If you want a Nebraska success story from Chicago, the next-door neighbor of Evanston-based Northwestern, just look down and find former Husker quarterback Joe Ganz on the sidelines. He's standing next to Ron Brown and Rich Fisher, wildly waving his arms and sending Tim Beck's instant analysis to Taylor Martinez, who wants the latest check before he starts barking orders.
If you can't find Ganz, remember that he's 35 pounds lighter than three years ago when he was the one on the field diagnosing, dissecting and deciding where to go and how to get there. Martinez has a laser lock on Ganz, knowing the Chicago gunslinger set 23 Nebraska school records, including NU's single-game record for passing yards (510) and single-game records for total offense (528) and passing touchdowns (7). Ganz also knew when to run and when not to run.
Now a graduate manager on Nebraska's football staff, Ganz does everything from break down opponents' film to make copies of plays and deliver meals from the training table to offensive staff members camped out in their offices or meeting rooms. He spends 18-hour days doing any kind of grunt work that Beck, Nebraska's offensive coordinator, can think of, and Ganz loves every bit of it. He never complains and will do whatever Beck asks "because he's a great person, a great teacher and a good offensive coordinator who does what his players do well instead of what he likes to do," Ganz said. "That's why we have so much respect for him. He understands what it takes to be a great play-caller, and he always tries to play to our strengths."
That's important to a gutty leader like Ganz, who earned his spurs as a player and is more than willing to burn the midnight oil as a member of Nebraska's staff, so that someday he, too, can become a Division 1 coach. Fellow Husker staffers believe countless programs would benefit from the work ethic and qualities Ganz has shown since he arrived at Nebraska as a recruit from Palos Heights, Ill., a Chicago suburb.
Ganz sees Chicago as a city in love with its pro teams more than a college town. He knows countless Northwestern, Illinois and Notre Dame fans, but wanted no part of their teams. "I grew up following the Big Ten and bought an Ohio State jersey," he said, explaining that he pretended to be Butkus Award-winning middle linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer. Then, through the sheer power of national television, Joey Ganz and his dad found a team they could really fall in love with ... Nebraska.
He Fell in Love with Touchdown Tommie Frazier
"The Huskers were always on TV in Chicago, and the minute Tommie Frazier had that big, tackle-breaking touchdown run against Florida in the Fiesta Bowl, I was hooked forever," Ganz said. "From then on, I had to be Nebraska in any video game I played."
Life can sure be funny. Even though it seemed like an eternity for Ganz to get a shot as Nebraska's starting quarterback, Frazier became one his biggest fans. "I knew in 2004 that Joe would be great," Frazier said. "He was the offensive scout team's MVP, and I watched him in his labor of love. He waited patiently for his chance. I could see his leadership, and I could tell his teammates saw it, too.
"When they brought in another quarterback and he didn't get the nod, I became an even bigger fan of Joe Ganz," Frazier said. "He was a trooper. He didn't panic. He didn't get down in the dumps. He paid his dues. He got the job, and he set all those records. He deserves every one of them."
Those records, however, have never gone to Ganz's head because Nebraska has built its tradition on a pound-the-rock running game, just like most Big Ten schools he's followed. "I just feel Nebraska's more suited for the Big Ten," Ganz said.
"The kids we recruit and the areas we recruit reflect how our team is built," Ganz said. "It was really a good move for us to join the Big Ten because it opens up a lot of doors. Not only are we a big part of the Big Ten Network, we're a big deal back home. So many of my friends in Chicago tell me how much they wish we would have been in the Big Ten sooner so they could have watched so many more of our games.
Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania: All Prime Ground
"This move not only opens up the Chicago and Illinois areas, but it opens up Ohio and Pennsylvania," Ganz said. "There are a lot of good players out there, and I think Chicago is going to become a real recruiting staple for us."
Like everything else, success depends on relationships, and Husker assistant John Garrison is developing connections both in the city of Chicago and its suburbs.
"Nebraska has had some great success getting recruits out of Chicago," Ganz said. "Johnny Mitchell was one of the best tight ends to ever play college football, and he was a Chicago guy. I've seen film on him, and I would have loved to have had a tight end target like that to throw to every day. I don't know if we'll find another Johnnie Mitchell, but we're going to find guys like him that are big, athletic, fast and can run and jump, just like he did. That's what we need to be successful in this league."
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