LINCOLN — Hello, Husker fan. It’s morning in Nebraska.
How long this dawn lasts for Husker football is up to a native son, his staff and their players but, in this moment, it feels like the laces on your playground pigskin are stretching a little toward the sun, doesn’t it?
How long has it been? Depends on who you ask. For some, just a handful of years; they liked the coach before the last coach. For others, maybe that night down in Texas, when one second stretched into an unforgettable loss. Maybe it’s 2003, when Frank Solich coached his last game. Maybe it’s 2001, when Nebraska last felt like king of the college football world.
The man who has Husker football in every inch of his long frame figures it’s been two decades. Which, when you take into account that Tom Osborne has forgotten very few details in his coaching life, means the late 1990s. When Nebraska was still Nebraska, in the midst of its decade of dominance.
“It’s probably more tension than I’ve felt in 20-some years, because you really want these guys to be successful,” Osborne said to a group of reporters Wednesday. “You want Scott to do well.”
Osborne coached him and so opts for “Scott.” But most of Nebraska — especially you there, with the T-shirt — know him by “Frost.”
Frost Warning. Frost Advisory. Frost Effect. Of myriad storylines bound up in Nebraska’s prime time, nationally-televised game against Akron — true freshman starting quarterback Adrian Martinez, a revamped, more aggressive defense, lightning-in-a-backfield running back Maurice Washington — the man who will lead the Huskers out of the revamped Tunnel Walk, he’s the main event. He may not want to be the big story and, once NU has taken a punch and delivered a few of its own, he won’t be.
But as his coaching tenure begins, Frost draws all eyes even as his are averted to the play sheet he’s memorized so well that an assistant calls his playcalling “poetry.”
“Once game day hits I have my head down and I’m working,” Frost said. “I wish my job allowed me to stop and smell the roses a little more because it’s going to be special running out on the field in front of the home fans again. If I’m doing my players a service then I’m locked in on game planning, calling the game, and getting our guys ready to play. Hopefully there’s a moment somewhere when I can stop and take it all in.”
Frost’s manner rarely betrays much. Reporters could hear the slight edge in his voice Monday and Tuesday as he laid out the sudden, surprising departure of a backup quarterback, but players generally know him as a cool hand in practice. The Husker who knows him best — Central Florida safety transfer Tre Neal — describes the “calmness” and “smoothness” among Frost and his assistants. They’re positive, so the team is positive.
There was one moment, though, during training camp, when Neal recognized what this return must mean for Frost, the former Husker quarterback who won a national title in 1997. When Frost’s former teammates, Jason Peter and Grant Wistrom, spoke to the team, Neal sat near Frost. There and then, Frost’s whole demeanor changed.
“You could see the fire in his eyes when those guys were speaking,” Neal said. “It was just different.”
“Maybe it’s just the past coming back to me, but they pushed my buttons,” Frost said of Peter’s and Wistrom’s talk. “I was ready to play after I listened to them talk.”
Husker players practically twitched with excitement this week. Frost has overhauled the program so completely, it’s like he’s been here longer than just nine months. He added more than 50 players to the roster. The team shed many players from the Mike Riley era, including two tight ends and three inside linebackers. And, of course, backup quarterback Tristan Gebbia, whose exit stole many of the headlines early in the week.
It didn’t dampen the mood of the Huskers.
“I’m happy for the state, our fans and our team, really,” senior outside linebacker Luke Gifford said. “Everyone has been working their tails off since Coach Frost got here. It’s all finally here, so it’s exciting.”
Senior guard Tanner Farmer called the feeling “indescribable.”
“How excited I am, how ready I am, there are no words for it,” Farmer said. “That’s how I feel this year.”
“It’s everything,” Farmer said. “Everything is coming together.”
Indeed, for now, in the hours before Frost’s first game as coach, the state is tighly stitched together. The wounds of 20 years — fired coaches, loose-cannon tirades, apathetic fans, administrative friction — are healing. Neal expects Frost to have fun in Game One against Akron, a mid-level Mid-American Conference team receiving $1.1 million to presumably lose in Memorial Stadium. Look for a crazy play, Neal said.
The words of the kid, Martinez, are worth noting, too. The true freshman — the first to start the season’s first game at quarterback in Husker history — is not ready to celebrate the moment yet. The Frost era — this year, years to come — will be written with wins, losses and titles, not T-shirts.
“I want to win,” Martinez said. “When we win, that’s when I’ll be on cloud nine.”
He’ll join the rest of Husker fans.
Be prepared, Husker fans: Storms could delay Akron game
UPDATE AS OF 8:30 a.m.: The forecast is not looking good for tonight’s Husker game, Van DeWald a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Valley said Saturday morning.
A cold front heading across the area could stall right above Lincoln, he said.
And it could bring with it not just rain, thunder and lightning but also heavy wind and hail.
At kickoff the chance of rain is about 70 percent, and that increases as the evening goes on, DeWald said.
“If you like rain its looking great,” he said. “But if you’re trying to watch a football game, it’s not looking great.”
If you just like tailgating, you might be OK, he said — the chance of rain is only about 40 percent at 4 p.m. and temperatures are expected to reach the mid-80s before the storm begins.
Husker Nation is in for a soaking. Not the scoreboard kind (Nebraska is the 26-point favorite over Akron). But the kind that an unstable atmosphere parked over Interstate 80 and pointed at the capital city could deliver right at game time.
Picture dark storm clouds and lightning over Memorial Stadium. Picture rain.
The state of Nebraska might set its watch to the Cornhuskers’ season opener in Lincoln. Not Ma Nature.
By Friday afternoon, a National Weather Service meteorologist was saying things like: “it sure doesn’t look good,” and “it looks like a bad situation” and worst of all, “several rounds of lightning around Memorial Stadium.”
Keith Mann, a Nebraska athletic department spokesman, said the game is so far set to proceed on schedule. He said the Huskers’ event management team is in regular communication with the National Weather Service.
Under NCAA guidelines, any lightning strike within 8 miles would result in a 30-minute delay. He said the university will communicate delays or changes using the stadium public address system, the Husker Sports Network, social media and the Husker app.
Scott Dergan, a meteorologist based at the Valley office of the National Weather Service, does not want you to sell your tickets. Nor does he want you to cancel plans to see Husker coach Scott Frost’s debut.
He does want you to pack a poncho, treat the “August-y” — his word — weather as if it were winter and plan accordingly. Head to the stadium early. Plan contingencies. And know that you could be hitting the road way sooner or way later than you might think.
And with weather, there’s always an asterisk: Ma Nature is fickle.
“Things could change,” Dergan said Friday. “Maybe this front settles south of the area or a little north.”
“I wouldn’t cancel anything just yet,” he added.
Husker football isn’t the only party that’s going to get rained on. Eastern Nebraska could be in for days of on-and-off thunderstorms and rain. This could mean soccer game cancellations and holiday parties moved indoors. But it’s hard to pin down times, Dergan said.
“It’s going to be determined on a day-to-day basis here,” he said. “We already talked about Saturday night. That’s bad. Sunday afternoon will be an event. That’s not good. Monday, we may have a break for a little while during the day. And certainly Monday night into Tuesday looks pretty wet. Wednesday looks pretty wet. Right on through the week. Friday, it looks like about the last good chance of thunderstorms. And then next weekend doesn’t look half bad.”
Which is promising. Maybe the sun will shine over Memorial Stadium when Nebraska takes on Colorado at home on Sept. 8. And the only rain cloud, nature willing, will be the one over the Buffaloes.
Akron at Nebraska
When: 7 p.m. Saturday (2 p.m. Pregame)
Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln
Radio: 103.1 FM