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With South Dakota State visiting Lincoln this weekend for Homecoming, it's time for a history lesson and a friendly reminder that the state of South Dakota is woven into the fabric of Nebraska's storied football program in two significant ways.
First, the University of South Dakota was Nebraska's first opponent when Bob Devaney became NU's head coach in 1962. The Huskers beat South Dakota, 53-0, and followed that with a 25-13 win over Michigan in Ann Arbor, setting the stage for perhaps the greatest run in college football over the last half century.
Secondly, Devaney and his hand-picked successor, Tom Osborne, recruited three South Dakota natives who rank among the Nebraska's best linemen ever and therefore could be considered the Cornhuskers' version of Mount Rushmore.
The three names that could be chiseled into our own metaphorical monument are: 1971 All-American, Academic All-American, Outland Trophy Winner and First-Round NFL Draft Choice Larry Jacobson, a 6-6, 250-pound defensive tackle from Sioux Falls; 1973 Captain, All-American and First-Round NFL Draft Choice John Dutton, a 6-7, 248-pound defensive tackle from Rapid City; and1980 Captain, All-American and Academic All-American Randy Schleusener, a 6-7, 242-pound offensive guard from Rapid City.
Jacobson Signed With Nebraska and Iowa
Jacobson was back on Memorial Stadium's turf two weekends ago, waving to the crowd and being recognized as the first of seven Huskers to win eight Outland Trophies. He was also in the locker room and on the Husker sideline that day as one of Bo Pelini's "guest coaches" for the Idaho game.
If anyone had asked, Jacobson would have described one of Nebraska's most bizarre recruiting stories because he ended up right in the middle of it.
In the 1960s, recruits could sign more than one letter of intent, as long as they weren't in the same conference. So, Jacobson, an all-stater in both football and basketball, signed a Big Eight letter of intent with Nebraska as well as a Big Ten letter of intent with Iowa.
With three days remaining before the deadline for a final decision, Jacobson informed Iowa that he had decided to sign his national letter with Nebraska. A Hawkeye assistant was immediately dispatched to Sioux Falls to persuade him to change his mind, prompting Devaney to send then freshman line coach Monte Kiffin to protect NU's interests at the 11th hour.
"Basically, I spent the last two days with Coach Kiffin before signing," Jacobson said, laughing. "Coach Devaney told Coach Kiffin to make sure I signed with the right school, so Monte literally wouldn't let me out of his sight."
Things got a little wacky. The frustrated Iowa assistant parked in front of Jacobson's house for an hour before leaving, then returning.
"While I talked to the Iowa coach to let him know that I meant what I said, Coach Kiffin was in the back yard playing croquet with my sisters," Jacobson related. "The first thing Monte asked me when he came back inside was: 'You didn't change your mind, did you?'"
Today, Jacobson is a retired stockbroker and lives on a lake in South Bend, Neb.
Dutton Chose Football Over Basketball Scholarships
Like Jacobson, Dutton was a combination star in South Dakota, leading Rapid City Central High School to the state basketball championship as a senior. Although he received more scholarship offers for basketball than football, he became a Husker and used the opportunity to become a Pro Bowler for three straight years among the five he spent with the Baltimore Colts.
A contract dispute forced the Colts to trade Dutton to the Dallas Cowboys in 1980. He played nine years for the Cowboys, helping them to three consecutive NFC championship games at one point. After 14 NFL seasons and 185 games, Dutton retired in 1987.
Two years ago, Dutton traveled to Oklahoma to meet players who had gathered in Norman for the first combined 1971 Game of the Century reunion. "That was probably the most nostalgic get-together I've ever experienced," Dutton said. "I played a lot longer in the NFL, but nothing was more fun, or more meaningful, than the years I spent at Nebraska."
A sophomore backup on Nebraska's 1971 team, Dutton was struck by something he hadn't considered before that 2008 reunion - how Oklahoma's coaches, players and fans never quite grasped Nebraska's ability to beat OU so often with players the Sooners never would have considered recruiting themselves.
"Barry Switzer said they just couldn't believe how well we played together as a team," Dutton recalled. "Well, it was no accident. It started at the top with Bob Devaney and went to every assistant who coached here and every player who made it to the field. We were always in better physical condition than the teams we played against, and everyone pushed everyone in practice every single day. It was a relentless mindset. From the scout team to the first team, no one would even think about losing."
Does that sound like another coach who is putting his own touches on the culture that Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne believed in and aspired to?
Today, Dutton still lives in Dallas, and apparently, he's willing to explain to anyone why he thinks Nebraska has won so often and will continue to win well into the future.
Who Can Forget Schleusener's Trick Touchdown?
Schleusener carved his niche in Husker folklore with a litany of individual achievements and being part of one of Nebraska's most famous plays ever, even though it occurred in a 17-14 loss at Oklahoma after the Huskers went 10-0 to start the 1979 season.
In that game, Nebraska Quarterback Jeff Quinn placed the ball that was snapped to him on the ground, directly under center Kelly Saalfeld. Schleusener, a guard, scooped it up and ran 15 yards to score, pulling Nebraska within 17-14 with 4:43 remaining.
Despite the loss, Schleusener became a national celebrity of sorts because TV stations across the country kept replaying the trick play - called the "fumblerooski" - that night and most of the following week.
Schleusener wasn't the only Husker offensive guard to profit from such legal trickery that was invented by John Heisman, the man who is honored every year with the top individual award in college football.
Dean Steinkuhler rumbled 19 yards for a fumblerooski touchown in Nebraska's 31-30 loss to Miami in the 1984 Orange Bowl, and Will Shields covered 18 yards for a fumblerooski first down in the Huskers' 52-7 romp over Colorado in a Halloween matchup of two top 10 teams in 1992.
Schleusener, though, was the trailblazer on that play for Nebraska. He was also an NCAA Top Eight Award Winner - the highest academic honor a student-athlete can receive. A two-time CoSIDA first-team academic All-American, Schleusener also earned a National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame Postgraduate Award, an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship and induction into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame.
Today, Schleusener is president of the Black Hills Orthopedic and Spine Center in his hometown of Rapid City.
Voices from Husker Nation
One thing that never goes out of style is work ethic. Over the last 48 years, Nebraska hasn't always had the best players, but you'd never know it looking at the record. It's been said that "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." I love watching the Red Out video that shows the Husker fan in the stands, wearing his overalls and his red cowboy hat. When the camera zeroes in on him, some might see that as reinforcing our image as farmers, but really, there is no higher compliment for a true Cornhusker. Nebraska figured out long ago that the "secrets of success" will not work unless you do. So thank you Larry Jacobson, John Dutton, Randy Schleusener and all of the other players we've recruited just like them over the years. Those guys are the reasons Big Red is loud and proud every game, every year. Thanks, too, to Bob for starting it, toTom for taking it even higher, and to Bo for having the courage to state publicly where he thinks this program needs to go next. You have to love his approach because, like his boss, the only promise he makes is hard work. GBR! Steve Johnson, Rapid City, South Dakota
Thanks for a great article. I especially enjoyed the comments about our current coach carrying on the tradition/values of Devaney and Osborne. Bo Pelini is in a great spot. Even though he is the head coach, he has a great mentor in the AD position. Best regards. Bart Westberg, Overland Park, Kansas
I like the idea of big guys like Jacobson, Dutton and Schleusener having big enough reputations to be our version of Mount Rushmore. We certainly are indebted to our northern neighbors, and I can vouch for plenty of South Dakota residents who have been making trips to Memorial Stadium for years. We are their destination for big-time football, just like Kansas City is Nebraska's destination for Major League Baseball and the NFL. I will be among those applauding South Dakota State for being our Homecoming guests, whatever the score turns out to be. We appreciate all the Jackrabbit and Coyote fans who have supported the Huskers throughout the years. Don Brown, Grand Island, Nebraska
I looked and found no South Dakota natives on Nebraska's current roster and am wondering if one the Vedrals was the last South Dakotan to play for the Huskers? Kevin Horn, Alliance, Nebraska
Editor's note: You have a good memory. Mark Vedral, a linebacker from Gregory, S.D., lettered four years at Nebraska (1998-99-00-01). Tight end Mike Vedral (1990-91-92) and wingback Jon Vedral (1994-95-96) each lettered three years. Robert Berguin, a center from Sioux Falls, also lettered three years and captained Nebraska's 1956 team. Other South Dakota natives whose names you might recognize are: defensive tackle Doug Hermann from Custer (1981-82-83); I-back Jeff Moran from Huron (1972-73-74); kicker Kevin Seibel from Vermillion (1979-80-81-82); offensive tackle Tom Welter from Yankton (1985-86); and linebacker Andrew Zacharias from Sioux Falls (1989-90).
More for history buffs: 47 years ago, Nebraska beat SDSU, 58-7. In 1963, in the only game ever played between Nebraska and South Dakota State University, the Huskers led 37-0 at halftime, 58-0 after three quarters and posted a 58-7 win over the Jackrabbits. SDSU didn't make a first down until the third quarter and finished with only 31 total offensive yards after losing a net 17 yards rushing in the game. Meanwhile, Nebraska coasted with eight touchdowns on offense and a safety on defense. Kent McCloughan, the Broken Bow, Neb., native who went on to star for the Oakland Raiders as a defensive back, scored two touchdowns. So did Rudy Johnson. Dennis Claridge, Fred Duda, Bobby Hohn and Bruce Smith scored the other four touchdowns. Attendance at that Sept. 21 season opener was 34,493 - only the third straight sellout crowd in a streak that Saturday will become an NCAA record 307 consecutive sellouts at Memorial Stadium.