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The only walk-on in the 2012 Nebraska Chapter of the College Football Foundation Hall of Fame was the most surprised selection and, perhaps, the most proud. “It was really a rush. It was kind of like hitting a home run,” said Steve Manstedt, a three-year letterman defensive end who came to Nebraska as a skinny walk-on from Wahoo, Neb., and played in 1971, ‘72 and ‘73. “I’ll be honest with you. I haven’t felt that way since I competed. Something like that really surprises you. It’s kind of like when Coach (Monte) Kiffin would tell you that you just made a heck of a play. When you get news about something that means a lot to you, it makes you feel good. I totally did not expect it. I own my own construction business and in this heat, the last thing I expected was something like this. I was so caught off guard I couldn’t help but think back.”
Manstedt thought about all of his buddies who
still live in Wahoo and keep track of such news. He found it “funny”
and even “crazy” that the son of Wahoo’s mayor would call him from Texas
and congratulate him because he’d followed Manstedt’s career from
Nebraska to two injury-plagued years in the NFL with the Redskins and
Saints and two more years in the World Football League with Birmingham.
The Birmingham Americans, led by George Mira, provided
Manstedt with a world championship ring. And yes, Mira is the former
Miami quarterback who almost beat Nebraska single-handedly in that 36-34
shootout in the 1962 Gotham Bowl, the first bowl win in Husker history.
“It’s kind of surprising how people pay attention to all this stuff,” Manstedt said. “They read it (the Hall-of-Fame announcement) in the paper or online, and word gets out. I’m not on Facebook, but I’ve learned how many are. They help you realize this is kind of a big deal. I always thought it was nice for others, but when you learn you’re one of the names being honored, you can’t help but look back on all those times you worked out by yourself. When everybody else was having fun during the summer, you were running around a track or running up hills and trying to get in the best shape you can. I absolutely had no idea I would ever play at Nebraska, no thought whatsoever. But somehow I did, and I’m humbled by it.”
Tom Osborne remembers watching Manstedt throw the shot in the state track meet. “Steve wasn’t as big as a lot of those guys who are throwers, but you could see that he had a lot of strength, a lot of coordination and a lot of pop throwing the shot,” Osborne said. “We knew he was a pretty good football player, so we encouraged him to walk on. Of course, he became a very, very fine player for us. I think he was like a lot of the better walk-ons who chose to come here. We took them not necessarily on what we saw on the football field, but what they did athletically in other areas. We could see their strength and speed in track and their frames and footwork in basketball. We knew a lot of those guys would develop later on, and Steve was one who did develop like we expected.”
When I relate Osborne’s observations to Manstedt, he laughs, recalling how he was only 6-foot-1¼ and weighed only 178 pounds when he threw the shot nearly 60 feet in high school. “Vernon Thompson was my high school coach,” Manstedt said. “He was a fantastic coach and would do anything for anyone. He was one of those guys who would kick you in the butt when you needed it, and he’s the one who told me if I worked hard in the shot put, I could catch Nebraska’s eye with my strength. He had me warm up with the 16-pound college shot, and nobody was impressed. I was throwing it 49 or 50 feet. When the competition started and the shot was four pounds lighter in my hands, I was reaching 59 to 60 feet. I was so skinny. I knew I needed something to show Nebraska the strength I had.”
Thompson’s strategy worked, and Steve Manstedt, the skinny walk-on from Wahoo, will be inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame at a banquet on Friday night, Sept. 21, in Lincoln. The next day, Manstedt will join fellow Huskers Dale Klein, Bill Weber, Ahman Green, Josh Heskew and DeJuan Groce on Memorial Stadium’s hallowed turf, where they will be introduced in front of another sellout crowd at the Idaho State game. Osborne will be on the field for the Hall-of-Fame presentation. Thompson, Wahoo’s strategic-minded coach who now lives in Omaha, will be in the stands. Who knows? Maybe Thompson will find an old 16-pound shot, paint it red and bring it with him as a recruiting reminder and a special gift for a walk-on who planned to go straight from high school to his dad’s construction business … until a better idea paved the road to the Hall of Fame.
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