Photo by Nick Burkhardt/Huskers.com

Big Red Blitz Offers Chance To Thank Fans

By Brian Rosenthal

Ashland – One State, One Heartbeat.

That slogan took hold earlier this spring within the Nebraska Athletics Department after many Nebraskans, especially in the northeastern sections of the state, joined forces and fought back as historic floods ravaged their farms, homes and communities.

Fans could purchase T-Shirts with that slogan, with proceeds going to flood victims. They contributed an additional $130,000 through donations during a 2½ hour Spring Game at Memorial Stadium.

Nebraska Director of Athletics Bill Moos thanked fans for their help during stops at Norfolk, Fremont and nearby Ashland on Thursday, when Moos and five Nebraska head coaches joined the Big Red Blitz tour.

Nebraska normally conducts some sort of fan caravan tour in parts of the state in late spring or summer but this year focused its trip on areas affected by the March floods.

“It’s a great way to get out and see the fans and thank those people for giving their support,” Nebraska men’s basketball coach Fred Hoiberg said. “That’s one of the best things about Nebraska is its support.”

Nebraska football coach Scott Frost participated in similar tours when he was coaching at UCF, and knows of other schools who do the same. Their goals, he said, are to drum up support and excitement.

“At Nebraska, you don’t have to do that. The support is already there,” Frost said. “This is an opportunity to say thank you to different areas of the fan base.”

Moos told fans at the SAC Museum near Ashland, the final stop of the tour, how welcoming, cordial and kind they have been to him.

“I tell my friends and colleagues around the country, there really is no place like Nebraska,” adding that Nebraska has no other Division I football programs, or professional teams.

“This is the show. It’s a great show, and we thank you.”

 

Local connections

For Hoiberg, hired in March, this marked his first opportunity to travel the state to meet and greet fans. He met one fan, for the first time, at the SAC Museum stop that tugged a bit at his heartstrings.

Hoiberg then introduced the older gentleman to the crowd as the man who once served as student manager for Hoiberg’s grandfather, Jerry Bush, who coached the Nebraska basketball team from 1954 to 1963.

“He told me how much of an impact he had on his life, and that’s really special to hear something like that,” Hoiberg said. “I’ve heard all sorts of those kinds of stories since I’ve been back and running into people that have had personal connections to my grandparents on both sides.”

His other grandfather taught as a professor at Nebraska for more than 30 years.

Frost, meanwhile, answered a local reporter’s question about his personal connection with Ashland. He said his grandfather, his father’s dad, bought a lot at Thomas Lakes, near Ashland, in the late 1970s.

“I’ve actually moved to – I counted the other day, 15 different houses growing up before I graduated high school,” Frost said. “The only place that’s stayed consistent my whole life was the place up at Thomas Lakes. Mom and Dad still have it. I learned to swim and water ski and wakeboard there. That will always be home to me.”

Husker Power

Frost, of course, knows all about Midwestern work ethic, having grown up in Nebraska and playing quarterback here for a national championship team. He’s seeing more and more positive signs of his football players displaying the strong work ethic it takes to succeed, especially in the weight room.

“Nebraska football needs to be built in large part on our strength and conditioning program,” Frost said. “(When I played) it was bigger, faster, stronger, it was Husker Power. When teams played us, they knew they played us. We were bigger and more physical than any other team we played.”

Frost even recalls Nebraska hauling truckloads of weight lifting equipment to bowl sites because players didn’t want to go more than two days without lifting.

“When the day comes when teams in this league can’t push us around, and we’re doing the pushing,” Frost said, “we’re really going to be a problem for a lot of people to stop.”

That drew a loud roar of cheers and applause.

Frost said his team is in a much better place than this time a year ago, and although it’s not a complete team, they’re getting closer.

“I think we have some guys who can be difference makers,” Frost said. “We really need to find some receivers to step up. Losing Stanley Morgan is a big deal to us. We need a couple of young guys, and we’ve got a new transfer coming in, so we need some of those guys to provide targets for Adrian (Martinez).”

Continuity on the coaching staff was also a hallmark of Nebraska’s success in the 1990s. Frost rattled of the names of all the assistants who stayed under coach Tom Osborne for years.

While times have changed, Frost pointed out that before losing Mike Dawson to the NFL this offseason, his staff stayed intact for three straight years. No other FBS team in the nation could say that, according to Frost.

He’s also very pleased with landing new defensive line coach Tony Tuioti following a national search.

“Tony was far and away the best technician and the best teacher,” Frost said. “He understood the scheme.”

 

Getting To Know You

The emcee for the event, former Nebraska offensive lineman Brenden Stai, in introducing Williams, noted her basketball team would return only one player next season.

Williams, of course, had a look of horror on her face, as Stai meant to say Williams needed to replace only one player, not return only one.

Hoiberg, seated next to Williams, raised his hand toward Stai as if to say, “No that’s me.”

Indeed, Thorir Thorbjarnarson, who averaged 2.2 points his freshman season, is the only Husker returning with any playing time last season. Dachon Burke was on the team, but sat out as a transfer.

This all became official Wednesday, when Isaiah Roby said he was keeping his name in the NBA Draft and forgoing his senior season. Hoiberg wished Roby the best.

“I think he has a tremendous future, with his athleticism, length and skill set,” Hoiberg said.

Hoiberg said he’s excited about his newcomers, noting he’s following the same formula he did his first season at Iowa State, by initially relying on transfers. Hoiberg has five, plus two junior college players, three freshman, “and a big kid from France,” who’s also a freshman. That’s 6-9, 260-pound Yvan Ouedraogo, who just turned 17 in March.

“Stay away,” Hoiberg said as he pushed and nudged Frost, seated to him, which drew plenty of laughter.

“This kid, he fascinates me,” Hoiberg said of the native of Bordeaux.

Hoiberg told fans how his staff was fortunate to keep the commitment of Jervay Green, a junior college guard recruited by the previous staff, and then add Cam Mack, the No. 1 junior college guard in the nation last season.

“We’re really excited about him and what he can offer our team,” he said of Mack, a native of Austin, Texas.

Hoiberg advertised his fast style of play, noting how his philosophy is to get opposing teams to execute their pick-and-roll defense within the first 5-7 seconds of the shot clock, before they get set.

“The Big Ten is so good defensively, I think the best in the nation, as far as a defensive conference,” Hoiberg said. “We’re going to try strike quickly and get the ball down the floor.”

Midwestern Work Ethic

Not surprisingly, given the reason for the tour, the subject of Midwestern values and work ethics popped up in discussions with the coaches.

Women’s basketball coach Amy Williams, when asked about the many Midwestern players she recruits, and why, told the story of Ashtyn Veerbeek, a freshman last season from Sioux Center, Iowa.

Veerbeek, a 6-foot-2 forward, had a fantastic freshman year, Williams said, but also had a game at Wisconsin where she fouled out in a mere 8 minutes.

“The next day, we had the day off, I’m in my office and the lights go on in our practice gym,” Williams said. “I hear shoes squeaking but I don’t hear any balls bouncing.”

She looked out her office window to find Veerbeek, the only one the gym, doing sideline-to-sideline defensive slides, sprint close-out slides – anything she could do to move her feet better so as not to get called for fouls.

“A lot of kids will go to the gym to get shots up,” Williams said. “Not a lot will go there to work on defense. That work ethic she possesses is similar to a lot of the players that we recruit from that area. That’s what we like in our program.”

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

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