Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos presented Husker senior Chris Stephenson with NU's prestigious 2018 Male Student-Athlete of the Year Award.
Photo by Stephanie Carpenter/Nebraska Communications

Stephenson Eager to Perform at Medical School

By Randy York

Nebraska Honors 2017-18 Award Winners

Jason Kautz, Ph.D., is a professor of practice, a distinguished teaching fellow, a graduate faculty associate and coordinator of general chemistry in the Nebraska Department of Chemistry.

“Having been in the academic arena for 14 years at UNL, I have had the privilege of teaching and mentoring a diverse body of graduate and undergraduate students,” Kautz said.

“I can confidently rank Chris Stephenson (Nebraska's 2018 Male Student-Athlete of the Year) among the top two percent,” Kautz said. “He’s among the best. His academic accomplishments and potential for success are outstanding.”

There are multiple reasons why Chris’s story is so inspiring to teammates, coaches, fans and family. “Anyone who listens to Chris will come away knowing that he has grit,” Kautz said. “He is resilient in the face of physical and mental challenges. He has moral clarity, is ambitious and driven, and has a passion for pursuing his goals.”

A biology major from Fishers, Indiana, Stephenson attended the United States Air Force Academy before transfering to Nebraska. Kautz remembers attending a men’s gymnastics match that showcased Stephenson’s remarkable athletic skills. “I was struck by the power, artistry and meticulous nature of his intricate routines.”

Professor Saw More Than Talent; In Stephenson, He Saw a Leader Who Motivates 

Watching Stephenson compete helped Kautz measure his powerful skill sets. The professor saw more than talent. He saw a leader who motivates others and was instrumental in team building and cohesion among his teammates. 

Stephenson’s influence in academics and athletics are instrumental in the way he communicates, cooperates and influences accountability. “It’s clear to me that Chris has been successful in transferring the work ethic developed throughout his successful career as an athlete to his academics,” Kautz said.

The professor marvels at one of his top students ever. “It is clear to me that Chris has been successful in transferring the work ethic developed throughout his successful career as an athlete to his academics. The intangibles honed in the gym, and with his coaches and teammates, will no doubt serve Chris well when he’s challenged by the rigors of the medical curriculum, and one day as a practicing physician.”

No one has to convince Nebraska Men’s Gymnastics Coach Chuck Chmelka about Chris’s leadership since his first year. “Chris’s work ethic, drive and desire to succeed at everything he does is unmatched,” Chmelka told me Monday morning after Stephenson earned the Huskers’ highest individual honor.

“His love for our team and his teammates is shown every day at practice,” Chmelka said. “Chris would do anything to help anybody on our team. He is truly one of the most unique recruits I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach, and I’m honored and thrilled to have had that opportunity the past four years.”

Reaching NCAA Team Finals Was Chris Stephenson's Most Magical Moment  

I asked Stephenson about his most magical moment as a Husker. “Reaching the NCAA Team Finals last year,” he told me. “That was the ‘big picture’ goal for our team every year I competed at Nebraska and finally making it a reality was such a special moment for the entire team. The energy and the excitement that I felt that day is unparalleled by any other moment in my life, and experiencing it with my teammates and coaches made it that much more meaningful.”

Transferring from the Colorado-based Air Force Academy to Lincoln was a good move all the way around, especially when Chris got the opportunity to be on the same team as his brother, Anton Stephenson.


“The sense of community offered at Nebraska makes this place truly unique,” Chris Stephenson said. “I met so many people here that went out of their way to help me achieve my goals. Everyone wants each other to succeed, and I think that level of support is why there really is No Place like Nebraska.”


Stephenson believes “it’s so much easier to stay focused on academics, athletics, and life when you’re surrounded by like-minded individuals who are also dedicated to succeeding in those areas,” he said. Teammates and coaches are constantly pushing me to perform at my best in all areas of life, and it’s those people who motivated me each and every day.”


The most essential lesson Stephenson learned at Nebraska is the importance of passion. “When you’re passionate about what you’re doing, it makes every day exciting,” he said. “I feel so lucky that I found my passion in gymnastics because it enabled me to enjoy my collegiate career to the absolute fullest.”


Stephenson struggles to grasp that 19 years of his competitive gymnastics career is over. “But I am very excited,” he said “to continue pursuing my education in Medical School starting next fall.”

Nebraska Professor: Chris Was a Curious Student-Athlete with Unique Conversations 

Chris was a curious student-athlete at Nebraska. “I’ve spent hours working with Chris as a student in my general chemistry II course in his preparation for medical school,” Kautz said. “Simply put, he’s present in our conversations in ways that other students aren’t.


“Without exaggeration, scholarship is innate to Chris,” Kautz said. “He understands that success in academics is more than simply competing his course requirements. It is the adaptation of problem-solving skill set to all aspects of his life and for benefit of society.”


Chris is a leader who has served as an undergraduate teaching assistant in human anatomy. Kautz said Stephenson had an impact on educational enterprise for students and that approach has been both exemplary and enormous.


“There is no doubt that Chris’s sustained excellence in his academic endeavors is exceptional,” Kautz said. “I am confident that his scholarship will continue to mature with an impressive upward trajectory when he takes his place among UNL’s brightest academic stars.”


Stephenson understands challenge, rigor and the need for investment. He has a warm and calming presence, coupled with the charisma of a natural leader. “People are simply drawn to Chris. When he speaks, people listen and they believe,” said Kautz, who says that anyone who listens immediately understands that Chris has a vision because he’s smart, mature in his thinking, empathetic, compassionate and sincere in his actions.


“Chris even pushes me to pursue excellence in my own professional endeavors,” the professor of practice said. “The shear horsepower of Chris’s intellect, his willingness to persevere, his ability to engage, his tenacity and resilience, his grit and his aptitude to appreciate both the big picture and the immediate details of virtually any situation are inspirational to me.”


Talk about a chorus of celebration Sunday night in the Lied Center. One of the top two honorees in Nebraska Athletics earned every bit of his Male Student Athlete of the Year Award. will recognize Danielle Breen on Tuesday. Gymnastics took Breen to the top as the 2018 Nebraska Female Student-Athlete of the Year, which was announced Sunday at "A Night at the Lied Center" in downtown Lincoln.

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