A walk-on wrestler who defied odds to become a three-time NCAA All-American, and the University of Nebraska's first ever Lowe's Senior CLASS Award recipient in any sport earned top honors Sunday night at Nebraska's 2010 Student-Athlete Recognition Banquet that drew a record crowd of 832 to the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
Craig Brester, a Mechanized Systems Management major who will graduate next month, was named Nebraska's 2010 Senior Male Student-Athlete of the Year.
Kelsey Griffin, a Biological Sciences major who also will graduate next month, was named Nebraska's 2010 Senior Female Student-Athlete of the Year.
Jo Potuto, a professor in the College of Law and NU's Faculty Athletic Representative, presented the Student-Athlete-of-the-Year Awards to Brester, who attended the banquet, and to Griffin, who accepted her award via video because of practice obligations with the USA Women's National Basketball Team.
Potuto praised the award winners' ability to balance athletic achievement with academic accomplishment and still find time to serve the community and represent the university inspirationally.
"Kelsey and Craig are both quiet, unassuming, humble, team-oriented proven leaders with exceptional work-ethic and determination to be the best in all endeavors," said Dennis Leblanc, Nebraska's Senior Associate Athletic Director of Academics.
"Kelsey has done a tremendous job of balancing the demands of basketball travel, postseason play, the WNBA draft and countless other community service and volunteer commitments," said Keith Zimmer, Nebraska's Associate Athletic Director for Life Skills. "Craig has been equally phenomenal in managing his time. He's volunteered for everything from Madonna Hospital and Tabitha Health Care to Peoples City Mission and Juvenile Diabetes."
Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne was the evening's keynote speaker and joined deans and college representatives from various schools to co-present 278 individual Medallion Awards to student-athletes who achieved bronze, silver or gold distinction for scholastic excellence. This year's record number of Medallion winners increased the total to 4,100 Medallion Awards since NU's first recognition banquet in 1991.
Even though Brester and Griffin took different paths to Nebraska, both were beneficiaries of the Huskers' unparalleled support.
"When you get here as a freshman walk-on from a small town, it's almost like getting thrown to the wolves," Brester said in his acceptance remarks. "But then you realize you have all this support, and winning an award like this is really a testament to all of that support more than anything."
Griffin, Nebraska's first-ever First-Team AP All-American in basketball - men's or women's - made history as Nebraska's first-ever Lowe's Senior CLASS Award winner across all sports.
A 6-2 forward from Eagle River, Alaska, she was chosen by a nationwide vote of Division I women's coaches, national basketball media and fans. The Lowe's Senior CLASS Award is presented annually to the most outstanding senior student-athlete in NCAA Division I women's basketball. The announcement and trophy presentation were made by Lowe's, an official Corporate Partner of the NCAA, during at the 2010 NCAA Women's Final Four in San Antonio.
Griffin was also a finalist for National Player of the Year, the V Foundation Comeback Spirit Award and the National Consortium Student-Athlete Courage Award. The three-time Nebraska team captain also has been honored with the Hero Leadership Award.
Brester grew up dreaming of following in the footsteps of Brad Vering, a fellow Howells, Neb., native and NCAA wrestling champion at Nebraska and Olympic Silver Medalist. A two-time Husker team captain, Brester finished as NCAA runner-up twice in the 197-pound weight class en route to his three All-America honors.
"Craig has meant so much to our program," Nebraska Coach Mark Manning said. "He's a tremendous student with a 3.9 GPA. He's very humble and has tremendous values. If there's a two-hour practice, he will be there 2 ½ hours. You would like to have 40 guys like Craig Brester. Because of his tremendous work ethic, he's developed himself as a champion athlete and a champion in the classroom. He's a class act in everything he does. He's every coach's dream."
Brester finished his NU career with a 109-21 record, including a 30-3 mark in 2009-10. He leaves his name in the school record books with the eighth-best winning percentage (.838) and is one of only 18 Huskers to reach 100 wins. He is the 12th Husker to earn three All-America awards. The 2009 Outstanding Wrestler in the 2009 Big 12 Championships, Brester also was a three-time NWCA All-Academic Team honoree and a four-time Academic All-Big 12 First-Team recipient.
While they excelled at the highest levels individually, Brester and Griffin are known for the strength they draw from their families, friends, teachers, coaches and teammates. Both have been models for their perseverance as much as their hard work.
"They are great examples of what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it and focus on what needs to be done," Zimmer said. "They know how to deal with adversity, and they are champions in life every bit as much as they are champions athletically and academically."