By Randy York
Nebraska record-holder Joe Ganz calls Johnny Mitchell one of the best tight ends ever to play college football, but Mitchell wasn't the only highly decorated player the Huskers recruited from Chicago. Ed Stewart and Walt Barnes were both first-team All-Americans at Nebraska, Stewart as a linebacker in 1994 and Barnes as a defensive tackle in 1965. Both are positive examples of why the Huskers consider the Windy City to be fertile recruiting ground now that Nebraska is a member of the Big Ten.
Nebraska Defensive Coordinator Charlie McBride loved having Chicago in his recruiting territory, and being able to sign a student-athlete as well-rounded as Stewart is a classic example of why. A graduate of Mt. Carmel High School, Stewart started three years (1992-93-94) at Nebraska. He became the Big Eight Conference Defensive Player of the Year, a captain and a consensus All-American on Tom Osborne's first national championship team. He also was named to the Nebraska Football All-Century Team and in 2004 was inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame. "Nebraska was a great experience in a young man's life," Stewart said. "I was fortunate to play for a legendary coach and have some great teammates, and we were able to win a lot of games along the way. My greatest memories of Lincoln were the bus rides over to the stadium and seeing all the people in red and going to the stadium and starting warm-ups. There would be a lot of empty seats, and then you'd go in and come back out and the place would be packed solid." Stewart is now an associate commissioner for football and student services for the Big 12 Conference in Irving, Texas.
You would never expect a graduate of Chicago's St. Mel High School to become known as "Crazy Horse", but that was the nickname a hard-nosed Barnesgained at Nebraska, where he earned consensus All-America honors as a defensive tackle. Fellow first-team All-America teammate LaVerne Allers said Barnes earned the name because "he went nuts every time he put on a helmet." Barnes said the nickname was more the result of "being young and stupid." Whatever the case, Barnes has nothing but fond memories of playing on Husker teams that won 29 of 33 games in 1963, '64 ad '65. His most memorable game was a 9-0 shutout of Missouri in 1964. "All I remember is how long that game seemed," he said. "Every series was three downs and out for both teams. We really beat each other up pretty good that day." That game was scoreless in the fourth quarter until Nebraska defensive end Langston Coleman tackled Gary Lane for a safety. Now retired as a beer distributor in Steamboat Springs, Colo., Barnes believes Nebraska will become a recruiting force in Chicago like never before because of its new conference and a brand that has stood the test of time.
Still, take it straight from Ron Brown, who has coached at Nebraska longer than any other member of the current staff: Mitchell, an All-Big Eight tight end at Nebraska in 1991, "arguably is the best athlete we've ever had play football here," Brown said. "In terms of just raw physical ability, he was amazing. He was 6-3, 260 pounds and could run 4.6 in the 40. He could throw the ball 60 yards with his left hand on a dead spiral, and he could throw the ball 80 yards with his right hand on a dead spiral. He had great hands and had his most spectacular games in extremely poor weather conditions. I mean, he had some phenomenal games when the wind was blowing and there was snow and ice. His concentration on the football was unbelievable. He just had a knack for making tough catches, running downfield and making big plays. His touchdowns-per-catch ratio is probably the highest we've ever had here. He thrived on the spotlight." Mitchell left Nebraska early and was a first-round NFL draft choice at age 21 in 1992. He played four years with the Jets and one year with the Cowboys, catching 159 passes for 2,103 yards. He now lives in South America.
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