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Ty Steinkuhler has been deliberately obscure for the past five years, but he willingly faced the media this week before the last game he will ever play at Memorial Stadium.
The son of an Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award winner and the big brother of a high school All-American and now freshman teammate, Steinkuhler has lived in the shadow of his father, Dean, since he signed his letter of intent with Nebraska in 2003.
Nebraska Defensive Coordinator Carl Pelini says it’s time for the player he calls “a quiet warrior” to step out of his self-imposed exile and into a well deserved spotlight because he is, after all, one of the foremost contributors who spent his senior season rebuilding the foundation of a proud program.
“I hope my son grows up to be like Ty Steinkuhler,” Pelini said. “He came in here every day and gave us everything he had. I’ve already told Ty that he has a tremendous sense of duty. I measure players on that, and Ty has more than any player I’ve ever coached. I’ll consider myself a success as a parent if my son can have the same kind of attitude and work ethic that Ty has every single day.
“It hasn’t been an easy career for him here, but you’d never know it,” Pelini said. “From early grade school until now, he grew up with a legacy that’s hard to model, but his motor never stops. He’s the quietest warrior on this team, but watch him on game day. He is emotional, he loves Nebraska football, and he represents all the best of this senior class. Everyone learns from Ty’s example. He bought into laying the foundation for the future, and it should be a great source of pride for him and everyone else down the road.”
Last Time at Home for Their School, State and Each Other
Twenty-one Nebraska seniors will experience their final “Tunnel Walk” before Friday’s nationally televised game against Colorado. It will be the last time they represent their school, their state and each other at home – an occasion that creates a maze of emotions from Steinkuhler, a player whose career has been plagued by chronic back problems.
Ty Skeinkuhler has experienced frustration and change with dignity and grace and has helped to position his teammates, not to mention himself, with a way to finish the season with momentum and a true sense of accomplishment.
The Blackshirts have gone from one of the worst defenses in the country last year to rank third in the Big 12 in total defense this year – behind only Texas and Oklahoma. Dramatic is the only word to describe that kind of turnaround.
The defensive line, so maligned a year ago, is now considered the strength of a 7-4 team that aspires to play in the Gator Bowl or the Alamo Bowl.
“This group is close. We’re on the same page, and we always have each other’s back,” Ty said. “It’s déjà vu. When I committed my senior year in high school, so many of these coaches were here, and now I get to play for them again after they left and came back. I committed here because of the tradition. My turn is coming to an end. This is our last chance to help bring our tradition back – our last chance to leave our own legacy.”
Offensive guard Matt Slauson says Steinkuhler came to Nebraska at somewhat of a disadvantage because he had to live with expectations that were so high. “The good thing is he had so much to live up to that he didn’t worry about all the interviews and all the other stuff that happened to this senior class,” Slauson said. “Ty just wanted to play, and he brought the Nebraska mentality that his dad instilled in him – all out, every play, every game, and let everything else take care of itself.
“What’s better than having a legend’s son help rebuild an entire program?” Slauson asked. “I think what’s happened is perfect because now the legend’s son is leaving an important legacy of his own. Nebraska is going to climb and climb until we’re back on top in our rightful place, and Ty is one of the biggest reasons why.”
Beat Colorado, Then Win a Bowl to ‘Top It All Off’
The power of renewal and the prospect of resurgence makes Steinkuhler smile, especially when he thinks about possibly winning five of his last six games as a Husker.
“It’s been a fast ride. It seems like I just got here,” he said. “I’m thinking about this last game against Colorado every night, but it probably won’t really kick in until it’s over. All of our focus is on Colorado, but we need these last two wins to really top it all off. When I leave – when all our seniors leave – we want to feel like we did everything we could to help get our tradition back.”
Nebraska coaches have taken to these seniors like they were their own recruits, and in some cases they were. “They’ve been through a lot,” Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini said. “They’ve led this football team. I have a lot of respect for these guys. They come to work every day. They practice hard. They have great attitudes. There is a lot of character, and we’re going to miss those guys.”
Character radiates from Steinkuhler’s cryptic analysis of his time at Nebraska. In a one-on-one interview after practice this week, the 6-3, 280-pound defensive tackle had to pause for a second or two to regain his composure.
“It’s been tough and a bit surprising how emotional this last game really is,” Steinkuhler said. “I’ve been coming to this stadium since I was in grade school. From then until I was recruited, I couldn’t have missed more than five games. The way we’re playing now is the way I thought it was going to be all the time I was here.”
Steinkuhler will never take conference championships or national titles for granted, and he doesn’t think Nebraska fans will either after the Huskers missed bowl games twice in the last four seasons.
Passing the Torch from Dean to Ty and Now on to Baker
“It’s so sweet that my dad played and made a name for himself here, and that my little (6-6, 290) brother Baker is here now and has four more years to build on what we’re expecting to leave,” Ty said. “A couple years from now, I think we’ll all feel pretty good about ourselves. But we have to get to 9-4, so we can leave this place on a high note.”
“Ty does nothing halfway,” Carl Pelini said. “He’s the first one up here watching film. Whenever I say something in a meeting, he already knows what I’m talking about. These seniors have been great role models for all of these young guys. They established the work ethic that it’s going to take to be successful now and beyond.”
Slauson is a believer. “Ty’s motor is relentless, and trying to block a guy like him gets real, real frustrating,” he said. “It seems like he isn’t even human because he can go so hard and for so long. I think he inherited that, don’t you?”
Dean Steinkuhler is one of six Huskers named to Sports Illustrated’s All-Century Team, joining Johnny Rodgers, Mike Rozier, Rich Glover, Tommie Frazier and Aaron Taylor.
The second pick in the 1984 NFL Draft and eight-year Houston Oiler offensive guard has never pushed his kids . He only asked that they give great effort in anything they do. On Tuesday, Ty was one of 19 Huskers named to the Academic All-Big 12 Team.
“Ty always gave his best,” Dean said. “He’s played well and helped build this new foundation. I’m just glad they’re having a good year. I can really tell the difference in Ty, compared to the last couple of years.
“He just feels better about the whole situation. He feels good that the program is headed in the right direction again, and he knows that he helped do it. That will be the legacy of this senior class. I would have given up every game I won at Nebraska, so Ty could have the year that he’s having. As a father, I’m proud . . . very proud. He hung in there and always played hard no matter what the situation was. He really does only have one motor, and that’s wide open.”
Senior Blackshirt Can See the Emotion in His Dad’s Eyes
Ty and his dad are both emotional this week, but in their usual private way. “My dad and I talk about the technique parts of football and the game plan,” Ty said. “We don’t get into the emotional part, but I know he’s feeling this is my last game, too. I see it in his eyes.”
The apples don’t fall far from the tree.
Life father and like brother, Baker Steinkuhler, 6-6 and 290, makes emotion a private issue. The two remain close because they see each other every day. “You learn from someone like Ty,” he said. “He’s not really a leader by voice, but by example. He may not be the most athletic guy out there, but he makes sure he’s always going to be on the field because he never lets up . . . ever.”
Named the top lineman on the 2008 Parade Magazine All-America High School Team, Baker has been labeled “the new image of Nebraska – lean, mean and quick.”
A senior who has more starts (33) on this Nebraska team than anyone, Slauson predicts that Baker will only reinforce the Steinkuhler name and image. “He can build on what Ty has done,” Slauson said. “It’s going to be amazing to watch. All of them – Ty, Baker and their dad – should be proud. I know I am . . . we all are.”