Husker Hall-of-Famers Have Hearts for Service

By NU Athletic Communications
Nebraska Football Hall of Fame inductee Sheldon Jackson was a member of three Husker national championship teams.
Nebraska Football Hall of Fame inductee Sheldon Jackson was a member of three Husker national championship teams.
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Ken Clark, Sheldon Jackson, Bob Liggett and Grant Wistrom have more to share this weekend than their formal induction into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame. All four former Huskers share their time, talents, wisdom and good fortune with youth across the country.

“Our honorees seem to have real hearts for service,” Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne said. “They’ve certainly found meaningful ways to make a difference in the lives of young people.”

Clark, a three-year letterman and two-time All-Big Eight running back at Nebraska in the late 1980s, is an intern assistant principal at Farnsworth/Cleveland Aerospace Program in St. Paul, Minn., a middle school located in a poverty-stricken area similar to the Omaha neighborhood in which he grew up.


Jackson, a four-year letterman and first-team All-Big 12 tight end, played on three national championship teams and captained the Huskers in 1998. He heads the in-school suspension program at Calhoun Middle School in Denton, Texas.


Liggett, an All-Big Eight defensive tackle who lettered twice, helped Nebraska lead the conference in defense when the Huskers finished 9-2 in 1969. After two years of pro football, he returned to his roots and spent 31 years directing delinquent youth in a development center in Newcastle, Pa.


Sheldon Jackson (top), who was a member of Nebraska's three national championship teams in 1994, 1995 and 1997, and Ken Clark (above) will join Bob Liggett, Kelly Petersen and Dan Young in the Autograph Zone at the Husker Nation Pavilion before Saturday's game with New Mexico State. The Huskers will sign autographs from 4 to 5 p.m., with kickoff set for 6 p.m.


Wistrom, a four-year letterman, three-year starter, two-time All-America defensive end and Lombardi Award winner, launched the Grant Wistrom Foundation when he played for the Seattle Seahawks. The foundation continues to serve pediatric oncology patients from nine U.S. cities, as well as various local outreach programs and charities for children in Nebraska, Missouri and Illinois.

“When you’ve been given so much, it’s great to give back to those truly in need,” Wistrom said.  “I remember a ‘Circle of Friends’ trip to Wisconsin for 40 pediatric oncology patients. One young man, who was 11 or 12 years old, told everyone ‘I’m the luckiest boy alive’ after we’d just spent four days skiing and snowmobiling. He’d lost one arm to cancer and was facing some big odds to survive. That’s when you realize how important it is to put a smile on a kid’s face and why kids can give you so much more than you can ever give them.”

All-Big Eight Players Felici, Petersen Among 2008 Inductees

Two other former Huskers – Tony Felici and Kelly Petersen – will join Clark, Jackson, Liggett and Wistrom at Memorial Stadium Friday night for the 2008 Nebraska Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Felici, a three-year letterman and two-time All-Big Eight defensive end, helped lead the Huskers to a conference championship and Orange Bowl win in 1982. Petersen, a two-year starter and All-Big Eight center, played on back-to-back conference championship teams in 1965 and 1966 and back-to-back New Year’s Day bowl games against Alabama – the 1966 Orange Bowl and the 1967 Sugar Bowl. Nebraska finished 10-1 and No. 3 in the final polls in Petersen’s final season.

A seventh ex-Husker, Tim Smith, also will be inducted. A three-year starter at split end and punter in the late 1970s, Smith was a first-team All-Big Eight selection and three-time Academic All-Big Eight choice. A team captain and winner of the Guy Chamberlin Trophy in 1979, he also won an NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarship in 1980 before spending seven years in the National Football League. The Executive Committee also selected the late Alonzo “Lonnie” Stiner, another ex-Husker, as a 2008 Nebraska Football Hall of Fame inductee. He won All-America honors as a tackle in 1926.

The six Huskers who will attend Friday’s banquet shared these thoughts and memories with the N-sider:

Ken Clark: “My years at Nebraska taught me that education is one of the great equalizers among people. I’m serving this internship in an area similar to where I grew up, so I can finish my principal’s licensure in 2009. I’m drawn to my work because so many of these kids have a high risk of dropping out of school or being incarcerated, or both. I’ve found that my football career and my experiences growing up in poverty help me send a powerful message so these kids can achieve their dreams. When I was seven years old, football sparked hope and excitement in the midst of my poverty. For me, football became a vehicle to a better life.

“I’ve developed a simple philosophy, and it stems from a comment Coach Osborne once made when he said ‘If a man gives you an honest day’s pay, you give him an honest day’s work.’ Through competition, we’re able to measure ourselves against others and against our own past, and it helps us gain a more profound understanding of our own abilities. From an analysis of our own strengths and weaknesses, we get direction for new efforts in the process of self-fulfillment, and I consider what I’m doing right now an opportunity for personal growth, a richer life and a chance to help others like I was helped.”

Tony Felici: “Perseverance was the key when I played. My favorite game of all-time was Florida State my junior year – my first time as a Blackshirt. I played most of the game and became a starter. The lessons I took from football into life after football was the value of hard work and how it can help you overcome obstacles. Football taught me to expect ups and downs and then deal with them. You’re never as good as people say you are, and you’re never as bad either.

“When I played, we always knew we were going to win. We learned you can’t play scared and win, and the same is true in the business world. I sell wholesale vehicles to local automobile dealers now, and I use Coach Osborne’s wisdom to guide my actions – compete every day at everything; be honest even when it may not be popular; persevere; help someone whenever you have the opportunity; and remember that the less you say, the less you have to take back. I’m excited about the Hall of Fame banquet because the best part about playing at Nebraska was meeting all the different guys from around the country and then keeping those relationships through the years. This weekend will be fun.”

Sheldon Jackson: “Since playing three years for Buffalo in the NFL, I’ve been involved in some way with youth counseling. It’s always been a part of my life because I chose to move from California and become a student-athlete at Nebraska. When you assume that responsibility, you know people are always looking at you and always trusting you to follow through on whatever commitments you make. When they put you in charge of an in-school suspension/discipline program, being with me is no party. It’s no time to be smiling or cracking jokes. My job is to guide, mentor and counsel kids so they understand the best place in the world for them to be is in a regular classroom. I try to show them how they can climb out of a difficult life through education. It’s the only way out, and it’s never easy, especially for some kids who are subjected to watching adults argue and abuse each other before they start the day’s first class. It’s hard to worry about an algebra problem when you don’t know if you can even go home that night.

“My goal in taking this job is to become teacher-certified, so I can coach football or basketball in this school district. I don’t consider it something nice to do to get somewhere else. It’s a requirement for each and every man or woman who has been helped through life by someone else. I can’t tell you how long the list is of people who prayed for me and helped me. As far as I’m concerned, every air-breathing, red blood-bleeding human on this earth is commissioned to help America solve this problem. When we count our blessings and disregard the bad things that have happened in our lives, we realize how important it is to wake up with grace, health and an opportunity to help someone else who needs it.”

Bob Liggett: “I played for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1970, got hurt and then played in the Canadian Football League with British Columbia in ‘71. When I fractured my ankle there, I knew it was time to get on with my life’s work. Fortunately, Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne really pushed getting a diploma, so I realized my degree was more important than just about anything else. I went back to Beaver County, Pennsylvania, and started substitute teaching. Then I took a job with the Youth Development Center for hard-core delinquent youth in a secure environment. I started off as a counselor, became a supervisor in 1975, a manager in ’77 and from 1992 to 2004 became the executive director for the main facility with 200 kids and two satellite facilities for 100 more – one on the grounds of a state correctional facility and another in a 64-bed hospital unit. I worked with serious and sometimes violent offenders.

“It’s hard to believe I spent 31 years in that kind of environment, but I was born in the projects myself, and I knew how to help. When John Melton recruited me, he assured my father – who was a steel worker and a carpenter – I would go to Nebraska, learn what life was about and finish with a degree. I was blessed. Coach Osborne coordinated the Fellowship of Christian Athletes when I was there. If I didn’t have that to keep me grounded, I’m sure I would have drifted like so many others. The experience helped me develop a servant’s heart, and it became inbred in me. I understood at an early age that it takes a village to raise a child. I’m still involved in youth outreach programs at our church, and that goes clear back to my playing days when we’d meet with kids at the Kellogg Center – kids with physical and mental limitations. I enjoyed being a surrogate role model for kids from broken and fragmented homes. Now I’m spending some of my time helping the elderly. They’re some of our most vulnerable citizens, and it always makes you feel good when you can spend part of your Christian walk with them whenever possible.”

Kelly Petersen: “I admire some of these Hall of Famers and how they’ve dedicated their lives to others. Most of my community service was spent coaching my kids’ athletic teams while they were growing up. I’ve been in sales for 30 years with factory-built homes that meet residential standards. This is my third cycle living in Farmington, N.M., so I’m really excited about getting back for the banquet and the New Mexico State game. I haven’t been to a game at Memorial Stadium in at least 18 years. I’m really flattered and surprised that anyone remembers me, but I’ve been getting e-mails from all over the country about this honor. I’m looking forward to seeing some of my former teammates and coaches.

“This will be a real homecoming for us, so we’re planning a 40-year reunion of sorts. Since it’s a night game, we’ve reserved a reception room for at least 25 people on Saturday. We have 14 coming in from my hometown of Cozad and more from Kearney, Grand Island and even Houston. This isn’t about me. It’s about the Nebraska support system and how we all worked together to succeed. I can’t wait to see all the changes that have been made and how much the program has evolved. When I played we hardly had a weight room, but even then – with Coach Devaney and Coach Osborne together – we knew that the word student always came before the word athlete. They checked every grade on every report card.”

Grant Wistrom: “I still live in Springfield, Mo., but I’ve given up my whistle. I’m a football player. I am not a football coach. With the foundation work and two children – one 3 and one 1 1/2 -- I’m always busy. (Former teammates) Jared Tomich and Chris Kelsay are among the players still involved in my foundation work. When a child suffers, the whole family suffers, so we do things for mothers, too, like give them a day at a salon. Working with those kids and their families really helps you put life into perspective. They’re so positive, so courageous and so appreciative.”

Wistrom was an automatic inductee in the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 1998 after winning the Lombardi Award in 1997. “This weekend will be the formal induction, and I’ll have a lot of my family, ex-teammates and friends with me to celebrate. To me, being a Blackshirt was the highest honor I ever had in football. It didn’t end on Saturdays. You eat and breathe the responsibility. It just consumes you. Quite honestly, I identified more with wearing a Blackshirt and winning a national championship than I did winning a Super Bowl. Nothing meant more than playing on the most dominant defense in college football. At Nebraska, everybody out there played for one thing and one thing only – each other.”

Bill and Betty Cook, Dan Young Will Be Honored

Nebraska’s 2008 small college inductees are Danny Woodhead (Chadron), Chris Pohl (Hastings) and Brian Bohling (Nebraska Wesleyan). 

In addition, the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame will present special merit awards to Bill and Betty Cook of Beatrice and Dan Young of Lincoln. The Cooks, strong supporters of each of Nebraska’s major football building projects, remain active in the community and follow the Huskers across the country. As members of the Devaney Society, the Cooks were among the first to endow a scholarship for Husker student-athletes. Young was an assistant coach at Nebraska for 20 years, including the final 16 as NU’s kicking coach and offensive line assistant. During his two decades on staff, Nebraska had a 208-41-1 record and won three national championships.

“It’s a great honor to be in such a select group of players and coaches,” Young said. “I am forever indebted to Coach Osborne, who hired me to be the head freshman coach when I was at Omaha Westside. Then, when Clete Fischer retired, he moved me to the offensive line with Milt (Tenopir) and let me take over from Clete with the kickers. I got to work with a special group of people, and we were fortunate to coach some of the best players who ever played at Nebraska.

“The entire staff respected Tom because he set the example and developed the entire structure – from the walk-on program to strength training to recruiting at a high level. That structure allowed us to compete with the USCs, the Penn States and the Michigans of the world. We all bought into the system, and Tom rarely had to step in and micro-manage. Everyone knew what his job was, and we all worked together. That’s just the way we operated. Everything was done the right way.”

Editor’s note: Fans can join the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame and have the privilege to vote on future inductees. Dues are $40 a year or $99 for three years. Checks should be sent to: Bob Billings, 347 So. 111th St., Omaha, NE 68154-3168.




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