Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

NU Notes: Luensmann Ready To Roll

By Brian Rosenthal

 When Chad Luensmann prepared to take his turn on the mound, Nebraska coach Darin Erstad, ready to offer a few handclaps and welcoming words of encouragement, instead backed off.

“I saw foam come out of the side of his mouth, and it kind of scared me,” Erstad joked. “So I just kind of stayed back and didn’t say anything.”

Erstad compared his junior pitcher to a caged, rabid dog because, frankly, that’s how Luensmann felt now after missing the entire 2018 because of Tommy John surgery.

“It’s just great to get back out there and get to compete again,” Luensmann said. “Going live against hitters, it’s something I’ve been looking forward to for about 17 months. It was just great to get back out there and get that competitive spirit.”

Luensmann admits he probably didn’t have a clue what was happening during those 15 or so pitches he threw to live hitters a week into Nebraska baseball practices.

“But,” Luensmann said, “I had a blast out there.”

That’s more than he can say for last season.

“It was tough to watch,” Luensmann said. “Just being in the dugout and just seeing how guys were down at times. The thing that was so bad was that I couldn’t do anything about it. That was the biggest struggle I had is I wanted to get out there and do something for the team.”

At long last, he’ll be able to do just that, when Nebraska opens the 2019 season Friday with a four-game weekend series at UC Riverside. How many innings Luensmann will see, and in what capacity, remains to be determined, although he’s gearing toward a starting role.

Luensmann, from Altoona, Pennsylvania, burst onto the scene in 2016, when he served as the team’s closer and became the first Husker baseball player to be named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. In 2017, he made 27 relief appearances with a 3.74 ERA.

Then, he had Tommy John surgery, and missed 2018. So did two of his teammates, pitchers Robbie Palkert and Connor Curry. Nebraska felt the effects, going 24-28 and missing the Big Ten Tournament a year after winning the regular-season conference crown.

“Last year, not a lot of things went our way,” Luensmann said, “not a lot of things went my way.”

Said Erstad: “Maybe some people don’t believe in baseball gods, but I do, and you just hope they’re on your side. Last year, we had to wear it. We had to flat-out wear it.”

Palkert, who suffered his arm injury the opening weekend of last season, and Curry have also returned to the mound for live action. Reese Eddins is also full strength after a 2017 injury that limited him to eight appearances last season.

However, they’re all on different timetables, with target dates, roles and pitch counts yet to be determined. For now, Erstad said he’s stretching out 7-8 pitchers to be starters.

“Early on,” Erstad said, “we’re going to have to find a way to piece it together to maximize all of their pitch counts.”

Luensmann, after a long, tedious process in which he said he learned patience and “rolling with the punches,” is ready.

“I’m been champing at the bit,” he said. “They’ve had to hold me back a little bit. I’m pent up, and I’m ready to go.”

Winning Now

Erstad said he received a text from a veteran on the team who – no offense to a freshman recruiting class ranked No. 16 nationally – was “sick and tired” of everybody talking about building for the future.

Said the player’s text: “We’re going to win now, and we want to win now.”

After all, it’s not like the upperclassmen don’t know how to win, Erstad said, pointing to the aforementioned Big Ten conference crown and NCAA regional appearances.

“This is my kind of team," Erstad said. "We’ve got some fighters on this team, and they’re going to be fun to watch.”

That said, Erstad is eager to see how this blend of upperclassmen and highly-touted freshmen will mesh.

“Until we get punched in the face, we’re not going to know what really happens,” Erstad said. “It’s one of those things where I’m done talking. The boys are ready to play.”

Dawson To NFL

He may have spent only one season at Nebraska, but that was all the time defensive line coach Mike Dawson needed to make a positive, lasting impression on at least one of his players.

Sophomore Ben Stille of Ashland expressed his thanks and gratitude to Dawson, through a Tweet on Monday, after the announcement Dawson had taken an NFL assistant coaching position with the New York Giants.

Under Dawson last season, the Nebraska defensive line totaled 25 tackles for loss, or 11 more than the previous season. Stille finished with 25 tackles, one more than his freshman season, and five sacks, an increase of 1.5.

Dawson spent three seasons on Frost’s staff – two at UCF, one in Lincoln – after having spent three seasons on the Philadelphia Eagles’ staff. Prior to that, Dawson made assistant coaching stops on the collegiate level at Boston College, Akron, New Hampshire, Pittsburgh and Maine.

“Mike is a man of great character, an outstanding teacher, relates well to players and is a tremendous asset for any coaching staff,” Frost said in a statement. “When you are fortunate to have outstanding coaches on your staff, they are going to have other opportunities in this profession. We will miss Coach Dawson, but wish him and his family the best as he takes the next step in his career with the Giants.”

Nebraska begins spring practices March 4. The Huskers will conclude spring with the April 13 Red-White Spring Game, which will kick off at 1 p.m. on BTN. For the second consecutive year, the Spring Game is sold out.

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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