Randy York's N-Sider
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When Nebraska recruited Ndamukong Suh, one thing that really captivated a serious pre-engineering student from Portland, Ore., was a mock-up of what players' lockers might look like in a future locker room.
It wasn't his name or his picture that charmed Big Suh. It was the computer that would be built in to the top of his locker.
Well, the technological sweet spot of reliability and affordability never materialized, and Suh never forgot.
So, in a perfectly timed coincidence, two hours after Suh was announced Friday as the 2009-10 Big 12 Conference Male Athlete of the Year, Nebraska shut down its varsity football locker room and began taking off 123 back-lit nameplates.
Beginning Monday, thanks to Suh, that chunk of space will be replaced with 123 built-in Apple iPads - the popular touch-screen computers that fill the gap between a laptop and a smart phone and are the ultimate manifestation of four decades of clever technology.
Just four months after the celebrated worldwide launch of iPads, Nebraska believes it is the first collegiate or pro football team to equip its players with at least some benefits of the technology.
Nebraska a Big Part of Suh's New Website
After unveiling his Suh90.com "House of Spears" website (with a heavy Husker flavor) on Friday, Suh seemed just as happy to hear the iPad-in-every-Husker-locker news as he was gaining yet another individual honor.
"It's great to see the things you envision come to pass," he said. "Originally, we were supposed to get something similar in 2006, but they never came. The technology wasn't quite there yet. We ended up having still photos with our information on it on the big screens, but nothing of this caliber or with this high level of interaction."
Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne admitted Friday that he didn't know a lot about iPads, "but the main purpose," he said, "is for communication, so if Bo (Pelini) or an assistant coach needs to schedule a meeting, everybody can know immediately, whether they're in the varsity locker room or the walk-on locker room at the Hawks Championship Center. To be efficient, we need to have everyone on the same system."
For compliance reasons, the iPads will be mounted into each player's locker. The football staff will have the ability to send messages to the players via their iPads. The players will be able to acknowledge and respond, but their messages will be limited to football and academic personnel only.
Maggi Thorne, Nebraska's Assistant Director of Capital Planning and Construction, will manage next week's iPad installation. She says the varsity and walk-on locker rooms now have the wireless infrastructure to accommodate the new technology and points out that all 37 walk-on lockers in the Hawks will be equipped with iPads by the end of August.
The new capability will enable the football staff to post events to each player's iPad calendar, so he will know the times of each practice, conditioning session, academic meeting or position meeting, even if it's called at the last minute.
Yes, technology is reinforcing Bo's mantra to focus on the process and compete hard every day. New school efficiency meets old school work ethic. Who would have thought that team-assigned iPads would become a staple of each Husker player's daily routine and ease the burden of the grind?
Screen savers will become their new nameplates, and like toys that come to life in movies, each locker will come to life whenever the time is appropriate. Connectivity is designed to bring a close team even closer. Having video-on-demand and the wireless ability to upload new videos and photos in the locker room not only should enrich the journey, but also evolve into new ways to inspire the ones taking it.
A Recruit Will See Something Unique at Nebraska
Imagine, if you will, a recruit visiting Nebraska the day before, during or after Game Day. He walks into the locker room and sees 123 high-definition computer screens near the top of each locker with each player's name, number, year and position.
There's a certain power in a live screen saver, and there will be a central control that will allow each iPad to transform itself into a myriad of applications that can be as individual or as collective as the IT person is told to designate.
What about the capability to access all iPads remotely so they can play the same video at once?
"Wireless can cause a slight delay, but yes, that's the plan - to get all to play at once when the situation calls for it," said Chad Chiesa, a Nebraska Athletic Department IT specialist. "With the assistance of a software development firm that specializes in mobile device applications, our hope is to keep everything in sync."
Think about that for a few seconds. Picture a recruit stepping into the Huskers' locker room for the first time and seeing the lights dim while 123 iPads come on with a recap of Jared Crick's biggest hits, Prince Amukamara's pivotal interception, Niles Paul's acrobatic catch or Alex Henery's dramatic field goal.
"There could be some really big wows for recruiting," said Jeff Jamrog, Nebraska's Assistant Athletic Director for Football Operations. "We're using the iPads primarily to communicate more efficiently and more effectively, but there's no doubt they can become a recruiting edge. I think that's why Ndamukong wanted to get these iPads installed so quickly. He likes to be different than everyone else, and he showed where he's coming from when he made one of the biggest contributions in college athletic history."
One School's Problem Became NU's Innovation
John Ingram, Nebraska's Associate Athletic Director for Capital Planning and Construction, says he knows of at least three Division 1 schools that either have tried or thought about using computers in lockers, but they squelched the idea because of server problems, systems issues or inadequate funding.
"One school (on the West Coast) put them in and had to take them out because they were more problems than they were worth," Ingram said.
One school's problems, though, became another's innovation. Ingram huddled up with Thorne and Nebraska's Information Technology team -- including Dan Floyd, its director, and Chiesa -- to discuss the opportunities and challenges of executing Suh's dream for current and future Huskers.
"We had every intention of installing computers four years ago, but we couldn't find a system that wasn't cumbersome or cost prohibitive," Ingram said.
During a brainstorming session, iPads were mentioned as a more viable alternative. "All of us just looked at each other and nodded our heads," Ingram said. "We were thinking the same thing: 'Why not?'"
An interesting thing happened on the way to that solution. The prospect for reliability went way up while the costs went way down.
"Computers really were part of the original plan," Ingram said, "but they were much more expensive to buy, install and maintain, and when one computer would go down, they would all go down."
Not so with iPads. "We not only cut our costs by about two-thirds, but the reliability factor went straight north," Floyd said. "If one iPad breaks down, you fix it or replace it. One problem iPad doesn't affect the other 122 around it."
Isn't it amazing how simplicity can be the capstone to both affordability and performance?
Polar Tank Another Idea in Suh Giving Back
Next Saturday, when Nebraska football players report for Fan Day to kick off fall camp, Suh hopes to be signed and in training camp with the Detroit Lions.
Thanks to his generosity, his former Husker teammates will have another benefit to enjoy - a 14½-foot by 9-foot polar tank that was recently installed to rest weary bones after a hard practice, lifting session or game.
"The Whirlpool we had in the locker room was difficult to fill up with ice, so we jack-hammered it up and replaced it with one that everyone can appreciate," Ingram said of the new polar tank."It's like putting an ice bag on your whole body."
At Nebraska, information and therapy are a package deal. Once you submerge your aches and pains in the 55-degree tub, you'll be able to watch Sports Center on two 65-inch, high-def TVs.
Yes, Suh had teammates in mind when he made the decision to finance the improvement. "The polar tub will be an essential addition," he said, "because it will help with the recovery process during preseason camp and keep body maintenance during the season."
And here's what Big Suh really likes. "The new design will allow for much easier access versus what we had before," he said.
Prospective recruits may not say "wow" when they see the polar tank, but Suh knows his ex-teammates will, and they'll appreciate the comfort coming from the House of Spears.
A polar tank and 160 iPads are a good start on the Suh legacy, but stay tuned. There is so much more to come.
Sister: Nebraska a Permanent Part of Suh's Identity
"A big part of Damo is the Husker that's still in him, and that's why Nebraska is a big part of his new website" says Ndamukong's sister, Ngum Suh. "So many athletes, when they go pro, only have their professional acknowledgement. My brother is one of the few, if not the only one, to show such appreciation for and give attention to his alma mater."
When you view Suh's fast-and-fun website, make sure you click the Nebraska logo "N" and check out his "Husker Locker Room".
Once you see the way he embraces his roots, even in the privacy of your home, you might just decide to yell "Suhhhhhhh" one last time before the season starts.
Voices from Husker Nation
When it comes to Nebraska, you can count on recruiting being unique, yet resourceful. I'm not surprised Nebraska will be the first to use iPads in a way that's different from everyone else. Tom (Osborne) made a career out of that kind of innovation, and Bo (Pelini) will take the Huskers to new heights with a staff that can recruit with anyone in the Big 12, the Big Ten or anywhere else. Can't wait to see how it impresses recruits. Tom Smith, Scottsdale, Arizona
Having read why players like Grant Wistrom chose Nebraska over others, I can't help but think these new iPads are just one more feather in Nebraska's cap. The new student life facility, a strength and conditioning complex named after Suh and now this. To me, it's just more evidence for recruits to understand why Nebraska stays ahead of everyone else in its approach to academics and life skills. Richard Hansen, Omaha, Nebraska
Love it. LOVE IT!. A total of 160 iPads getting mounted into Nebraska football lockers, and the walk-ons get them just like the scholarship players. There are reasons why so many past and future All-Americans look at Nebraska first when they want to dream big. You have to love the way this football staff approaches the challenge. You probably said it best - new school efficiency meets old school work ethic. That's the way Nebraska has won since the '60s, isn't it? Char Webster, Omaha, Nebraska
Nebraska wasn't the inventor of the iPad technology, but it's great to see the way you're making it work. Sounds like you've come up with an application based on specific needs, and I just wanted to offer my congratulations. Even a non-Nebraska fan can say good for Suh and good for you! Jeremy Fisher, Sacramento, California
You can imagine the reaction this story received when the Detroit Free Press published it online while Suh was still holding out. Good story, but not very good reactions from Lion fans who are used to disappointment and anger. Now that Suh has signed and is ready to be a pro, I give him all the credit in the world for what he's doing for his alma mater. Just hope he's as great as we all think he is. John Holmes, Rochester, MIchigan