John Papuchis is in his seventh season on Bo Pelini's Nebraska staff, and his third year as the Huskers' defensive coordinator. Papuchis has made a quick rise through the coaching ranks. The 35-year-old Papuchis was the fourth-youngest defensive coordinator in the country and the youngest solo defensive coordinator when he was promoted to the position in 2012.
Papuchis helped mold a young Husker defense in 2013, a group that made tremendous progress throughout the year. Nebraska finished the season ranked 40th nationally and fourth in the Big Ten in total defense. The Huskers allowed an average of 463.8 yards per game through the first four games, but with time, the unit gelled and showed marked improvement.
During Nebraska’s eight-game Big Ten schedule, the Huskers allowed an average of only 318.6 yards per game to rank fourth in the conference. The Huskers allowed only one of their eight Big Ten opponents to total 390 yards of offense, while holding Michigan (175 yards), Purdue (216) and Iowa (282) all below 300 yards. In conference games, Nebraska also led the Big Ten in opponent pass completion, allowing opponents to complete just 48.6 percent of their attempts.
On the year, Nebraska’s defense boasted top-25 rankings in four categories. The Huskers ranked first in the Big Ten ans seventh nationally in sacks, while ranking sixth in third-down defense, 18th in tackles for loss and 21st in fourth-down defense. Nebraska achieved its lofty rankings despite its youth.
First- or second-year players combined to make 46 defensive starts for the Huskers in 2013. Eight freshmen earned starts for the Blackshirts, while sophomore defensive end Randy Gregory, a first-year transfer, made 10 starts en route to earning first-team All-Big Ten accolades.
Gregory led the Big Ten with 10.5 sacks, including a league-high 9.0 sacks in conference play. Gregory’s 10.5 sacks were a school record for a first-year Husker, while his 9.0 sacks in conference play ranked second all-time at Nebraska. Gregory was joined as a first-team All-Big Ten selection by senior defensive back Ciante Evans, who has set a Nebraska defensive back record with 11 tackles for loss this season, while tying the position record with 3.0 sacks. Other Husker defenders earning all-conference accolades included second-team cornerback selection Stanley Jean-Baptiste and honorable-mention selections Jason Ankrah at defensive end and Corey Cooper at safety.
Nebraska fielded one of the nation's top pass defenses in 2012, and the Blackshirts played a key role in the Huskers advancing to a conference championship game for the third time in four seasons. Nebraska finished fourth in the nation in pass defense (168.1 yards allowed per game), ninth in pass efficiency defense (105.32) and 35th in total defense (360.6 yards allowed per game).
Nebraska allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete only 47.1 percent of their passes, the best mark in the nation and one of only two teams to hold opponents below 50 percent passing. Nebraska posted an opponent completion percentage under 50 percent for the third time in four seasons and held opposing passers to the worst completion percentage at Nebraska since 2001 (43.3 percent). The 164.1 passing yards per game the Blackshirts allowed was the second-lowest at Nebraska in the past 20 seasons.
The Blackshirts played a key role in Nebraska's 10-win season, allowing an average of only 296.6 yards per game in the Huskers' 10 victories. Nebraska held Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa to 200 or fewer total yards, including limiting the Wolverines and Golden Gophers to fewer than 100 yards passing and rushing. The Huskers nearly held the Hawkeyes below the century mark in both rushing and passing as well, surrendering 108 rushing yards and 92 passing yards.
From a scoring standpoint, Nebraska held five opponents to 14 or fewer points in 2012. The Huskers held Arkansas State to 13 points, its fewest of the year and one of only two games where the Red Wolves were held below 30 points. NU gave up only six offensive points to ASU, as the Red Wolves scored their only touchdown on a fumble return, while one of their two field goals came after the offense gained zero yards following another Husker fumble.
The Blackshirts held both Iowa and Michigan to their second-lowest point totals of the year and their lowest marks in conference play. Iowa put together a touchdown drive on its opening possession against the Huskers, but was shut out the rest of the game, managing only 138 yards on its final 11 possessions covering 51 plays. The Huskers kept Michigan out of the end zone all game, allowing only three field goals to the Wolverines.
Individually, defensive end Eric Martin broke through in his senior season. A first-team All-Big Ten selection by the league's media members, Martin had 17 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in 2012, after totaling only four TFLs and 2.5 sacks in his first three seasons combined.
Safety Daimion Stafford led the Big Ten with four interceptions in conference games en route to earning first-team all-conference honors from the league's media members and second-team accolades from the coaches. Linebacker Will Compton tallied a career-high 110 tackles in 2012, and he was a second-team All-Big Ten selection by the league's coaches. Defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler also earned second-team All-Big Ten honors under Papuchis' direction, while defensive back Ciante Evans was an honorable-mention all-conference selection.
In his first four years on staff, Papuchis tutored the defensive line and served as special teams coordinator, and also filled the role of recruiting coordinator in 2011. Papuchis’ work with the defensive line has helped the Huskers rank in the top 10 in total defense and the top 11 in scoring defense in two of the past three seasons.
NU’s defensive line had to overcome numerous injuries in 2011, but the unit persevered, combining for 226 tackles, 14.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss. Two defensive linemen - Cameron Meredith and Terrence Moore - also intercepted passes in 2011, while Meredith earned honorable-mention All-Big Ten accolades along with Baker Steinkuhler. Meredith was second on the team with five sacks and ranked third with six TFLs, nearly doubling his career sack total entering the year.
In 2010 as defensive ends coach, Papuchis tutored both of Nebraska’s starting defensive ends to All-Big 12 honors, with Pierre Allen claiming first-team honors and Meredith garnering second-team accolades. Each player ranked in the top six on the team in tackles while combining for 129 stops, 19 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks.
In 2009, Papuchis’ ends combined for 127 tackles, including 33 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. With 16 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks, Barry Turner was an honorable-mention All-Big 12 selection in 2009, while Allen racked up five sacks and 12 tackles for loss.
In his first year in Lincoln, Papuchis saw starting defensive ends Zach Potter and Allen combine for 26 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks in 2008, with Potter earning honorable-mention All-Big 12 accolades. The defensive ends helped a Nebraska defense that finished second in the Big 12 in total defense.
Nebraska also owned one of the nation’s top special teams units from 2008 to 2011 under Papuchis’ direction. After helping Alex Henery earn the title of the most accurate kicker in NCAA history, Papuchis developed his second straight All-America kicker in 2011. In his first season as a starter, Brett Maher ranked 10th nationally in punting (44.5) and 18th in field goals (19). Maher’s 19 field goals ranked in a tie for second in school history, and he was a Lou Groza Award semifinalist, in addition to winning the Bakken-Andersen Big Ten Kicker-of-the-Year award and the Eddleman-Field Big Ten Punter-of-the-Year award. Maher also became the first player to be selected as both the All-Big Ten first-team punter and place-kicker since 2001.
Nebraska also boasted one of the nation’s top kickoff return units in 2011, ranking seventh nationally with an average of 25.5 yards per return. Ameer Abdullah set a school record with 211 kickoff return yards against Fresno State, including a 100-yard touchdown.
In 2010, Papuchis was one of four finalists for the FootballScoop Special Teams Coordinator-of-the-Year Award. That season, Henery earned first-team All-America honors while ending his career as Nebraska’s all-time leading scorer and the most accurate kicker in NCAA history, establishing eight NCAA records. Along with Henery, Papuchis had another weapon to utilize on special teams in Adi Kunalic, who ranked among the national leaders in touchbacks, posting 86 career touchbacks.
In 2009, the Huskers’ kickoff and punt return units both ranked in the top 30 nationally, while Henery had an NU record 24 field goals. Henery also placed a Big 12-leading 30 punts inside the opponent 20-yard line. The Huskers ranked in the top 15 nationally in kickoff return defense and third in touchbacks.
The special teams unit also had a banner year under Papuchis in 2008, headlined by Henery’s school-record 57-yard game-winning field goal against Colorado. Henery finished the year 18-of-21 on field goals and missed just one extra point. Henery was a second-team All-Big 12 pick. The Huskers also ranked in the top 25 nationally in punt returns, and returned both a kickoff and punt for a touchdown in the same season for the first time since 1998.
Papuchis joined the Nebraska coaching staff after spending the previous four seasons on the football staff at LSU. Papuchis worked closely with Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini during their time together in Baton Rouge. Papuchis served as a defensive intern for the Tigers, assisting in every aspect of the defensive game plan and scouting reports.
The efforts of Papuchis helped the Tigers rank among the nation’s top defenses throughout his time with LSU. The Tigers ranked third nationally in total defense each season from 2005 to 2007. In 2007, the Tiger defense helped LSU to SEC and national titles, capped by a 38-24 victory over Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game.
The Tigers had a pair of consensus All-Americans in Glenn Dorsey and Craig Steltz. Dorsey was one of the nation’s most decorated players, collecting the 2007 Outland Trophy, Lombardi Award and Nagurski Trophy.
In 2006, the LSU defense surrendered just 242.8 yards per game, the fewest by a Tiger defense since 1976. LSU led the SEC in six defensive categories and ranked in the top five nationally in four major categories. LSU finished in the top 10 nationally in all four major defensive categories in 2005, and allowed less than 270 total yards per contest. Papuchis also coached the Tiger punters. In 2007, punter Patrick Fisher led the SEC in punting with a 44.5-yard average and earned first-team All-SEC honors.
Papuchis first joined Nick Saban’s LSU staff prior to the 2004 season, helping the team earn a berth in the Capital One Bowl.
Papuchis had a three-year stint as a graduate assistant at Kansas from 2001 to 2003. In 2001, he worked with the Jayhawk secondary and then assisted with the linebackers. In his final season at KU, Papuchis helped the Jayhawks earn a berth in the Tangerine Bowl.
Papuchis graduated from Virginia Tech in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in business management. He earned his master’s degree in sports administration from Kansas in 2003.
Papuchis is a native of Gaithersburg, Md. He and his wife, Billie, have a five-year-old daughter, Addyson, a four-year-old son, John, and a one-year old daughter Sophia.
The Papuchis File
Date and Place of Birth: April 23, 1978 in Gaithersburg, Md.
Family: Wife, Billie; Daughters, Addyson and Sophia; son, John
Education: Bachelor’s, business management, Virginia Tech, 2001; master’s, sports administration, Kansas, 2003
Coaching Experience: 2001-03, Kansas (graduate assistant/defense); 2004-07, LSU (defensive intern/graduate assistant), 2008-10, Nebraska (assistant coach/defensive line/special teams coordinator); 2011 (Nebraska (assistant coach/defensive line/special teams coordinator/recruiting coordinator); 2012-present, Nebraska (assistant coach/defensive coordinator).