Photo by John Baker/Huskers.com

Finally! Huskers Ready to Roll

By Brian Rosenthal

About once a week, Tom Osborne will visit the football coaching offices on the north end of Memorial Stadium. The legendary former Nebraska coach will check on his former prized pupil, Scott Frost.

Truth is, Frost would enjoy having Osborne around more often – and who wouldn’t value such a treasured resource? – but true to form, the retired 81-year-old doesn’t want to overstep his boundaries or become a nuisance.

“It might just be me,” Frost said, “but I think he’s looked healthier and happier here the last few months.”

Perhaps that's the most promising sign yet that Frost’s reclamation project in his first season as Nebraska’s head coach is taking hold and, at the very least, on schedule.

Or, if you prefer more tangible signs than a happy Hall of Fame coach on a weekly visit, well, plenty emerged during a preseason news conference at Memorial Stadium on Thursday, the day before the start of preseason training camp.

Hulking sophomore defensive lineman Ben Stille discussing how he increased his weight from 255 pounds to 290.

Seniors declaring the upcoming season anything but a rebuilding year.

Frost confirming the qualification and Thursday arrival of freshman running back Maurice Washington and the addition of UCF transfer defensive back Tre Neal.

Oh, and then there’s senior offensive guard Tanner Farmer (pictured below) pouring his heart out at the microphone, spewing honestly and pronouncing intentions on the eve of what’s sure to be the most spirited, intense four weeks of practice seen around these parts in many a year.

Fans, Farmer said, understand these Huskers have been putting sweat and tears into their work like they never have before. They know the players are coming together as a family, headed in the same direction.

It’s that direction, Farmer said, that’s been sorely missing.

Enter Frost and Co. with a compass.

“We were eager to work hard,” Farmer said as part of his passionate speech that highlighted the hour-long media gathering. “One thing that this staff told us is, ‘We didn’t have to coach you to work hard.’ All of the guys here work hard. We just needed the proper direction. Just point me the way I need to go. I’ll give you my all, and I’ll be there.

“This is the staff that was able to do it. They were able to bring us together for a common cause. We had too many guys shooting off in different directions and doing different things. That causes chaos. We can’t have chaos on a football team. Now we’re all in harmony right now, and it’s awesome.”

Senior linebacker Luke Gifford, 100 percent healthy after sitting out spring practices, echoed Farmer’s sentiments. Adding to them, Gifford said the new coaches have had to rebuild trust among players.

“I think there were a lot of things that were going wrong last year, obviously, but a lot of guys were second-guessing the things we were doing, and I don’t think there was a lot of trust between us and the coaching staff,” said Gifford, who missed the final five games of a 4-8 season with a hip injury.

“When Coach Frost came and Coach (Zach) Duval and the rest of the staff, that’s the first thing they started doing was building that trust back up again. This summer, with Coach Duval, we really solidified that.”

Duval, the new strength and conditioning coach, has been around the players as much or more than any of the assistant coaches. All anyone needs to do is eyeball the current players – Stille, for example – to see Duval’s return to “Husker Power” is paying serious dividends.

“Coach Duval brings a whole new level of intensity,” said the 6-foot-4 Gifford, who’s increased his weight by 10 pounds, to 245. “He just pushes us more than we’ve ever been pushed. I think in the past, we’ve been able to slack if we wanted to. This is nothing against the past staff, but if you didn’t want to do a weight, you didn’t have to do a weight.

“With Coach Duval, he’s going to put it on there and you’re either going to get it or you’re going to fail. That’s the way it should be. You shouldn’t have a choice. That’s the only way you’re going to get to where you want to be.”

Now, Frost said, the time has finally come to see exactly how much ground players have made in the weight room, to make that improvement come to life on the practice field Friday morning.

“I hope our guys are ready for that,” Frost said. “I think they’re going to have more confidence going into this year because of the way they look, the way they feel, the way they can move, how much stronger they are. I think they’re a tighter knit group now.

“So the offseason is going well, but it doesn’t really matter until the rubber hits the road and we get tested. Then we need to see if the progress that we made is going to make a difference.”

Fall practice shouldn’t be any more intense than spring practices, Frost said, for the simple fact he wants all practices treated with the same 100 percent effort, regardless what the calendar says.

“I don’t think we accomplished that in the spring,” Frost said, “so maybe it will be more intense if we get more guys to buy into that.”

Some spring practices featured all-business attitudes and marked improvement. The very first one, for example, was “off the charts,” Frost said. But dips and decline followed, with some practices lacking the same energy and enthusiasm. Production waned. Frost wants preseason training camp more consistent with the former.

The work habits players developed over the summer under Duval should help in that regard, Gifford said.

“Coach Duval has been great with that,” Gifford said. “We’ve been taught to attack everything we do. That’s not to say there weren’t a few days this summer that we didn’t have our best day, but we definitely developed the habit to attack everything and we’re definitely getting there.”

Gifford, like Farmer, is eager to prove the coming season doesn’t have to be a rebuilding year, that, as a Nebraska native, he’s hungry to atone for losing records in two of the last three seasons.

“This is Nebraska. It’s not supposed to be like that,” Gifford said. “With Coach Frost here, the expectations are right. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. I think this thing is going to get rolling, and it’s going to get there.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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