when Husker players actually wear those uniforms in an 11 a.m. game that ABC-TV will televise nationally. “I think it will really catch people’s attention on game day,” Els said. “When they see what we’re wearing, I can hear them say: ‘Nebraska’s wearing a different uniform ... I’m going to watch this.’”
Changing Jerseys Occasionally Good for Everybody
Els respects and admires Nebraska’s taste for tradition. At the same time, he has to balance that hunger and thirst with the constantly changing dynamics of recruiting. “Any time you get positive news out there and people talking, recruits notice,” he said while admitting he can't help but remember his own reaction when he first saw the 2012 TECHFIT uniforms Nebraska wore for its nationally televised home game against Wisconsin. “I said, ‘Man, that’s red on red. How’s that going to look?’ But on game day, I thought it was really good, especially at night.”
Nebraska’s second “Unrivaled” uniform seems to be getting even higher marks than last year’s. Nebraska Equipment Manager Jay Terry watched Tuesday’s uniform presentation. He focused on the players when they left the auditorium and monitored their reactions. “They were really excited,” he said. “You could see it while they were in the room and when they left the room. It’s already a hot topic and a real sign of the times. In its own way, announcing these uniforms kind of kicks off the season.”
Al Recker, the Nebraska NCAA manager for the adidas relationship, said the process began months ago and included collaboration between Nebraska's athletic administration and football program. “I think it’s a cleaner looking uniform with a modern flair,” Recker said. “It’s new technology (designed to keep players fast, cool and mobile) with an updated look.” When informed that one Husker player called the uniform classy, Recker said: “That’s a good word for it because it reflects Nebraska tradition in a positive way.”
New Uniforms Accentuate NU's Traditional Red
The TECHFIT black jersey features white stencil font numbers and a unique pattern throughout. The Huskers' helmet is a matte white with a wide black stripe, stencil numbers and a face mask that fades from red to matte black. Nebraska's famous straight red "N" featured on its helmets for decades remains unchanged. The pants are white with black stripes and the straight red "N" on the front left hip also pops prominently out of the black accents in a fashion similar to the red in newly designed gloves, socks, shoes and Husker players' names on the backs of their jerseys.
Personally, I think the decision-makers found distinctive ways to dramatize Nebraska red and then isolate that tradition-rich color within the overall scheme. The only decisions awaiting final approval are the shoes and socks to complete the ensemble.
“Recruits noticed on TV what we wore last year in the Wisconsin game,” Els said. “Even now, when they visit here, they see mannequins of our traditional jerseys, plus the TECHFIT jerseys we wore against Wisconsin. They walk right up to the ‘Unrivaled’ jersey and say: ‘Man, that’s really cool!’ It registers with them. Besides wearing something different, whether it’s good or bad, it increases exposure, and if it’s a good look, kids want to be part of that.”
Cole Pensick: Alternative Uniforms 'Spot On'
Cole Pensick, a projected senior starter at center, likes the positive terms his teammates use to describe the new-look uniform and helmet. “We all know Nebraska history,” said the son of Dan Pensick, a former Blackshirt. “We’ve always worn the same uniform. We’ve had 50 years of winning in that uniform. Pensick says Nebraska can have “a little new-age now and then” without trying to “go crazy” like some schools. "I think our new uniforms look great," he said. "I really liked the red-and-black jerseys we wore last year, and I think this year's alternative uniform is spot on. We all agree that we don’t want to keep changing uniforms, but every once in a while, you have spice things up a little, and when you do, you get all excited about it. It makes all of us want to start the season a little earlier.”
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Editor's note: Click the link at the top of this column to see Tuesday's alternative uniforms' introduction to the 2013 Husker team. Kenny Bell, Jason Ankrah and Cole Pensick describe their reactions.