Photo by Steve Woltmann Photo

Huskers Ready To Plug In Winning Formula

By Brian Rosenthal

CHICAGO – Jerald Foster repositioned himself and straightened in his chair as he prepared to tell a story that would exemplify the many changes occurring within the Nebraska football program.

From questions about coach Scott Frost, to changes in strength and conditioning, to expectations for the 2018 season, Foster dealt without about every topic imaginable at Monday’s Big Ten Conference Media Day in downtown Chicago.

However, he knew the story he was about to tell would get a fun reaction out of reporters, and it certainly did.

Foster, a senior offensive guard, prefaced by saying how much loved his team, how he sees great competitors in the newcomers and transfers.

But …

“They all dropped on our doorstep at the same time,” Foster said, “and I’m like, ‘Who are you?’ There’s this whole new team of people I’m somehow supposed to meet now.”

Foster specifically mentioned meeting one of the incoming freshmen.

“I said, ‘Hi, I’m Jerald, what’s your name?’ And he says, ‘Tate,’ and I’m walking away, and he goes, ‘Jerald,’ and I turn around and say, ‘Whatsup?’ And he said, ‘This is the fifth time we’ve done this.’

Reporters laughed.

“I just turned back around and thought, ‘Well, maybe give me two more of those, and I might get your name right.’ ”

Or, perhaps name tags will be needed. Foster jokingly agreed that might not be a bad idea, but perhaps not as good as the one that is slowly developing to make sure everyone knows who’s who.

 “With the way Coach Duval has put us into these pressure situations, I feel like this team has bonded, been together two to three years, kind of,” Foster said, referring to new strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval.

“Through our workouts and through everything we’ve done this summer, I really do feel like I’ve known these guys longer than the months I have.”

Remembering names will eventually come.

Of course, that’s among the bottom-of-the-list items for Foster and other seniors as they prepare for their final season, the first under Frost.

Senior receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. is intent on shocking the doubters.

“I love it. I love being the underdog,” Morgan said. “You don’t have any expectations for us anyway, so we’re going to get after it. We’re going to shock the world.”

What, exactly, does Morgan mean by that?

“Winning. Winning more than we have been,” he said. “Winning a Big Ten championship. Winning a national championship. Shocking the world that way. Why not? I came to college to play for that. Why not?

Frost, the first of six Big Ten coaches to address a ballroom full of reporters on Monday, wasn’t going quite that far.

He did however deliver this message with some bravado.

“People better get us now,” Frost said, “because we’re going to keep getting better.”

A standing-room only crowd of reporters showed for Frost, and before him, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. The first question Delany fielded from reporters was the effect of having Frost in the Big Ten.

“The fact Scott played at Nebraska and has had an amazing series of success as a young coach really breathes a lot of enthusiasm into the fan base,” Delaney said.

Indeed, Frost returns to his home state, his alma mater, having just coached Central Florida to an undefeated season, only his second with the program. Prior to joining the Knights, he served a wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator at Oregon, known for its high-powered, fast-paced offenses.

“I always said back then if we could take this offense and this speed and scheme and marry it with old school Husker power, we won’t lose a game,” Frost said. “I was being facetious, but we did that in Orlando. We got Zach, an old Husker power guy, involved, and our team got big and strong and physical, and we mixed it with our scheme and we didn’t lose a game.”

Will that happen again at Nebraska? Perhaps, someday, but maybe not immediately. The point Frost was making was how a certain formula will work at Nebraska. He knows, because he’s seen it work years ago, under a coach by the name of Tom Osborne, who led Nebraska to three national championships, one of which Frost led as a quarterback in 1997.

“Coach Osborne had the formula Nebraska needed,” Frost said. “Some of the things he did to make the program arguably the best in the country can still work today. Nebraska just went away from them, and we’re going to adopt a lot of those things again.”

Frost didn’t mince words when he described what he saw – or didn’t – within Nebraska’s program when he took control over the winter. Players lacked passion and unity. Leadership lagged overall. Players were out of shape, not lifting as much as they should. The walk-on program had been crippled.

Foster couldn’t disagree with much of what Frost said, particularly about players lacking confidence and motivation, or giving up late in games last season.

“Completely, and it sucks to say, but there were times I felt like heads would drop,” Foster said. “That’s when you know the leadership isn’t there, and that’s straight up myself.

“We’ve been talking about that this summer. Coach Frost is like the, ‘Let’s go, guys!’ mentality never helps out a team. Just because you’re sitting there yelling, ‘Let’s go!’ that’s never made a player any better or made him work any harder.

“It’s the guy who’s going to wrap up and pull you aside and be like, ‘We need to put this in order, we need to get this going, or we’re going to die out here and we’re going to have a season when we go 4-8.’ I took that to heart, and I feel like this season you’re not going to see anything like that.”

Senior defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg said he’s amazed to still see the gains he’s making in the weight room in his fifth year in the program, and how the “coolest thing” about the weight room is how it’s making everybody competitive.

Yes, it’s funny what happens, Stoltenberg said, when everybody is moving toward the same direction, with the same goal.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Stoltenberg said. “One thing in the fall we need to do is just continue to work hard, make the practices harder than the games are going to be, that way when the games get deep in the fourth quarter in November, we can hold to our training and what we did in the offseason to pull us through.”

Foster also appreciates Frost’s ability to think before he talks, to research an answer he’ll give a player if he doesn’t know the right one.

“He always has one for whatever important thing he has us doing,” Foster said. “We were asking him months ago about something we were doing in practice, and he was like, ‘You know, we’re not going to do this in practice anymore until I can get a clear answer about what I want to tell you.’

“He came back with an answer, and we’re like, ‘OK.’ We put it back in practice, and that period was great for us because we understood what we were doing, instead of just being out there just because we were told to.”

Frost repeatedly told reporters how well student athletes are viewing Nebraska on the recruiting trail, perhaps better than he expected. But he also meets many parents who know and remember what Nebraska used to be, whereas most of the players do not.

It’s Frost’s job, he said, to change that.

Time to plug in a winning formula. Bring back the Pipeline. Restore the Blackshirts. Wear down opponents. Win the fourth quarter.

Win, period.

 “Nebraska is a place with unbelievable tradition and great people,” Frost said, “with all the resources we need to be a winner.”

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

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