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Randy Gregory’s stats weren’t world-beaters Saturday evening in Nebraska’s 56-13 win over Southern Miss, Bret Favre’s alma mater. But for a young man who didn’t start playing football until he was in high school in suburban Indianapolis, they were good enough to take Bo Pelini’s voice up an octave in his postgame press conference.
Nebraska’s head football coach isn’t even close to putting Gregory into an elite class of collegiate athletes, but he has the talent, drive and mindset to meet Pelini’s high-arching goals to be relentless, accountable and competitive. Gregory fits Pelini’s ultra-high standards and turbo-charged requirements to succeed since he arrived on Nebraska’s campus this summer.
That’s why Pelini has been so effusive in his praise of Gregory, who Saturday night registered a solo tackle for a loss of one yard, an assisted tackle and four of Nebraska’s six quarterback hurries against the Golden Eagles … quite a day for a 6-foot-6, 240-pound defensive end who once was considered a Division I college basketball prospect with multiple offers until he decided to dip his toe into football at Arizona Western Community College in Yuma.
Pelini, Kaz, Els: Lead Roles in Gregory’s Recruitment
Fortunately, Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini, Husker Defensive Line Coach Rick Kaczenski and Recruiting Coordinator Ross Els know a superb talent when they see one, and they collectively pursued Gregory like Tom Osborne and Charlie McBride recruited Grant Wistrom and Trev Alberts, both of whom became All-America defensive ends and landed safely and confidently onto Nebraska’s All-Century Football Team.
“I think Randy (Gregory) has a tremendous amount of ability,” Pelini said at his postgame press conference. He’s a very instinctive kid, and he’s an instinctive football player who understands a lot of things about the game. We’re not real big into the juco front, as far as bringing in the junior college guys, so we really do our homework and really find the ones we feel are right for us. We’re pretty selective in that area and we’ve been pretty fortunate in doing that.”
Gregory “was the only guy we targeted, and we saw a great pass-rusher at the junior college ranks,” Pelini said. “We worked our butts off, and we created a strong relationship with him and his family, and I feel like that was really important in getting him here. We feel really fortunate because he fills a need for us.”
Gregory’s Talents Would Meet a Need for Every Team
Catching himself in mid-sentence, Pelini decides to go one step beyond. “I think a guy with his type of talents fills a need for every football team,” he said.
Indeed. There is no fear of failure in this high-amped defensive end that just might have the innate athleticism of a David Pollack, Terrell Suggs or Julius Peppers. Only time will tell. But let the record show that dozens of scholarship offers came Gregory’s way, including three in the Big Ten (Purdue, Indiana and Illinois), three in the Pac-12 (UCLA, Washington and Oregon State), three in the Big 12 (Oklahoma, West Virginia and Iowa State) and two in the SEC (Arkansas and Missouri), plus at least a dozen more from across the country.
Kaczenski is every bit as charged as Pelini about having Gregory wearing red. “He has a lot of things you can’t coach, and that made him one of the most sought after defensive players in the country,” Kaz told me. “Randy has all the intangibles – the speed, the agility, the ability and just a knack for the game. He didn’t really play football until he got in high school. He’s a really, really, really good football player, but his best is ahead of him because he’s just scratched the surface of what can be. He has all the tools to be a great one, that’s for sure.”
Dad: Dad Northwestern Grad and His Son’s Role Model
Ken Gregory, Randy’s dad, is a Northwestern grad and has been an inspiring role model for a son who is now officially a Cornhusker. “He’s the model of what a man truly is,” Randy says of his dad. “He works hard every day, supports his family (including wife Mary) and supports every decision I make. He’s the person who put a ball in my hands at an early age.”
And empowered his son to be everything he can be, especially when he can benefit from Nebraska Academics and Life Skills, two bona fide strengths that drew him to Lincoln in the first place. Kaczenski recruited Gregory when he was on Iowa’s coaching staff, and when Gregory originally committed to Purdue, Coach Kaz admitted losing track of him. “Randy decided to go to one of the best junior colleges in the country,” Kazenski said. I’m glad we found him again here at Nebraska. Randy was one of the top three junior college recruits in the country. He fits our profile well, academically, athletically and socially.”
Gregory took his official visit last fall when Nebraska beat Michigan. “My official visit that weekend was amazing,” he said. “I was hooked on the Tunnel Walk, and I could see that Nebraska fans love the game just as much as the players and coaches do. They support you through your ups and downs, and in my opinion, we have the best football fans in the country.”
Kaczenski: Straight-Forward, Passionate, Trustworthy
Kaczenski built a great relationship with Gregory. “He’s straightforward, and I felt like I could trust him throughout the recruiting process,” Gregory said, adding that Pelini is also “straightforward and hard-nosed and very passionate. He expects nothing but your best toward the team, and I see Coach (John) Papuchis having the same kind of influence.
This much is certain. Gregory’s “attitude has been great, and “that’s all you can ask,” Pelini said. “He showed up in late July in shape. He hasn’t struggled at all as far as conditioning is concerned. He’s obviously swimming in it mentally, but he can play.”
Expectations are high, and Gregory is showing signs of being a rather menacing pass rusher on the edge. His stock is rising, and you could hear it in the voice of his head coach.
Retrospectively, it was a blessing in disguise that Gregory broke his leg last season and missed all but that one game after suffering the injury. As a freshman in the junior college ranks where his team qualified for a national championship game, 21 of Gregory’s 82 total tackles as a freshman at Arizona Western resulted in lost yardage. He also had nine sacks.
Bottom Line, He’s Always Striving to Be Better
Gregory has been a major story line since he committed to Nebraska. He’s a critical component that can help chase away the critics of Nebraska’s rushing defense. He can be disruptive force on the field, and a catalyst off the field, extolling the virtues of Nebraska academics and life skills that feed into the school’s mantra for constant improvement. “I’m always striving to become a better person and not get stuck on where I am now and where I was yesterday,” Gregory told me. “I try to focus on the future and see where I can be.”
When asked if he felt like he was getting into Southern Miss quarterback Allan Bridgford’s head, Gregory was honest. "I thought I was going to get a sack eventually, but I didn’t,” he said. “Just like anybody, those hits are going to take a toll. I think it did. I think he did a good job of staying in there and taking the hits, especially with the four interceptions that helped us out. It was really important, especially heading into UCLA next week. I think it was a big confidence boost, especially for us. We didn’t play that well last week. We got the win but we weren’t proud of it. This win was big for us as a team.”
There was a certain sense of urgency this week for the Blackshirts.“I did a better job of watching film. Outside of practice and outside of meetings, I think we all did, collectively,” Gregory said. “I think it showed on the field, and it showed in practice. Whenever we messed up on a play in practice, we ran through it again. Overall our preparation for the game was over-the-top. It was phenomenal.”
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