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Top Student-Athlete Taking a Different Path
Nebraska Faculty Athletic Representative Jo Potuto presents Seth Wiedel with his top award.
Photo Courtesy Scott Bruhn/NU Media Relations
Courtesy: NU Media Relations
04/22/2014
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Randy York’s N-Sider

To understand fully why Nebraska’s 2014 Male Student-Athlete of the Year is taking a completely different path than his equally honored predecessors, you almost have to go back to the roots of Seth Wiedel growing up in Hebron, Nebraska, home of the world’s largest porch swing. A community of about 1,600, Hebron is very close to the historic Oregon Trail and its residents can say with pride that it is one of those rare Midwestern locations where a river (the Little Blue) runs through it. And let’s not forget the Thayer Central School System’s reputation for excellence, and that triggers an N-Sider tip recommending Wiedel (pronounced Wee-dull) as the perfect poster boy representing the value of his hometown’s education. Wiedel is, after all, a great student, a terrific athlete and a gifted mentor who embraces his faith so deeply that he has committed the next two years of his young life to Varsity Catholic, a comprehensive program launched in Lincoln seven years ago to help develop “the complete athlete”.

The organization helps student-athletes facing critical challenges like Wiedel experienced when he pulled his hamstring as a freshman and missed the outdoor season, technically giving him one remaining semester of outdoor eligibility after he graduates with his UNL degree in accounting next month. Competing a year from now, however, is highly unlikely because Wiedel is bullish about working with Varsity Catholic, which incorporates spirituality into the overall academic and athletic development equation. Let the record show that Wiedel sidestepped and even went out of his way to avoid such help as a freshman, but once he connected with Varsity Catholic, his career flourished. He went on to reach high levels of competitive performance and leadership he thought were unimaginable. He had a second-place finish in the long jump in Big Ten indoor and outdoor meets and served as a captain for Nebraska’s 2013 Big Ten Championship outdoor team.

Wiedel Had No Clue He Won Nebraska’s Top Award

When Wiedel was announced as the 2014 Male Student-Athlete of the Year at Nebraska’s Student-Athlete Recognition Banquet, he was, in his own words, shocked and dazed. “I had no clue,” he said Tuesday. “Just in case, I had a framework of thanking people and hoping my communications skills would help me think of something intelligent. When I got up there, and the video was explaining why I had won the award, I got lost in it. Halfway through, I thought: ‘Crap, I have to say something!’ It’s been a real surreal experience ever since. In a sense, I still don’t know how to truly relate exactly to the weight of what I received. Whether that changes in a month, two years or 10 years, I don’t know. Right now, I see it as a responsibility. I have a lot of people looking at what I’m going to do.”

There’s a spotlight shining down on him, but Wiedel is confident about the road he’s taking to help fellow student-athletes clear hurdles bound to come their way. “In Division I athletics, people will go through the same struggles I went through, and I can help them get through those struggles outside of athletics,” he said. “We’re not part of the Athletic Department. We’re an offshoot of FOCUS – Fellowship Of Catholic University Students. We all know about the mental and physical realm, but there’s also a spiritual realm you develop outside of athletics that helps you understand certain teachings and realities. When you understand what life is about, you can enhance the human experience and that, in turn, can enhance your views, your relationships and even your performance.”

Small-Town Successes Built Big Expectations

Coming from a small town to such a big university isn’t easy, but Wiedel made the transition because of the way he grew up. In Hebron, his dad was the principal and his mom the secretary at the consolidated elementary school. His dad coached high school volleyball for 25 years and his teams won more than 400 matches, so Wiedel comes by his competitiveness naturally. “I did everything in Hebron,” he said. “I played football, basketball, baseball and competed on the track and in the field. I was in the choir and show choir. I was in the band and jazz band. My well-roundedness comes from my parents and especially my dad, who I don’t think ever had a losing season.”

Wiedel's small-town successes built high levels of expectation, but never did he envision becoming Nebraska Male Student-Athlete of the Year when there were so many other worthy candidates. “It’s still hard for me to grasp,” he said. “It means the world to me, and there’s always been those moments through my Nebraska career where I was at the edge of the unknown. Then, I would be blessed by a piece of greatness. It was the same way in high school. Leaping into a program like Nebraska was totally unknown. There were times when I didn’t know if I was going to amount to anything. But I got the opportunity to work with all kinds of All-Americans and learn from them and Coach Pepin and keep focusing on getting better in every way. I dealt with injuries and managed a career best 24-feet and 11 inches, plus a 3.84 overall grade-point average. I went well beyond what I ever thought or dreamed I could do in the long jump and the triple jump and scholastically.”

Academic Counselor: Wiedel Grateful, Humble

Mike Nieman, Wiedel’s academic counselor, can describe Seth in two words – grateful and humble. “I believe Seth has truly cherished his time as a student-athlete at Nebraska and the experiences and opportunities presented to him,” Nieman said. “One thing I’ve always admired about Seth is his ability to take everything in stride. Even though this small-town kid might not have known what the next four years of his life would have in store for him when he started at UNL, he managed to make the most of every situation, learn from it, and always turn it into a positive. I know I can always count on Seth for a smile and a joke, even if sometimes it comes at my own expense."

One of Wiedel’s best characteristics is his self-deprecating humor. He knows he still looks like he’s in high school and understands how people wouldn’t expect him to be a superior athlete in the nation’s biggest and oldest conference. “I think the irony of that is what my parents see and what I see,” he said. “When I step into one of these meets, I feel the same way. We go out there and I’m standing right next to my teammate, Patrick Raedler, who’s this 6-foot-3, 200-pound German, and I’m this light little twig standing next to him.”

Pepin Gives Wiedel Major Marks of Excellence

Nebraska Head Coach Gary Pepin, who tutors both Wiedel and Raedler on a daily basis, enjoys watching the two compete in practice and push each other in major meets. Pepin believes Wiedel is a solid choice as Nebraska’s Student-Athlete of the Year because he’s maximized almost every bit of his inherent talent. Even though his sport-specific athletic ability never reached the “excellent” category, every other performance-related element that counts reached the optimum level – coachability, work ethic, teamwork, leadership, commitment to excellence, sportsmanship, attitude, integrity, and citizenship.

Karen Kassebaum, UNL Director of Recruitment and an Adjunct Instructor, probably would add another important Seth Wiedel strength to that list – responding to a challenge. “I have never encountered a student who completed all of their ACE requirements and needed an elective and instead of taking a 100-level or 200-level course, took a 300-level course (TEAC330) in Multicultural Education because they wanted to enhance their knowledge of diversity and diverse-related topics,” Kassebaum said of the course that Nieman recommended and Wiedel accepted. “There was definitely some higher level thinking going on as Seth evaluated his results and took immediate action. I do not believe many graduating seniors would have taken the challenge.”

Wiedel-Led Team Rocked It Out of the Park

Kassebaum pointed out that Wiedel demonstrated exceptional academic integrity. He never missed a class. He was on time and prepared to participate in each class period. He worked very hard and earned an “A” in the course and as a member of the “Green Team” in the classroom’s final project, “they rocked it out of the park,” Kassebaum said. “His project totally embraced the challenge and the expectations and he came out victorious.”

Wiedel insisted that he came into the class narrow-minded and unaware of diversity and culture in his own life. In the final project video, he said: “I will promote change, and I am going to take with me the beauty of our differences and my own to benefit myself.” Talk about lessons learned. “Seth is a fantastic example of what a Student-Athlete of the Year should exemplify,” Kassebaum said. “He’s an outstanding role model, a dedicated student-athlete, and a true academic scholar.”

Seth Wiedel Could Feel the Power of Red

Seth Wiedel is also one very proud Nebraska native who felt the Power of Red every time he pulled a Husker jersey over his shoulders. “As a small-town Nebraska kid, I had the opportunity to chase the mystery, the gift and the opportunity to wear Husker red,” he said. “This program and experience molded me into someone far greater than I could have ever placed myself. The University of Nebraska has changed my life and helped me put my priorities in order. There’s just something about putting on Husker red. Whether it’s the first or last time, I always seem to get that rush of energy and sense of pride. Competing as a Cornhusker has been a joy beyond any parallel for me.

"I’ve competed all over the nation against some of the best talent in the world," Wiedel said. "The experience has enhanced my competitive nature and my spirit. I have had to compete at a high level, learn to focus and dedicate myself to the task at hand, and live in the moment. At the same time, I made it a priority to enjoy myself as much as possible. I have learned the ability to take whatever situation, personal-best or average, and be truly grateful for the opportunity and to stay positive, regardless of the outcome.”

No wonder Wiedel passed on opportunities to work for some of the nation's top companies in the Midwest and across the country. He wants to help others learn what he learned, so they can experience what he experienced, and hopefully, they also will celebrate that once-in-a-lifetime gift and choose to pay it forward, like Seth Wiedel decided to do. 

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