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Nebraska covered the bases at last Saturday’s Spring Game football luncheon that drew 900 donors to a pep rally that included the band, the cheer squad and two mascots. Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst and head football coach Bo Pelini both talked about the Huskers “doing the right things” and “winning the right way”. Former Husker and now Houston Texans’ defensive lineman Jared Crick introduced Pelini, and Paul Meyers used the occasion to update donors on the East Stadium Expansion Project with this video update.
Dennis Leblanc, Nebraska’s best-kept “secret weapon” recruiter, not only introduced Eichorst at the NU Coliseum, but showed fans unfamiliar with the process why Nebraska’s nationally prominent academic approach is a key component in recruiting student-athletes in all 24 varsity sports.
Acknowledging Nebraska’s leading the nation with 302 Academic All-Americans, Leblanc reminded fans that such dominance never should be taken for granted, especially when measured against 1,400 NCAA universities and colleges. Only two schools have had more than 200 Academic All-Americans, and Nebraska’s total is 75 more than second-place Notre Dame. The Nebraska football program alone has had 104 Academic All-Americans, 42 more than No. 2 Penn State and 38 more than No. 3 Notre Dame.
“And isn’t it fitting that Rex Burkhead was named First-Team Academic All American running back this fall, so he could become Nebraska’s historic Academic All-American No. 300?” Leblanc asked.
Leblanc reminded fans that Nebraska also leads the nation in NCAA Top 8 Award Winners, a category commonly known as the “Heisman of Academics” because it is regarded as the highest academic honor bestowed upon a college student-athlete. This award is presented to just eight of the more than 400,000 student-athletes each year, recognizing excellence in academics, athletics and community service. Nebraska leads the nation with 16 Top 8 Award winners. Stanford is second with 14 and no other school has had more than 10.
Nebraska’s award winning student-athletes set high standards while preparing for life after sports in the $8.7 million, 50,000 square-foot Herman Student Life Complex under the West side of Memorial Stadium.
“Within one minute from outside the door of my office in the Student-Life Complex,” Leblanc said, “student-athletes can get to a prime rib steak dinner, have a tutor session for calculus, visit the computer lab, see a full-time doctor, or use the locker room, the weight room or the training room.”
“How is all of this possible?” Leblanc asked rhetorically.
“Because of all of you!” he said, pointing to the donors and fans inside the Coliseum.
“I want to thank every person in this room, not just because of your financial support or because you show up to cheer on the Huskers,” Leblanc said. “I want to thank you because of who you are, how much you care and what you do to give every Nebraska student-athlete a chance to dream.
“You made it possible for Rex Burkhead, Gina Mancuso and Sean Fisher to realize their dreams of becoming Academic All-Americans and to have their portraits displayed in Memorial Stadium forever,” Leblanc pointed out.
“You made it possible for former Husker greats like Trev Alberts, Grant Wistrom and Sarah Pavan to realize their dreams of being named Top 8 Award Winners for their excellence in the classroom, on the playing field and in the community,” he said.
Leblanc says he’s fortunate to work with outstanding student-athletes every day. “I want you to know that when recruits visit Nebraska and then become a Husker, they continually say that the people in this room and the other 1.85 million in this state, separate Nebraska from all other schools,” Leblanc said.
Earlier that morning, for example, Nebraska’s senior associate A.D. visited with one of the nation’s top football prospects. When that prospect left his office, Leblanc said to him: ‘You will have an opportunity to visit other universities and when you do, I challenge you to find another school that has five football national championships, 302 Academic All-Americans, three Heisman Trophy winners, 16 Top 8 Award Winners and the greatest college football fans in America.”
Sunday night at the downtown Embassy Suites Hotel, the Athletic Department will host the 2013 Nebraska Student-Athlete Recognition Banquet. For 23 straight years, Nebraska has used this banquet to celebrate success in athletics, success in academics and success in life.
To no one’s surprise, this first-class event is made possible through the generosity of Dick and Peg Herman, who, like other major donors, bring Nebraska’s biggest priorities to life.
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Voices from Husker Nation
I just read your words on the East Stadium update and Mr Leblanc. It struck me that Nebraska is a prototype example of how to construct a decision-making process. Somehow the “me, me, me” and the “I, I, I” brigade have been moved into the background, and once a decision has been agreed upon, any number of capable hands are on the rope pulling in the same direction at the same time. Who knows how many businesses, organizations, and governments there are that could learn a thing or two from the University of Nebraska Athletic Department? I’m not saying mistakes are not made, but I’m reminded of something my father told me: “Jim, nobody ever learned anything by doing it right the first time.” I’m sure Nebraska has made mistakes, but they don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. They learn, pick it up and move on. The decision-making process at Nebraska is a secret weapon and long may it last. James Weaver, Powys, Wales, United Kingdom