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Join Nebraska’s Walk-On Club and Become Part of History

Quick now. Who came up with the idea that Nebraska fans wear red to football games and how long has this been going on?

If you said the Extra Point Club came up with the idea and remembered that the tradition started in Bob Devaney’s first season as head coach in 1962, Don Bryant and Lou Roper invite you to move to the front of the line.

Bryant, a.k.a. “The Fox” and Nebraska’s Sports Information Director Emeritus, and Roper, a Lincoln banker who was an officer in the Extra Point Club for more than 40 years, Thursday framed the historical significance of a club that will write its next chapter and transition to a new name next week – the Walk-On Club, as presented by the Extra Point Club.

It’s only fitting that Tom Osborne, Nebraska’s Hall of Fame football coach and athletic director, is the featured speaker for the first-ever Walk-On Club Luncheon on Thursday, Sept. 18, at 11:30 a.m. at Lincoln Station. Even if you haven’t joined the Walk-On Club, you can still reserve a seat at the luncheon by calling the Nebraska Athletic Development Office (402-472-2367) and paying $25 over the phone.

Osborne agreed to kick off a new Athletic Department program that will fund the recruiting and operating costs associated with a re-expanded walk-on program. If the Walk-On Club becomes a success, the new Board of Directors envisions funding a postgraduate scholarship for a former Nebraska football walk-on.

Rank-and-File Boosters Support Rank-and-File Walk-Ons

“The Extra Point Club was always designed to support the rank-and-file boosters, and we decided the time was right to support our walk-ons,” said Roper, president of the Extra Point Club that supports the Walk-On Club. “We’re more than willing to reinvent ourselves as a club, change our focus and get behind something that almost all Nebraskans support.”

“The walk-ons were the heart and soul of Nebraska football when I played,” said Derrie Nelson, one of seven former Husker walk-ons who became a first-team All-American. “Walk-ons bring the passion and the drive to practice every day, and they help set the tone for Saturdays.”

Former walk-on Chip Bahe said, “Walking on as a freshman at Nebraska was an honor, and it became by far the best decision of my life. You learn about dedication and understand that achievement is not always based on accolades and trophies, but on respect and loyalty. Like everyone else, I’m glad to see the walk-on program revitalized because it’s as big a part of our tradition as anything.”

Mike Tranmer would be one of the more interesting answers in a game of Nebraska Football Trivial Pursuit. The new vice-president of the Walk-On Club, who will join Osborne on the speaker’s stand at Thursday’s inaugural luncheon, is the answer to this question: Who is the Huskers’ only modern-day football captain who never received an athletic scholarship?

Scholarship money is not built into the purpose of the Walk-On Club, nor does it represent any part of its basic structure. Osborne is the first to clarify that any funds raised cannot be used to subsidize walk-ons individually. The funds merely support a substantially increased budget for new head coach Bo Pelini and his staff to recruit more walk-ons, to provide more support services and to cover additional operating costs for such important line items as increased locker room space and equipment.

“The walk-on program is a solid part of our foundation,” Osborne said. “We actively recruited players to walk on, and we put everyone – scholarship players and walk-ons – on equal footing with an opportunity to compete for playing time.”

Osborne: 40 Percent of Travel Roster Were Walk-Ons

Over his 25-year tenure as Nebraska’s head coach, Osborne estimates that approximately 40 percent of the Huskers’ restricted travel rosters were represented by walk-ons. “We always held back a number of scholarships to award to walk-ons as they moved up the depth chart and became starters or valuable backups,” he said. “Walk-ons are an important part of our Nebraska football tradition, and they will continue to be.”

Roper believes that right now the Walk-On Club is flying under the radar of bigger Nebraska priorities that  include a new $10.5 million Student Life Complex that will support academics, enrichment, technology and life skills. The Walk-On Club, Roper said, would not be a reality if Chuck Taylor hadn’t thought outside the box and figured out a way to help make one of Nebraska’s oldest booster clubs viable again.

“Chuck deserves all the credit,” said Roper, who served as the Extra Point Club’s treasurer from its origin in the late 1950s through four decades. When Taylor learned the NCAA had a bridge program that allowed incoming football walk-ons to receive financial aid through their first summer on campus, he wondered why the Extra Point Club couldn’t raise funds to support that innovative program as well as alleviate the increased operating costs associated with recruiting additional walk-ons.

Nebraska athletic department officials worked closely with compliance officers to develop the Walk-On Club, which is presented by the Extra Point Club and administered by the Husker Athletics Fund (HAF). The HAF is the organization under which all sport-specific University of Nebraska Athletics Booster Clubs operate. Taylor, a Certified Public Accountant and computer consultant who, like Roper, served the Extra Point Club for 40 years as an officer, is the HAF liaison on the new board of directors.

New Secretary Wants to Reach Out to Women Members

New times create new leadership. The club’s secretary, Jamie Nelson, who owns an investment firm in Lincoln, wants to recruit more women to join the predominantly male Extra Point Club. The more than 900 women who participated in Pelini’s first Football 101 Class provide a solid base from which to recruit. Dick Hudson, Lincoln’s longtime Pepsi distributor and another four-decade board member, is the treasurer. Bus Whitehead and Dick Johnson, longtime board members of the Extra Point Club, will continue as voting members. Former Husker walk-on wingback Troy Hassebroek is the program director, and Aaron Babcock, editor of Huskers Illustrated, is the club’s marketing director.

In addition to seven former walk-ons who became first-team All-Americans, Nebraska also has produced 11 former walk-ons who became Academic All-Americans and 28 former walk-ons who had careers in the National Football League.

The Extra Point Club has plenty of history of its own, making it the most logical fit to support a renewed emphasis on walk-ons.

“When Bill Jennings came from Oklahoma to Nebraska, he wanted a booster club for people who couldn’t afford to belong to the Touchdown Club,” Roper said. “So we came up with the Extra Point Club. When we beat Oklahoma (25-21 in 1959) to end Bud Wilkinson’s 74-game conference winning streak, we tore down the goal posts. The Extra Point Club cut ‘em up, painted them red, put the score and date on ‘em and sold ‘em for 5 bucks apiece as desk weights.”

Unfortunately, Nebraska lost its next game at Iowa State and then dropped its last game at Kansas State to finish 4-6. “What would have been a great Christmas present for our fans lost whatever marketing value it had,” Roper said. “I still have mine, but we didn’t make much money on that little novelty item.”

Devaney Used Club to Win Friends and Influence People

When Devaney arrived in ’62, the Extra Point Club shifted its focus from mostly small, intermittent fund-raising to a coach’s luncheon that became an immediate hit. “Every Monday at noon, Bob would tell a few jokes, explain what happened in last Saturday’s game and then talk about the next Saturday’s game,” Roper said. “As you can imagine, those luncheons sold out quick when people realized we had a winner.”

Dusty Rhoades, the manager of Gold’s in downtown Lincoln, hosted the luncheons in the 1960s. Club member Joe Yetman came up with the idea to collect an additional $1 from everyone who came through the door, and that was important because the crowds consistently pushed 500 people. “Most Mondays, we used an adjacent room to handle the overflow crowd,” Roper recalled. “The Extra Point Club became so popular among the rank-and-file that we hired an ex-Nebraska player to drive across the state and sell stickers to fans who wanted to show their support for the Extra Point Club locally.”

Devaney invited his assistant coaches to the luncheon. “They were all very superstitious and when we started winning, they made sure they sat in the same seat every week,” Roper said. “I remember once someone sat down where I usually did and (offensive line coach) Carl Selmer made him move.”

Roper said the Extra Point Club “closed down” five Lincoln locations over the years – Gold’s, the Lindell Hotel, the Lincoln Hotel, the Elks Club and Miller and Paine. “We were more of a relationship-building club than a fund-raising club,” he said. “We’d donate $5,000 here or there, but we were more about public relations than making money.”

Roper and Taylor see the same kind of grass roots support and PR emerging from the Walk-On Club, presented by the Extra Point Club.

“We will always reach out to the rank-and-file,” said Roper, who admitted he’d given up hope on the club until Taylor convinced Osborne there was a meaningful mission to support. “Until we build the membership base we need and expect to get, you can come to one of our three Thursday luncheons this year (Sept. 18, Oct. 23 and Nov. 20) to show your support. Who knows? Maybe we’ll build this club back up to the way it used to be.”

Taylor: Walk-On Club Will Fly; It Just Needs Airspeed

Taylor said the way to resuscitate the Extra Point Club was to mesh it with a cause that can generate interest and produce “smarter” results. “We appeal to Joe Everyman and Jane Fan, not T. Boone Pickens,” he said. “Most rank-and-file Nebraskans would love to help buy some extra equipment to put 35 or more players in uniforms. I’m convinced this club will fly. We just need to pick up some airspeed.”

Roper agrees and finds proof from Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini, who explained how the new coaching staff actively recruited 35 new walk-ons in 2008. “After national signing day, they invited all of them to report in the summer to go through the same drills and academic requirements as the scholarship players,” Roper said. “Thirty-two of the 35 came to Lincoln to show the coaching staff what they could do. The three guys who didn’t come wanted to – they just couldn’t afford to walk on and had to pass on the opportunity.”

Roper smiles with the same twinkle that’s been in his eye for nearly half a century. “If we keep dealing with those kinds of numbers, I think the walk-on program could go back to the kind of success we had when Tom was head coach,” he said.

If you agree with Roper, consider this your engraved invitation to join Nebraska’s Walk-On Club and become part of history.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to wear red on Saturday. Roper is as proud of that Extra Point Club legacy as he is excited about supporting a revitalized walk-on program.