Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Leadership, Accountability Beginning To Take Root

By Brian Rosenthal

This wasn’t a game-winning touchdown or some inspiring fourth-quarter comeback. Yet what transpired over the weekend for Scott Frost could be considered something of a victory, even if not the kind that falls under the “W” column and ends weeks – months – of frustration and disappointment.

This is winning in a different manner and, perhaps in the long haul, a much more important one, too.

One day after the Nebraska football team fell to 0-4 with 42-28 homecoming loss to Purdue, four team captains, on the Huskers’ lone off day of the week, entered the office of Frost, in his first year as head coach.

They asked their leader what needed to be fixed.

Such a sign of leadership and accountability makes Frost realize what he’s been preaching may finally be getting through.

“I think the guys get it,” Frost said, “and that’s all part of building the foundation.”

With as much fire and passion Frost displayed after Saturday’s game, he equaled Monday in positive, upbeat tones at his weekly news conference at Memorial Stadium.

“Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much the coach says it, if it doesn’t come from in the locker room, there’s not a lot of power to it,” Frost said. “Now we have leaders that are excited to get some of these things changed and fixed.

“It’s still not going to get fixed overnight, but I think we have guys that are going to hold other people accountable to make sure the right things are happening.”

Frost bemoaned his team’s lack of discipline – everything from penalties and busted assignments to sideline behavior – in the loss to Purdue. He promised after the game he would “ride the guys” who were doing things the right way, and backed up his words with several shakeups on the weekly depth chart.

To wit: Redshirted freshman walk-on Kade Warner has moved atop the depth chart at one receiver position after making his first career start Saturday. He also caught his first two career passes.

“Kade’s a good teammate. He plays as hard as he can and he’s where he’s supposed to be,” Frost said. “We’re going to play the guys we can rely on, maybe even if they’re not as talented as somebody else. If they’re a guy we can trust to do the right thing, those guys belong on the field.”

If Monday’s practice is any indication, more and more players are finally picking up on that very fact. Frost said he saw players practicing hard that he’d never seen practice before with such energy – players practicing with the attention to detail and execution Frost needs to count on them in games.

Several of those such players are ones who didn’t get in the game as much on Saturday, Frost said.

“Sometimes you’ve got to go through those moments,” Frost said, “but I’m hoping that the beginning of this season is a turning point for this football team.”

Frost reiterated he doesn’t sense players aren’t on board, and that nobody has approached him about departing, particularly in light of the new NCAA rule, in which players can still preserve a redshirt season through four games they've played.

Everybody, Frost said, is in the boat.

It’s just, the boat isn’t moving as fast as they would like, or maybe had expected.

“Sometimes when you’re building a new house, you can’t build it on a bad foundation, or you won’t have a house very long,” Frost said. “We had some rot and some termites, and we still do, and we have to get all of that cleaned out.”

Bottom line: You can’t build on unsolid foundation.

“You’d like to get that foundation built quickly, and we are working on getting it built as quickly as we can, but there’s still work to be done there,” Frost said. “We certainly aren’t going to be ready to finish the house and put a penthouse in until that’s all done.”

Many players understand that, too. Adrian Martinez, the true freshman quarterback, understands Frost’s passion. The coach knows the Huskers can be better, and Martinez said players do, too.

“I’ve said since the first time I met Coach Frost I’ve wanted to play for him,” Martinez said. “I wanted to fight for him. I believe this team does, too. Some people might not know what that requires. Just getting that instilled is part of that process.”

Senior Devine Ozigbo, who’s now the sole No. 1 running back on this week’s depth chart, admitted it took him until the beginning of his junior year to understand the importance of practice habits.

When his sophomore year didn’t go well as he’d hoped, he approached coaches in the offseason, asking what he needed to do to improve. That’s when Ozigbo discovered that if you want coaches to play you in games, you have to show your game in practice, and consistently.

“It took me a while to understand how important practice was,” said Ozigbo, who rushed for a career-high 170 yards on 17 carries Saturday. “Practicing hard and practicing fast definitely helps. Your body gets used to it. You don’t have to think as much. You just go out there and play fast, and things just start working.”

The depth chart shakeups may very well send the same message to other players this week, too.

“It’s motivation for guys who are going to go out there and work,” Ozigbo said. “If you feel like you deserve to be out there and you want to change your situation, Coach (Ryan) Held and Coach Frost say there two things you can do when you get knocked down – you can stay down or you can get back up and fight for it.

“Guys who want to fight will go out and practice hard and do the right things and get their names moved up on those depth charts. Those guys who are not are going to fall back, and it’s going to motivate them, or they’re going to just fall to the side.”

Even Monday, Ozigbo said, the running backs had one of their best days of practice this season.

“Everybody was taking it to heart,” he said. “Everybody stepped it up.”

Maybe, just maybe, Frost's repeated words of advice are taking root.

“It’s way too late to have it happening,” Frost said, “but I’m glad it’s happening.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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