HOF Notebook: Wistrom Honored To Receive Call
He took note of the 402 area code, but as most people do nowadays, Grant Wistrom let the phone call go straight to his cell phone’s voice mail because he didn’t know the number that appeared on his screen.
Wistrom, at the time getting a haircut with his son, later recognized the voice as he played the message.
“When I listened to it,” Wistrom said, “it kind of floored me a little bit.”
The caller was Nebraska football coach Scott Frost, a former teammate of Wistrom’s on the 1996 and 1997 Husker football teams. Frost was informing Wistrom that he’d been selected for induction into the 2019 Nebraska Athletic Hall of Fame.
“That was a great way to find out about it,” Wistrom said. “It was good to hear his voice, and the news was even that better.”
Wistrom, a two-time All-American, Lombardi Award winner and Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year, is among seven people selected for induction in the Nebraska Athletic Hall of Fame, founded in 2015. He joins track athlete Rhonda Blanford-Green, volleyball and basketball player Greichaly Cepero, gymnast Wes Suter, men’s gymnastics coach Francis Allen, cross country and track and field coach Carol Frost and track and field coach Ed Weir.
Wistrom told the aforementioned story while a Thursday night guest on Sports Nightly on the Husker Sports Network with Greg Sharpe. He also discussed his recruitment, his coaches and his selection in the 1998 NFL Draft, among other topics.
Had it not been for his father, Wistrom may have ended up a Michigan Wolverine. He took his first recruiting visit to Ann Arbor and had “an amazing experience,” saying he would’ve committed on the spot, except that he promised his dad he wouldn’t commit on any visit without first taking all of his visits.
Next, Wistrom visited Nebraska, where he was recruited by former assistant coach Ron Brown.
“I just fell in love with the guys I was going to be able to play with for the next four years,” Wistrom said. “I knew it was home for me. It just felt right. It was a place I knew I could grow up to become a man and win a lot of football games.
“You don’t ever think about winning the national championship three out of four years. We knew we were pretty good, but to do something like that is pretty incredible.”
Indeed, Wistrom, who totaled 206 career tackles with 58.5 tackles for loss and 26.5 sacks, helped the Tom Osborne-led Huskers to national titles in 1994, 1995 and 1997, his senior season.
“We were all in,” Wistrom said. “Guys were selling out for each other. What we had there, the whole was definitely greater than the sum of the parts.”
Wistrom also remembered his position coach for three seasons, Tony Samuel, and defensive coordinator Charlie McBride.
“He could not have been more of a contrast to Charlie McBride,” Wistrom said of Samuel. “You’ve got this Virgin Islands guy, totally laid back, just never raises his voice, never yells. And you go from that to Charlie McBride, who’s exactly what an old football coach should be like in everything that’s good about football.
“Very contrast of personalities, but I got to thrive under both of them.”
Wistrom said the coaching staff’s practices included live scrimmages Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with four full 11-on-11 stations going on at the same time.
“You got a heck of a lot of reps,” Wistrom said. “We were so well-versed in practice, so prepared to step on the field of play, that we won so many football games before we even stepped on the field.”
Nebraska retired Wistrom’s No. 98 jersey in 1997, and he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009. Following his Husker career, Wistrom was the No. 6 overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft.
Wistrom shared the story of how the night before the draft, a representative of the Dallas Cowboys called Wistrom and told him the St. Louis Rams would likely pick him, but that Dallas, with the No. 8 pick, wanted Wistrom and asked him to tell the Rams not to draft him. The Cowboys even had a plane waiting in Wistrom’s hometown of Joplin, Missouri.
“They were ready to go right then,” Wistrom said. “I was like, 'Absolutely not.' That’s not the type of person I am. If (the Rams) draft me, that’s where I’m going.”
However, Wistrom admitted he then would’ve rather played for “America’s team” over St. Louis, at that time one of the worst teams in the NFL.
Wistrom, though, played nine seasons in the NFL and was a member of the St. Louis Rams team that won Super Bowl XXXIV.
“You just never know,” Wistrom said, “how things are going to work out for you.”
Gymnastics Future Bright
Not until last year, the fourth class of the Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame, were former coaches eligible for induction. The first two, not surprisingly, were Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne.
The third is legendary men’s gymnastics coach Francis Allen.
“I couldn’t follow any two better,” Allen told Sharpe on Sports Nightly.
Allen, hired by Devaney, never had another full-time job. His dream in high school was to be a gymnastics coach, and he stayed at Nebraska for 40 seasons, noting how every Director of Athletics he had supported gymnastics.
“It felt like why leave a group that’s going to support you like that?” Allen said.
The longest tenured head coach in the history of Nebraska Athletics, Allen led the Huskers to eight NCAA team championships, including five consecutive titles from 1979 to 1983.
Nebraska’s most recent title came in 1994, and this year’s third-place finish was the Huskers' highest since 1999.
“They performed as well as some of my great NCAA teams,” said Allen, still a regular around the program. “They peaked at the right time. No one in the arena predicted they’d be third, but they competed like champions.”
Allen said the program, now led by Chuck Chmelka, will “skyrocket” from here, and that the new men’s and women’s practice facility will attract some big-name recruits
“We lost recruits because our gym was too small,” Allen said. “That’s going to be awesome for Chuck and awesome for the Huskers.”
On Friday, the programs celebrated a “Topping Off” ceremony, as the final beam went up to complete exterior construction. The final piece of steel for the building was signed by coaches, student-athletes and alumni before being set into place.
The 26,000 square-foot training space and 46,000 square-foot state-of-the art facility will be a game changer for recruitment, performance and competition. The Training Complex will include two practice gyms, locker rooms, a lobby, team rooms, athletic therapy rooms and coaches’ oﬃces.
Completion for the practice facility, on the north side of the Devaney Sports Center, is scheduled for January.
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