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Anyone who thinks Tom Osborne might not still be a master in the fine art of recruiting, think again. Thirty-five years after out-recruiting Texas, Notre Dame and Penn State, among others, for the signature of a 17-year-old multi-sport star from Davenport, Iowa, Nebraska's fifth-year athletic director has recruited Jamie Williams again. This time, Dr. Osborne closed an even harder deal, convincing Dr. Williams to leave his athletic director position at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to become NU's Associate Athletic Director of Diversity and Leadership Initiatives in Lincoln.
When I asked Williams Monday what he considers the most compelling reason for coming back, his answer was immediate. "Tom Osborne," he said. "When he approached me about this job, my nose was in the grinder. When you're running your own program (with 18,000 students at the largest private school of art and design in the United States), you barely have time to lift your head up. But when he approached me about the possibility, it was a flashback. I heard the same voice that I heard when I was 17. Tom Osborne will never lie to you. If he tells you something on Monday, you can still believe it on Friday. It was like that when I was 17. He talked about different things than everyone else who recruited me talked about. He really emphasized education. Of all the schools that recruited me, Nebraska and Penn State were the only ones that talked about educational opportunities more than athletics."
Osborne told Williams he could develop into "a really good player", but he spent more time talking about the importance of Williams becoming the first one in his family to attend college and how his decision would affect both his and his family's future. "And he was absolutely right," Williams said. "When I was 17, I knew the teams I was going to be on were going to be good at Nebraska. There was no way around that. But knowing that I could go there and become something beyond a football player was even more important to me. Coach Osborne had a huge impact on me in the way that I lead, the way that I process information and the way that I strategize. I learned all of those skills from Coach Osborne. I look different. I'm built different, and I come from a different place than Coach Osborne did, but his imprint is all over me as a leader. Whatever he says to me, I understand. I get it. There's no smoke and mirrors. There's no deception. Everything is what it is, and I appreciate that. When I left the university, I was undoubtedly ready for the world. I left Lincoln with tools to survive and do things, and to me, that's what college is all about - preparing people to go out and succeed in the world. Can you go out there and leave school with a sword to fight with? Can you leave there with a vision for the future? Can you leave college with a motor and your own engine? Nebraska did all of that for me, and I attribute everything I've done to the experience I had in Lincoln, and there is no doubt about that."
Williams says Nebraska taught him how to be tenacious, how to battle, how to win and how to be poised in everything he tries to do. He's tried to instill the same mental toughness into student-athletes at an NCAA Division II university in the Bay Area. "We're helping artists develop a more competitive mindset through athletics, so they can take that with them wherever they go in life," he said. Similarly, Williams believes athletes need to understand how academics influence success in life. "You don't get through the Husker funnel without being able to play, but that's not the question," Williams said. "The question is once you get to Lincoln, what are you going to do with those four or five years while you're here? In life, you need more tools than being able to tackle somebody or catch the ball. To be successful, you have to be holistic. That's why I talk about the concept of the warrior poet. You love the community, you manage your time, and you compete hard to win. Life is balance. That's what I want to propagate and perpetuate when I teach student-athletes how to be leaders. To be a leader, you have to do the right thing when no one's watching. Because we have the N on the helmet, everyone we play really wants to beat us. And you have to want to beat them more than they want to beat you. Part of my job is teaching Nebraska to know thyself, whether it's football or any other sport. It doesn't matter. Nebraska has a concept about the power of red, and I believe that power is the Red N itself. Football is the front porch to our national reputation and to me, that's why that N is the power of red."
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