On Monday, Coach Bo Pelini and I participated in Big Ten Conference meetings in Chicago to discuss recruiting, legislation, new college football playoff structure, new bowl lineup and other matters with fellow conference athletic directors and head football coaches. We are fortunate to have a great group of coaches and administrators representing the Big Ten.
Recruiting is extremely competitive and our football staff puts a great deal of energy and effort into it. We share their excitement about the 24 scholarship players who signed National Letters of Intent last week, and the 16 recruited walk-ons who also decided to become Huskers. We are equally proud of the 2014 signing day classes for our men’s and women’s track and field teams and our women’s soccer program. Altogether, 52 young men and women recently accepted athletic scholarships to the University of Nebraska, and are committed to work toward their ultimate goal of earning a degree from this prestigious Big Ten Conference institution.
These talented young people will soon arrive in Lincoln with big aspirations and goals, and we greet them with appreciation, respect and, I hope, reasonable expectations.
Coach Pelini, Coach Gary Pepin and Coach John Walker have done a tremendous job in both identifying and recruiting the next generation of Huskers. Most everyone understands the challenges associated with recruiting the best and the brightest. In short, we simply will not know the true outcome of our latest recruits’ potential for a number of years. Of course, we expect that 100 percent of our prospective student-athletes will earn degrees and contribute positively to our teams and community. However, we know that history and statistics show otherwise. Even though there are no guarantees relative to outcome, our primary mission is to provide each of our new student-athletes with the best possible college experience and be unrelenting in preparing them for life after athletics.
So how do we generally go about recruiting? By providing our coaches and staff all the resources, support and facilities reasonably necessary to recruit, retain and graduate the best and brightest student-athletes. For instance, this past year in football recruiting alone, we provided the most resources for recruiting in the history of our program. Our commitment likely will again lead the Big Ten and includes a number of additional full-time staff members assigned specifically to assist with recruiting.
It’s important to note that our commitment and support of excellence is across the board. According to the most recent available NCAA Revenues and Expenses Report for all public schools (2011-12), Nebraska ranks sixth nationally and second in the Big Ten Conference in financial support allocated toward recruiting in all sports combined and since that report was published, our commitment has increased.
Even though it’s extremely difficult to compare apples-to-apples, we are proud that our overall allocation of resources for recruiting consistently ranks among the best in the Big Ten Conference as well as nationally. Bottom line, we will continue to do what is reasonably necessary to put our programs in position to graduate our student-athletes and to compete for both conference and national championships.
Our level of commitment and support in these areas is directly attributable to our incredible fan base. Last Saturday, our No. 22-ranked women’s basketball team drew nearly 8,000 fans to watch a 76-56 win over No. 24 Michigan State. The atmosphere at PBA was electric as it has been all season. Including Thursday’s road win at Michigan, we have now won five in a row to stay in the race for a Big Ten regular-season championship.
Our men’s team also showed great resolve last Saturday, scoring 37 second-half points to come back and beat Northwestern, 53-49, in Evanston. It was our first conference win on the road this season and with a win at home over Illinois on Wednesday, we have won four of our last five games to keep us in the postseason picture.
All of us, including Coach Tim Miles and Coach Connie Yori, recognize the importance of playing inside a first-class facility like Pinnacle Bank Arena, where our men’s team has won 11 of 12 games this season and our women’s team has won 13 of 15 games. We’re quickly building a national reputation based on the tremendous support given to our teams at PBA, and we thank everyone for providing such an outstanding home-court advantage.
Last Thursday night, we invited a group of letterwinners and their spouses to tour the Hendricks Training Complex and the Bob Devaney Sports Center, and more than 150 people took advantage of that opportunity. Bob Martin, a David City, Neb., native who became a first-team All-America defensive end at Nebraska in 1975, and later a New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers veteran, was among those who toured the Devaney Center. His daughter, Anne, is a senior captain on our track and field team.
Bob took the time to send us an email after the N-Club tour of the facilities for basketball, track and field, volleyball, wrestling, swimming and diving and gymnastics. Bob said the tour was “an absolute jaw dropper…and collectively, I cannot imagine a better assemblage of facilities anywhere.”
Exceptional facilities go hand-in-hand with extraordinary coaches and three took the time to address our letterwinners last Thursday. Head Swimming and Diving Coach Pablo Morales, Assistant Volleyball Coach Dani Busboom Kelly and Head Wresting Coach Mark Manning shared their thoughts with N-Club members after the tour. Their comments inspired our former letterwinners and reinforced that our goal as coaches, staff and administrators is to provide the best possible experience for our student-athletes.
I want to commend Keith Zimmer, our Associate Athletic Director for Life Skills and N-Club, for revitalizing our N-Club, building a bridge between current and former letterwinners and reconnecting them with the university. In addition to the tours this past week, all N-Club members were invited to attend the First Annual Letterwinner Induction Ceremony to be held in the West Stadium Club on Sunday. Current student-athletes earning their first varsity letter in football, volleyball, soccer and cross country will be presented with their Husker letter jackets. Each sport’s administrator and coach, along with letterwinner alumni, will be involved in the presentation. A similar presentation for first-time letterwinners from our winter and spring sports will be held in the fall. This is a very special accomplishment for our student-athletes and needed to be recognized in a first-class manner—another positive step for the N-Club under Keith’s great leadership.
Speaking of former letterwinners, our sincere congratulations to Coach Rhonda Revelle for her 800th career win last weekend. Her milestone represents the most wins of any Nebraska coach in any sport. Our No. 8-ranked softball team began its season last week in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and will compete on the road for the next five weekends.
I also congratulate former letterwinner Darin Erstad, who hosted more than 500 people last weekend at our annual Baseball Preseason Banquet. If you were there, you would have enjoyed David Eckstein’s inspiring words, particularly as he outlined the influence Coach Erstad, a North Dakota native, had on a Florida guy as they both played for the World Champion California (Anaheim) Angels. The baseball players were also very entertaining and it’s obvious this is a special group. The Husker baseball team opens play this weekend in Arizona.
This is a busy week for our Huskers Athletic Fund staff. Yesterday, Paul Meyers, Mike Dobbs, Jim Rose and I attended a Nebraska Foundation event that included 400 guests in Scottsdale. On Saturday, our baseball team will play a doubleheader against No. 2-ranked Oregon State and Gonzaga. In between those two games, UNL Alumni Association Executive Director Diane Mendenhall and I will speak to 800 guests at an alumni function. From Sunday to next Wednesday, I will be in Southern California hosting more alumni and donors. On Tuesday, President James Milliken and each of the university’s four chancellors—Douglas Kristensen (UNK), Harvey Perlman (UNL), John Christensen (UNO) and Jeffrey Gold (UNMC)—will speak at an alumni gathering of about 300 guests in Palm Springs. It is always a great honor to represent our student-athletes, coaches and staff at these wonderful events.
Finally, in recent weeks, we have seen an escalating national conversation on recruiting, sportsmanship and the impact of social media. I am concerned with the rising number of inappropriate actions and attacks via Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms on prospects, current student-athletes, coaches and staff.
We spend a great deal of time during each calendar year educating our student-athletes and staff on compliance, sportsmanship, behavior, leadership, social media, and community service issues, encouraging all to operate with our core values—Integrity, Trust, Respect, Teamwork and Loyalty—at heart. We will do our best to prevent bad behavior and encourage our fans and supporters to do the same. When inappropriate behaviors occur, we are committed to take immediate action as well as necessary steps to prevent it from happening again.
Given the educational pursuit of our endeavors, I believe strongly that all of us need to be more positive. Together we can show prospects around the world, visiting fans, teams and officials, what makes Nebraska unique—we win with class and are humble in defeat. That’s who we have been, who we are and who we must continue to be.
Until next time, stay positive and Go Big Red!
Celebrate Valentine's Day with Us: Pack the Devaney
It's not often that you can hone in on a mid-February competition and feel confident that a single dual will most likely determine the 2014 Big Ten Conference regular-season championship. But that's the case Friday night when Coach Dan Kendig's No. 7-ranked Nebraska women's gymnastics team hosts No. 8-ranked Michigan. Please help us Pack the Devaney Center Friday night and celebrate Valentine's Day with the match of the year. It begins at 6 p.m. and all Husker fans will benefit from a Pepsi promotion that includes a $1 admission ticket and a $1 price on all Pepsi products. We'd love to see a big turnout so we can show Big Ten Network viewers across the country the loyalty of Big Red fans. The meet will be televised for an 11 a.m. CT viewing Saturday on BTN.
On Tuesday night, 13 former Nebraska letterwinners, including seven former Husker football players and seven former letterwinners from five other sports, attended Networking Night for the benefit of our current student-athletes. The experience, a required event for second-year UNL student-athletes, is designed to help them with career exploration, clarification, and selection. The new program is an opportunity for current Huskers to network with successful letterwinner alums who are eager to come back to campus and serve. The football players who returned to share time on Networking Night were Jay Foreman, Erich Hohl, Mitch Krenk, Dave Leigl, Jim Murphy, Brandon Rigoni, and Bill Weber. Other former letterwinners who donated their time and their wisdom were Steve Anderson (swimming and diving), Stephanie Bolli and Karen Jennings (basketball), Charlie Colon (baseball), Mark McDonald (tennis) and Blaise Rewaka (track and field). We also appreciate NU alum Charlie Greene, once the fastest man in the world and Olympic gold medalist, volunteering his time this Sunday to reflect on the time-honored tradition of earning a varsity letter at the University of Nebraska at our First Annual Letterwinner Induction Ceremony.
One goal of Connecting on Campus is to give Husker fans inside tips about interesting happenings within walking distance of Memorial Stadium, and we have an extra-long unique suggestion for you this week that I know my boys will enjoy. An incredibly realistic replica of the world's largest ancient snake will be on exhibit from February 22 to Labor Day at the University of Nebraska State Museum in Morrill Hall, just south of East Memorial Stadium. Titanoboa, the snake on exhibit, lived 60 million years ago, and a full-scale model of the 48-foot long, 2,500-pound slithering snake is a great way for Nebraska to celebrate our new Smithsonian Affiliation of the State Museum. Jason Head, assistant professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at UNL and curator of vertebrate paleontology in the NU State Museum, joined forces with others to unlock the mysteries of this ancient time. View Titanoboa at Morrill Hall to learn how this undisputed largest snake in the history of the world lived and hunted.
The Big Ten this week announced that the Big Ten Conference Baseball Tournament, which will be held May 21-25 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, will be an eight-team field for the first time in conference history. The tournament is expanding from a six-team to an eight-team, double-elimination format that will culminate with a single championship game on Sunday. The number 1, 4, 5 and 8 seeds will comprise one four-team bracket and the number 2, 3, 6 and 7 seeds will comprise the other bracket. The tournament winner will earn the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA Championship Tournament. Nebraska is the official host of the conference tournament, which will be played at the home of the College World Series. Ticket information will be announced soon.
Many thanks to our loyal fans for assisting the Huskers to a top 10 ranking in attendance. The NCAA recently released college football attendance figures for the 2013 season, and we were ninth in average home attendance averaging 90,933 fans per game. The average attendance and the No. 9 ranking in average attendance were the highest for us since full attendance figures have been available beginning with the 1999 season. We have ranked in the top 20 nationally in attendance each of the 15 years. Nebraska was one of four Big Ten schools to rank in the top 10 in average attendance behind Michigan, the national leader in average attendance at 111,592 fans per game, Ohio State and Penn State. In terms of total attendance for home games, Nebraska was third in the nation with 727,466 fans passing through Memorial Stadium's gates for eight home games. For all games (home and away) in 2013, we ranked fifth with 1,096,097 fans in attendance during NU's 13 games in 2013. We enter the 2014 season with an NCAA-record 333 consecutive sellouts and thank you again for your dedication.
Congratulations to former Husker fullback C.J. Zimmerer, who was voted the 2014 Rare Disease Champion Award Winner in a nationwide online vote. C.J. is the second Husker to win this prestigious award, following former teammate and now Cincinnati Bengal running back Rex Burkhead, the 2012 Champion Award winner. C.J. will receive his award on March 14, 2014, in Atlantic City. Peyton Manning and Chip Kelly will be among NFL honorees at the same banquet. C.J. is very deserving of this high honor and we are equally proud of the role he now has as a probation officer in Omaha. An Academic All-American and a member of the 2013 Good Works Team, C.J. helps define one of our three most important student-athlete goals – success in life. C.J. was also the first president of our first chapter of Uplifting Athletes, the national organization that sponsors the Champion Award.
Fans are encouraged to vote daily for Jordan Hooper as she was recently named one of 10 finalists for the Senior CLASS Award, presented to an outstanding women's basketball player for excellence in community, classroom, character and competition. Our two-time All-America forward ranks among the top 12 active players in the nation in career points (2,111), rebounds (1,023) and three-pointers made (261) while starting all 120 games of her Husker career. Jordan is also an outstanding student. The psychology major is on track to graduate in May. Fan votes are a major part of deciding the winner, and fans can vote once per day, per device or computer, now through March 24 at www.SeniorClassAward.com. The 2014 Senior CLASS Award winner will be announced during the NCAA Women's Final Four.
David Eckstein will never forget his experience playing in Omaha's College World Series at the University of Florida as a 5-foot-7 shortstop before signing a professional baseball contract with the California Angels, where Darin Erstad took him "under his wing". They've been friends ever since, and Erstad invited the 11-year MLB veteran to speak at NU's annual baseball banquet. The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals World Series MVP reflects back and wonders how any potential recruit could turn down a scholarship offer from Erstad and the chance to play in a facility like Nebraska's.
Hear Nate Rohr Call Revelle's Milestone 800th Win
Nate Rohr, the voice of Nebraska Softball, calls the final two double-play outs of the Huskers' 7-0 win over UTEP in Las Cruces, N.M., marking Rhonda Revelle's 800th career win at Nebraska – the most for any coach in any sport in NU history.
ESPN Interviews Williams for Black History Month
To celebrate Black History Month, ESPN produced a video feature that highlights the story of NFL Hall-of-Famer Ollie Matson and Burl Toler, the first black referee in NFL history. Both were the only black players on a historic University of San Francisco "Dons" football team that finished the 1951 season undefeated, but was denied the opportunity to play in the Orange Bowl, unless they left Matson and Toler behind. Nebraska Associate Athletic Director Jamie Williams, a former Husker and longtime San Francisco 49er tight end, wrote a screenplay about that story. ESPN interviewed Williams for content and context. "Pete Rozelle was the Dons' PR director at that time," Williams pointed out. "NFL Hall of Famers Gino Marchetti and Bob St. Clair were the other stars on that team. I found it interesting that Nebraska became the first integrated team to play in the Orange Bowl a few years later." The ’51 Dons special already has aired six times on national television. It will air next on Saturday, February 15, at 4:30 p.m. CST on ESPNU, Sunday, February 16, at 7 p.m. CST on ESPN2; and Wednesday, February 19, at noon CST on ESPNU.
WATCH ESPN Black History Month Promo
Former Husker Curt Tomasevicz Prepares for Final Run
Most of us remember how Curt Tomasevicz went from football walk-on to special teams star when Bo Pelini was Nebraska's defensive coordinator. The Shelby, Nebraska, native was part of the USA's record-breaking gold medal four-man bobsled team at the 2010 Winter Olympics and is preparing to make his third and final Olympic experience memorable in Sochi, Russia. Nebraska Educational Television, one of Nebraska Athletics' closest partners, is following Curt with stories, photos and comments at the 2014 Winter Olympics. NET is a good way to keep up with one of the Huskers' most decorated student-athletes of all-time. Curt is slated to compete for the gold beginning on February 22.
NET Nebraska Blog with Tomasevicz
The season premiere of BTN LiveBIG this week includes an episode featuring Nebraska's Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior (CB3) and the Nebraska Athletic Performance Lab (NAPL), both located in the expanded East Memorial Stadium. The LiveB1G series debuted Wednesday, February 12. The feature will be repeated on Thursday, February 13 at 1:30 p.m. CST and at 11:45 a.m. CST on Sunday, March 16, on BTN. The Chicago-based network is promoting the show with feature clips from Dr. Dennis Molfese, who heads CB3, and Dr. Judith Burnfield, who directs NAPL.