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Randy York’s N-Sider
No one would ever ask me for my opinion on the Most Valuable Player in any football game, but for the first time in my life, I’m going out on a limb and announcing my MVP choice for what is believed to be the first game-winning Hail Mary pass in Nebraska football history … the envelope, please. The voting’s already over? Okay, I’m not surprised redshirt freshman Jordan Westerkamp was the runaway winner. I mean, he wears No. 1 on his jersey but isn’t that an unfair advantage? I know he’s the one who made Saturday's miracle catch in the Northwestern end zone, and his teammates will be talking about that immaculate reception when they become grandparents just like Matt Davison’s friends have talked about his miracle catch in Missouri at least once a month for 16 straight seasons.
What’s that? Avery Moss had the second most votes among your theoretical pool of experts? Let the record show he was my first choice, too, until I changed my mind in the last four seconds of the game. I mean, the redshirt freshman defensive end did have four tackles, a sack, an interception and a touchdown, and if he hadn't scored to tie the game, 21-21, there wouldn’t have been any theatrics for anyone else.
Cut me slack on Ameer Abdullah. Every time I watch the Huskers, he gets my MVP vote. Saturday, he had 24 carries, 127 net yards, 3 catches for 31 yards and let’s be clear on this: If he doesn’t stretch his body like a yoga-based missile in a hustling 16-yard catch on a fourth down-and-15 situation in that final drive, it would have been curtains for Nebraska, for Westerkamp and everyone else.
Come again? Ciante Evans tied Abdullah for third and fourth in the overall MVP vote? Hardly surprising … after all, if he hadn’t played the lead role in transforming Nebraska’s defense after its almost disastrous start, no would even be talking about an MVP.
Three Plausible Reasons Why Kellogg Fits My Criteria
Still, I can’t help but wonder. Am I the only one who submits Ron Kellogg III as the Most Valuable Player in what turned out to be Nebraska’s most physical game in a 6-2 season? You want three good reasons for making that choice? Okay, here’s my best shot:
1) Isn’t Kellogg the one who bought time for his receivers to run 50 yards downfield and then launched a near perfect Hail Mary spiral 56 yards through the blue sky hanging above Memorial Stadium and admitted afterwards that he didn’t even know he could throw a football that far?
2) Didn’t Bo Pelini ask Kellogg to step onto the field and into the huddle with 1 minute and 14 seconds remaining and challenge him to cover 83 yards without a timeout?
3) Didn’t Kellogg find out he was the man of the hour, the game and the season after Northwestern made that field goal?
I rest my case. Kellogg admitted he was “extremely nervous” when Pelini summoned his services, but Nebraska’s head coach also helped calm him down. “He said that I’ve done it before,” Kellogg said of Pelini. “The two-minute drill is my forte, I guess. They just had faith in me. That’s all I needed.”
In High School, Westerkamp Was Record Receiver
I guess that Kellogg’s mind was moving so fast, he never stopped to consider that Pelini was asking him to accomplish the two-minute drill in 74 seconds. I guess it’s also time for me to fess up and let everyone know why I insist on making Kellogg my own personal MVP. Of the five most viable candidates for that honor, Kellogg is the only walk-on. Think about that. Westerkamp can catch a football in his sleep. I mean, he’s the all-time Illinois prep leader in receptions (235), receiving yards (4,618) and receiving touchdowns (68). In his final prep game in the 2011 5-A state championship, he had 12 receptions for 353 yards and five touchdowns, for crying out loud. He was a first-team USA Today All-American, the Chicago Tribune’s Illinois State Player of the Year … all-metro, all-state, all-everything. No wonder Notre Dame and dozens of other schools, including the Big Ten’s Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State and Northwestern, offered Westerkamp a scholarship.
Abdullah? He turned down offers from USC, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, among others.
Evans? He could have gone to A&M, Texas Tech and TCU in his home state, not to mention Oklahoma State and others.
Moss? Stanford, Washington, Arizona, Arizona State, Purdue and San Diego State all offered.
Number of Division 1 Offers for Ron Kellogg: Zero
That takes us to Kellogg, who received no Division I offers. Northwest Missouri State and North Dakota had scholarships, but the Omaha Westside quarterback and son of Ron Kellogg Jr., an all-conference basketball player at Kansas, wanted to live a dream. He wanted to walk on and was willing to toil in the obscure shadows of the Scout Team in his first three years to get, perhaps, that one miracle moment shot to carve his name into Nebraska football history.
Saturday, Kellogg got that chance and seized the opportunity. He calmly, coolly and comfortably compressed 10 plays into those 74 seconds that tick so loud for us who watch. When he was sacked for an eight-yard loss on a third-and-seven on his own 24-yard line, I saw no hope for a win but encouragement for the way Nebraska battled. I could envision a possible game-tying field goal, but never did a game-winning touchdown even enter my mind.
That’s the beauty of a walk-on who has worked relentlessly for five seasons to get his chance on the big stage when his team needs him most. Six frontline players were out of the Husker lineup: Kenny Bell, Jake Cotton, Jake Long, Spencer Long, Taylor Martinez and Jamal Turner. So who flies in at the last minute to save the day? Mighty Ron Kellogg III, a battled-tested performer who practices the two-minute drill every Wednesday and Thursday against his teammates. “It worked out today,” he said, acknowledging how he collected his thoughts and imagined connecting with Quincy Enunwa, Sam Burtch and Abdullah in pressure situations.
They Practice The Hail Mary Pass Twice a Week
Kellogg completed six of eight passes on the game-winning 83-yard drive to become a fabled part of Nebraska football folklore, now and for years and decades to come. Asked how much he practices a Hail Mary pass, Kellogg said he and Tommy Armstrong Jr. “mess around with it’ just heaving the ball and trying to hit the goal post. “Never do we think that we’d have to do that in a game,” Kellogg said. “Thank God we were practicing ... and thank God for Jordan Westerkamp."
Memorial Stadium’s roar convinced Kellogg that someone had tipped the ball to a Husker, but he didn’t know the details. Replays appear to show Northwestern safety Traveon Henry tipping the ball to Westerkamp, who had sprinted downfield and moved behind the mass of bodies near the end zone. He was perfectly positioned to be the ultimate benefactor, and when Westerkamp performed his magic while planting both feet in the end zone before tumbling back onto the playing field, the official signalled Nebraska touchdown. The resulting roar "sounded like thunder,” Kellogg said. For Pelini, the noise brought back memories of the roar Husker Nation heard after Alex Henery kicked a 57-yard field goal to beat Colorado in 2008. For Husker fans already outside the stadium and trying to get a head start on traffic, the roar must have sounded something like missing history.
Kicks like that and Hail Marys like Saturday's etch themselves into the recesses of your mind. Which begs a question: Why does everyone remember Doug Flutie's Hail Mary against Miami, but not the player who caught it? Maybe because Flutie's rifle shot was longer and he was Heisman material. Here's hoping a team-oriented walk-on gets his share of the glory, too, even though something like that would never matter to Kellogg. “People were just in awe," he said. "I didn’t even know what happened. I’m still stunned by it myself.”
So, too, is Nebraska Nation.
Sunday, reality returns as the Huskers prepare for Michigan and the Big House. The Big Play is over and Big Business is ahead. “We still have four games left before we play in the Big Ten Championship Game," Kellogg said, "and we have to win them all.” Spoken, of course, like a true MVP.
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Voices from Husker Nation
Thanks so much for picking Ron Kellogg as the MVP of yesterday's game. I feel you are right on the money. Working tirelessly, with grace, for five years behind the scenes for most of that time and then stepping up to help create a remarkable moment in Big Red history. It's the kind of heartwarming and emotional story that makes Nebraska football stand apart from most all college programs. I'm so happy for Ron and for all the humble hard work he has put in for this team. Now he has a memory to cherish the rest of his days. Steve Davis, Mancos, Colorado
Welcome back to Nebraska football! History was made Saturday and Nebraska football lives on in the heart of every Husker fan. Jerry Rowe, Spring Hill, Tennessee
You exemplify my belief that sportswriters may be the only real journalists remaining. Deborah Svoboda (NU alum), San Francisco, California
Over the years, there have been so many great walk-on success stories, but this guy has been as patient as anyone. And then, with a game and a season truly on the line, he throws a perfect spiral almost 60 yards within minutes after learning he was going back on the field. What a drive and what a throw! I don't know how many times Ron Kellogg was our Scout Team MVP, but this time, the whole nation saw what he can do under pressure. He's never given up and knows how to come through in the clutch. Thanks, Mr. Kellogg, for writing one of the most exciting chapters in Nebraska's great book of walk-ons. Congratulations! Jeff Hansen, Chicago, Illinois
Great story on Kellogg and good choice for MVP. You shed light on what he’s gone through to get to that one play and what a play it was! Thank you for telling the story so well. I’m a native of South Sioux and my husband is native Sioux Citian, but after 43 years of marriage, he is a Husker convert, thanks to stories like this one. Marilyn Tallman, Sioux City, Iowa
I couldn't agree with you more! Congratulations to Ron Kellogg for an incredible drive and his game-winning pass! Melinda Gomez, Grapevine, Texas
I really enjoyed your MVP column. It was right on the money and entertaining to boot! Thanks for another great column. Emily Anderson, Blair, Nebraska