By Brian Rosenthal / Huskers.com
Some Huskers news and notes to begin the week as the Nebraska Athletics Department celebrates a Big Ten Championship …
Fans who followed the annual Husker Tour across the state, either in person or via social media, will remember football coach Mike Riley more than once referring to Nebraska as “America's Team.”
He borrowed the Dallas Cowboys' famous team slogan to explain his program casting a nation-wide net in recruiting. For example, Riley referenced Nebraska's first scholarship recruit, linebacker Avery Roberts, from the state of Delaware.
Little did we know that Roberts, an incoming freshman, won't really be the first Husker football player from Delaware.
That label apparently belongs to one Dan Barkley, a native of Wilmington, Delaware, who can share stories of Saturday morning redshirt scrimmages and keeping his locker in the old fieldhouse underneath North Stadium.
To be clear, Barkley makes his claim as the first player from Delaware mostly with tongue in cheek.
“Granted, I was a lowly, non-recruited walk-on to Frank Solich's first freshman team in 1979,” Barkley said, “and I only played – if that's what you call clean-up time against Bethany College – one year.”
Nebraska began restricting the number of walk-ons to a more manageable level – somewhere between 70 and 90 – the year Barkley joined the team, making his inclusion more notable.
Plus, he did serve his time in those lively scrimmages, as the likes of Dave Rimington crushed Barkley into the old AstroTurf.
“Worst stuff man ever made,” Barkley said. “Hard as a rock and hotter than hell. We use to have to tape our fingers because the turf got so hot in August. I remember guys missing practice because of turf burns on their forearms.”
Barkley graduated from Salesianum School, a Catholic school for boys in Wilmington, and followed his father's footsteps to school in Lincoln. Pat Barkley earned his masters and PhD from Nebraska in 1958 and 1961, respectively, and shares stories of watching football games from atop Avery Hall, including the famous 1959 Oklahoma game, before South Stadium blocked the view.
Dan Barkley, in a phone conversation, said he still has a full Lincoln Journal and Star newspaper from that game as a part of his Husker shrine. Nebraska, which had lost 16 in a row to the Sooners, won 25-21 to end Oklahoma's 74-game conference unbeaten streak.
Barkley's connection to Nebraska began as a youth, when his family would load the car and make the 2-1/2-day drive from Wilmington to Lincoln almost every year. Barkley, now a sales manager for Whirlpool, lives in Fort Mill, South Carolina, and made a similar trip to Lincoln last year with his family. His son, Ryan, played one season of football at Coastal Carolina, where the director of operations, George Glenn, coached Dan Barkley in high school – a connection nobody realized until Barkley wrote a check for his son's football camp at Coastal Carolina.
During last year's Lincoln visit, Barkley received a “quickie” tour of the weight room and other facilities at Memorial Stadium, where Nebraska's next Delaware native has already embarked on his Husker career, having arrived in January.
Avery Roberts attended Concord High School, which is less than a mile from Barkley's boyhood home. In fact, Barkley remembers that high school being built.
Small world, that America's team, isn't it?
Big Ten champs eye another title
Nothing, Darin Erstad said, would get in the way between his Nebraska baseball team and a Big Ten Championship.
That became evident when the Huskers scored seven runs in the first inning of a 21-3 romp of Penn State on Saturday. The victory clinched the program's first conference title since 2005, and first as a member of the Big Ten.
“On that particular day, they knew what they wanted and went out and took it,” Erstad said Monday on a teleconference with reporters. “They just kept the pedal down. It was one of those days where you get out of the way and let them do their thing.”
Nebraska is meandering its way from State College, Pennsylvania, to Bloomington, Indiana, the site of this week's Big Ten Tournament. The Huskers are the No. 1 seed and will face No. 8 seed Purdue in Wednesday's first round.
Nebraska and Purdue didn't meet during the regular season, a factor that doesn't faze Erstad.
“We'll be prepared,” he said, “just like they will.”
Erstad said the Big Ten Tournament is wide open.
How wide open, exactly?
Well, Erstad believes Michigan State is a salty enough team to win the tournament, except for one problem. The Spartans didn't have a good enough record to even qualify for the eight-team tournament.
Stat of the day
Often, 21-3 baseball scores will lend themselves to some unusual, quirky statistic, and Saturday's game was no different.
Nebraska starting pitcher Jake Meyers pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the first. Nothing crazy about that, except by the time he took the mound in the bottom of the second, Meyers had batted three times himself – so as many at-bats as batters faced.
That doesn't happen often.
Some good news for the bullpen, too. Reliever Matt Waldron, who's been out the last couple of weeks because of shoulder soreness, will be available for the Big Ten Tournament.
Nebraska outfielder Mojo Hagge earned Big Ten freshman of the week honors for the final week of the season.
Hagge hit .462 (6-for-13) last week at Penn State. Two of those hits were for extra bases, as he hit his eighth double and third triple of the season. The Omaha Skutt graduate also drove in three runs and posted an on-base percentage of .462.
Help on the way
I saw a Tweet from Nebraska softball play-by-play announcer Nate Rohr, who enjoyed watching a weekend full of NCAA softball regionals on television.
Rohr also lamented this, of course, and then predicted, through hashtags, he would be calling the Huskers in an NCAA regional somewhere next season.
He should be right, especially if Regan Mergele has any say.
Mergele, who signed with Nebraska earlier this month, helped Butler County (Kansas) to its second straight NJCAA Division I championship over the weekend.
Mergele was the Grizzlies' top pitcher in the postseason in helping Butler (58-1) become the first NJCAA Division I team to win back-to-back national titles since the NJCAA split into separate divisions in 1997.
A native of San Antonio, Mergele was the winning pitcher in six of Butler's 10 postseason victories, posting a 6-0 record with a 1.77 ERA in 27.2 innings. She finished her sophomore season with a 29-0 record and 0.75 ERA, ending her junior college career with a personal 45-game winning streak.
In her two-year career at Butler, Mergele compiled a 53-3 record with a 1.15 ERA.
The first snap Jackson takes in a Nebraska uniform – assuming he ever does – will be his first, on any level. He's never played football. But as Christopherson so eloquently tells us, don't ever count out Jackson, a former member of the Navy SEALs, when he sets his mind to something.
My favorite Tweet of the weekend came from a pair of storm chasers in Texas who took their wedding proposal picture with a funnel cloud looming in the background.
I hope she didn't blow off his request.
Reach Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.