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Take it straight from four of Nebraska's 23 seniors who will be honored Friday before their final home game at Memorial Stadium and their team's last Big 12 Conference game ever against the Colorado Buffaloes ... they want to win this game for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is to rally around their head coach, to support him and to honor him.
Bo Pelini would be the last guy to invoke such motivation, but he'll have to forgive DeJon Gomes, Alex Henery, Mike McNeill and Anthony West. Those four cover the scope of Pelini's wide-reaching influence. Gomes was a transfer, Henery a walk-on and McNeill and West top-flight recruits from a previous era.
Today, against Colorado, those four and 19 fellow seniors insist they have Pelini's back and his heart, and for them, nothing is more important than proving just that in a nationally televised game.
"Our seniors - and this entire team - are behind Coach Bo," said Gomes, a defensive back from Hayward, Calif. "I don't see why there's been so much negativity from what he did at A&M. In everything he does, he has this team's best interests at heart.
"We all know that he loves us, and we love him. We all feed off his passion and his fire, and seeing what he's gone through this week just makes us want to play that much harder," Gomes said. "On game day, you can see in his eyes how much he wants to win. He's not a coaches' coach - he's a players' coach. He's in it strictly for the love of the game, and when you understand that, you don't want to give anything less than everything you have."
Henery, a kicker who walked on from Omaha, could become Nebraska's all-time leading scorer Friday. He's as soft-spoken and understated as they come, but not when it comes to his head coach. While the two seem as different as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, they share a perfection-seeking identity.
"I feel bad for Coach, and I'm going to stick up for him because he has every player's back on this team," Henery said. "I don't know one guy who doesn't like Coach Pelini. I don't know one guy who doesn't respect who he is and how he leads. He's rebuilt the foundation of this program in three years, and it takes the kind of passion he shows every single day to do it. It's a process built on character and accountability. He wants perfection and strives for it. That's just how he is. That's how everybody should be."
An Incredulous Receiver and a Passionate Coach
McNeill, a hard-working, fun-loving receiver from St. Louis, is puzzled seeing how so many can become public experts on private conversations that they know nothing about. "People can say whatever they want about Coach Bo. I mean, I've heard all sorts of things this week," McNeill said. "My mom has even been asked by several people: 'How does your son like playing for him?'"
Well, McNeill, who has been tagged in a nationally syndicated story about "words" he and Pelini reportedly exchanged on the sideline, wants to set the record straight.
"I love Coach Bo, and I wouldn't want to play for any other coach in the country," he said. "I mean, he's passionate, but he hasn't done anything wrong to anyone. People just don't like the yelling. But they don't play the game; we do. We believe if you can't take being yelled at to help you play better, then don't play football."
McNeill insists every player on the team "understands where Coach Bo's coming from," he said. "It's not like we take yelling personally. When we screw up, we can grow up, especially when we get the instruction that goes along with the yelling. Coach Pelini is a super nice guy. I mean, he's extremely nice. That's why we all have his back like he has ours. We love him. That goes absolutely without question.
"People are making such a big deal about what's happening with our team after the loss at A&M," McNeill said, acknowledging how easy it is to read the newspaper, turn on the TV or listen to the radio and think interpretative analysis of certain information accurately reflects reality.
McNeill would beg to differ. "It makes it seem like we're in turmoil, and we're having problems," he said. "The truth is, we're completely fine. We continue to grow, and our seniors want everyone to know that we're in full support of Coach Bo. We're a tight-knit group. We're a family, and we want to show our respect by being accountable, doing the right things and playing like we're capable of playing against Colorado."
Huskers Have Missing Pieces, a Singular Focus
With the Big 12 North championship on the line Friday, there is no margin for error, even if the Huskers are expected to play without their top two quarterbacks and their No. 1 receiver, who also happens to be their top kick returner.
West, a cornerback from San Diego, was a starter, but lost his job. Still, he stays positive, remains an important contributor and joins his fellow seniors in a unified stand for a head coach who believes in exceptional discipline, extraordinary effort and well-designed execution.
Marvin Sanders, who coaches what many believe to be the nation's best secondary, said every player on the Nebraska team respects West, and West says every player he knows respects Pelini.
"We have Coach's back, and we have his heart, too," West said.
Gomes, Henery, McNeill and West said all the seniors are equally supportive of their head coach. Others who will be honored Friday are:
- Defensive End Pierre Allen from Denver, Colo.
- Defensive Back Prince Amukamara from Glendale, Ariz.
- Wide Receiver Joe Broekemeier from Aurora, Neb.
- Defensive End Tyrone Fahie from Virginia Beach, Va.
- Linebacker Thomas Grove from Arlington, Neb.
- Defensive Back Eric Hagg from Peoria, Ariz.
- I-back Roy Helu Jr. from Danville, Calif.
- Offensive Lineman Ricky Henry from Omaha, Neb.
- Wide Receiver Will Henry from El Paso, Texas
- Offensive Lineman D.J. Jones from Omaha, Neb.
- Placekicker Adi Kunalic from Fort Worth, Texas
- Quarterback Zac Lee from San Francisco, Calif.
- Wide Receiver Niles Paul from Omaha, Neb.
- Offensive Lineman Mike Smith from Las Vegas, Nev.
- Safety Rickey Thenarse from Los Angeles, Calif.
- Quarterback Latravis Washington from Bradenton, Fla.
- Defensive Back Adam Watson from Lincoln, Neb.
- Offensive Lineman Keith Williams from Florissant, Mo.
- Tight End Dreu Young from Cozad, Neb.
Pelini said he wants to send that senior class out "the right way" against Colorado. "They've done a lot," he said. "They've done everything I've asked and this staff has asked. They've come a long way. We want to do right by them, and you honor them by playing good football."
In addition to the 23 seniors, Nebraska also will honor two juniors who are ending their football careers this season because of injuries - Ryan Hill, a tight end from Arvada, Colo., and Faron Klingelhoefer, a defensive lineman from Amherst, Neb.
Gomes Sees Pelini as a Longtime Husker Coach
According to Gomes, Nebraska's secondary plays like a "band of brothers" but wants to "go out there and give a little extra for Coach Bo Friday," he said. "I might be able to understand the negativity this week if he'd been a coach that we didn't like or didn't respect or didn't have our best interests in mind.
"But every guy on this team is amazed at how far and how fast this program has come," Gomes said. "We're all going to follow Coach Bo throughout his career, and we all hope he's going to be at Nebraska for a very, very long time. We had a slipup last week, but we still control our destiny. Everything we've done since the bowl game last January - throughout winter conditioning, spring ball and fall camp - comes down to this last home game that determines who represents the North in the Big 12 Championship. That, in turn, determines a BCS bowl. So it's all right in front of us. We just have to focus, play hard and get it done."
Gomes made his recruiting trip to Nebraska two years ago when Henery's 57-yard field goal turned a 31-30 deficit into a 33-31 lead with a minute-and-a-half remaining. "When I heard that crowd, watched that play and experienced that stadium move, I knew I was going to come here," he said, choosing Nebraska over seven other options he had out of City College of San Francisco.
Henery considers his school record kick a defining one and a meaningful memory, but he doesn't like putting one accomplishment ahead of others. "The Colorado kick was big," he said, "but it's a lot of little moments that make up the big picture. When you put those little moments together, you see how we've been able to rebuild the foundation and determine the legacy we want to leave for this program."
Obviously, Henery would like another 4-for-4 field goal performance like he delivered in last year's Big 12 Championship Game at Cowboys Stadium. But he's far more interested in the Huskers beating Colorado and then winning the 2010 title in a conference championship that will be discontinued when the Big 12 cuts back to 10 teams in 2011.
McNeill said he feels "awful" that Paul broke his foot this week in practice and will miss the regular-season finale and the prospect of a conference championship game.
"Niles leaves a big void," McNeill said. "He's an important player on this team, and the entire receiving corps has to step up in his absence."
Sideline Disagreement With Bo Quickly Resolved
We couldn't resist asking McNeill about his recent sideline disagreement with his head coach. "Basically," he said, "we were losing, I was frustrated, and the ball was supposed to go to me, but it didn't. I just kind of overreacted. I told Coach Bo I was open, and I wanted a chance to make a play. That's how it all went down."
The next day McNeill went into Coach Pelini's office to apologize. "He told me there was no need to apologize because he understands that I was just being competitive."
Pelini told McNeill "no problem" and to keep focusing on winning and wanting to deliver under pressure.
"Every guy on this team is passionate, and we're all coached to be competitive," McNeill said. "The coaches operate that way. So do the players. We're coached to peak at the right time and to win, and that's what we intend to do every time we play. There's nothing wrong with what's going on here."
Nothing, that is, that three consecutive wins to finish the season wouldn't cure.
Voices from Husker Nation
I have watched the Huskers for over 50 years. I read the boards and get tired of the people who have never played football, like me, nor coached a team (like me) making comments about the Pelinis and Watson. Those comments are so short-sighted. Life is a series of learning opportunities, and I can tell in the three years of their time at Nebraska that they have learned a lot. I give Bo a big thanks for standing up like a man and admitting his mistake and learning from it. As time goes by, we will see the development of one of the finest coaches in our history. Keep going. I am 71 and have seen the ups and downs, and this program - under these coaches - is on the rise. Good work, coaches, and good luck. Gale Plowman, Sioux City, Iowa
It's been a difficult week, and I just wanted to encourage Coach Pelini to "stay the course" and not let the nay-sayers get you down. You are exactly what we need to regain our swagger and winning tradition. As a long-time fan, ticket-holder and donor please know that Nebraska is behind you, so keep doing what you're doing. If I had a son that played football, I'd want him to attend Nebraska because of your roadmap to success, not only in football, but also in life. Congrats on a great season and winning the Big 12 North and good luck in the Big 12 Championship! Paul Stoupa, Omaha, Nebraska
As a lifetime Husker fan born in North Platte, who has an 8-foot-tall 'Lil Red up every Saturday, the Nebraska flag flying year-round, and even a Husker tattoo, I 100 percent support Bo, his coaches, and, of course, our team. I would agree that, at times, Bo gets a little excite, but we all do! I live in Illinois, and if I did not need Bo to lead our beloved Huskers, I would ask for him to run for political office here! Hang in there Bo, Carl, Coaches, & Team! Travis Maxwell, Washington, Illinois
Mary and I are lifetime alumni of the University of Nebraska. We support Southern Arizonans for Nebraska here in Tucson, and I have not heard one bad comment about Coach Bo Pelini since he has been at NU (well, maybe his sweatshirt). If people in Nebraska are nipping at Bo's heels, the people from Ohio State will be glad to have that same kind of sweatshirt on their sideline when Jim Tressel retires. Thank you for another great article. Jim Kamerzell, Tucson, Arizona
DeJon Gomes hit the nail on the head when he described Bo Pelini as a players' coach. You can tell that Bo is all about his players and making them better every single day. That's why they accept his tough love - because they benefit every time he deals it. One thing about football - your team gets to show how much they really care week after week after week. Bo Big Red!! Steve Anderson, Denver, Colorado
Thanks for writing an article that gives the personal opinions of the players instead of the personal opinions of the writer. It gets old when reporters are always interjecting their agenda as opposed to reporting the facts. The facts about this team are simple. They love their coach, and he's earned that respect. Count me as one who wishes Bo will be our coach for a long time to come. Vernon Rahn, Omaha, Nebraska
Loved this view of Bo from the seniors he inherited. They know where we were when he got here and where we are now since he's been here. He's had to rebuild this program the old-fashioned way, brick by brick, player by player, day by day. When people who have no understanding of the challenge he took on judge the actions he takes, it rubs me the wrong way. Bo came back to Nebraska to do something special, and by every measure you put out there, he's right on course. No wonder his players love him to death. Ri Edwards, Yuba City, Calif.
Bo, it has not been that long since we were asking for a team to play with passion (seven consecutive possessions giving up a touchdown (at Kansas in 2007). Hang in there. Husker Nation is behind you. Joe Budnick, Hastings, Nebraska