Don’t expect a rebuilding year, Nebraska football coach Scott Frost said at Thursday’s season-opening press conference.
Frost wants to “attack” training camp, and his coaches — “guys who don’t like to lose at pickup basketball” — will prepare players for a rigorous season.
“We’re not looking past this year,” Frost said. “We’re looking at today.”
More quick notes from Frost’s 20-minute chat.
» Frost said “we’ve had about as good of an offseason as we could have had,” but he wants to see how much ground the players actually made from spring.
“Offseason momentum’s for newspapers and fans on web sites,” Frost said. “It’s time to prove it.”
» Frost said NU is at 109 players for the 110-man roster. Running back Maurice Washington is at Nebraska as of Thursday, and Frost said he’s “really positive” on the academic status of Dominick Watt, the last remaining player yet to arrive.
» In Nebraska’s QB race, Frost compared the situation to Monopoly. “Everybody’s on Go,” he said. NU might even roll a dice to see who takes the first rep.
» Training camp won’t necessarily be more intense from the coaches’ standpoint, Frost said, but it may be from the players’ perspective if they’re consistently 100 percent intense. Intensity ebbed and flowed in spring camp, Frost said. Some practices were good, some were average.
» Frost said he’ll take feedback from strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval on how players performed over the summer, but it won’t affect the depth chart as NU left it in spring.
» Frost said it’s a big advantage to have Mario Verduzco as a quarterbacks-only coach. Though NU gameplans collectively, Frost calls plays and Walters organizes things as offensive coordinator. Verduzco can focus on being a QB technician.
» Nebraska is exploring how to handle captains and whether to put area codes on the fronts of helmets, which is something players did at UCF.
» Frost didn’t want to talk injuries and said he’ll only release that information if a player suffers a season-ending injury
» The situation at Ohio State — where Urban Meyer has been placed on administrative leave while he’s investigated for his handling of a sexual assault allegation involving one of his former coaches — is “unfortunate” for everyone involved, Frost said, but otherwise said it wasn’t his place to comment. He noted he had “thoughts and prayers” for any victims.
Zach Duval brings level of intensity previous strength staff lacked, Huskers say
LINCOLN — It’s a training camp ritual for college football players, fresh off a summer of lifting weights and running sprints, to boast about their strength and conditioning coaches. Nebraska players did last year and the year before that and the year before that.
And they did so on Thursday, gushing about Zach Duval in ways surpassing the habitual praise given to him by Scott Frost.
Only this year, outside linebacker Luke Gifford was willing to compare and contrast Duval to NU’s previous strength and conditioning staff, led by Mark Philipp.
“Coach Duval brings a whole new level of intensity,” said Gifford, a fifth-year senior from Lincoln Southeast. “He just pushes us much more than we’ve ever been pushed. I think in the past we’ve been able to kind of 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. But 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. And that’s the way it should be. You don’t have a choice. That’s the only way you’re going to get where you want to be.”
Husker players competed to see who could lift the most. Senior Tanner Farmer seemed to take the honors, squatting 765 pounds.
“He never would have gotten there if he didn’t put on 600 (pounds) when he was only squatting 500 pounds last year,” Gifford said. “You don’t know you can do it until you do it.”
Defensive lineman Khalil Davis said Duval put emphasis on overall health and eating better. Some players were on meal plans. More meals were eaten at the training table. Davis carried around a milk jug of a water/Gatorade mix for daily hydration.
Players gained considerable weight — good weight, it appeared — as a result.
Center Cole Conrad said players lost a lot of muscle mass between the end of last season in late November and the start of winter conditioning in mid-January.
“Maybe some guys let themselves go a little bit,” Conrad said. “Now we’re bouncing back and throwing a bunch of good weight. You have to look at this strength staff and realize there’s a reason why UCF was good and there’s a reason why Coach Duval gets the praise that he gets. He knows what he’s doing.”
Eat your meals here
Newly hired director of nutrition Dave Ellis is already impacting the Huskers.
The team is now required to eat all three meals at the training table inside Memorial Stadium. That did not used to be the case.
Davis said some players used to eat off campus or away from the training table. It was strongly encouraged you eat at the training table, but not required.
Now you have to sign in to eat, and those signatures are checked to make sure everyone is eating there three times a day. Nebraska also gave players instructions to buy produce and better food for their homes.
Huskers confident with O-line depth
LINCOLN — In addition to the rousing speech Tanner Farmer gave at the podium, the senior said Thursday he is “50-50” between guard and center.
“I’m not exactly sure how they’re going to split it,” Farmer said, “but I’m thinking it’s going to be around 50-50 to see what kind of configuration works and get the best guys out there.”
Farmer will likely start at center or right guard. Senior Jerald Foster will likely be at left guard. Senior Cole Conrad could also play guard or center, and he’s also played tackle in the past.
With those three and a handful of younger lineman behind them, Farmer said he likes the options Nebraska has with the interior of the line.
“It’s good competition,” Foster said. “Since we had Michael Decker leave, it’s opened up some space for guys to be able to work in there and get some playing time. I feel like we’re going to be in a position where we’re going to have some depth in there.”
Tight ends improving ‘drastically’
Jack Stoll approached the question like he will Nebraska’s new up-tempo offense this fall — just keep moving.
The sophomore took the lead among NU tight ends in the spring and said his position group has improved “drastically.” Asked to dive into specifics, he didn’t shy away.
Redshirt freshman Kurt Rafdal, “his feet have been amazing,” Stoll said. Classmate Austin Allen has made big strides putting on muscle, bumping up to 245 pounds from last year’s listed weight of 210 on his 6-8 frame. True freshman Cameron Jurgens has regained his confidence coming back from a serious leg injury last fall.
Less touted walk-ons like sophomore Branden Hohenstein and true freshman Bryson Krull are grinding too.
Also working with the tight ends is 6-3, 235-pound true freshman Katerian Legrone, who coaches originally had working with the wide receivers. The Georgia native is now listed as a tight end on Nebraska’s roster.
“In the tight end room we’re just extremely happy with what we did this summer,” Stoll said. “We know the results are going to show on the field this year.”
Stoll said his goals are less about catches and pancakes and more about effort. He was the first name Scott Frost listed in the spring when asked who was working consistently.
“My goal personally — and I know a lot of us in the group — is keep becoming the best football player you can,” Stoll said. “You know when you’re giving 100 percent, you know when you’ve had a good play, when you had a bad play. Personally, I’m just going to keep sticking my head down, grinding and just keep balling and hopefully the results will come. I know that’s what’s happened, so I got confidence in my system.”
Playing for their area codes
A popular change Scott Frost made at Central Florida was allowing players to display the area code of their hometown on the bumper of their helmets. That feature could be coming to Nebraska, Frost said Thursday.
“The guys took a lot of pride in that,” Frost said. “You play first and foremost for the name on the front of your jersey, your team. And guys take pride in playing for the name on the back of their jersey, their family. But a lot of young men have a lot of pride in where they come from too. So I’m fine with it if that’s a decision the team makes.”
If native Nebraskans earn playing time expect to see plenty of 402s, 531s and 308s on game days.
» Nebraska running back Maurice Washington arrived Thursday after becoming fully eligible this week. Coach Scott Frost said receiver Dominick Watt, the last signee yet to arrive, remains on track to get to Nebraska soon after he completes all of his academic requirements. Tre Neal has graduated from UCF and will arrive at Nebraska soon as well.
» Running back Tre Bryant is good to go for training camp, Frost said. Bryant missed all but seven quarters last season because of a knee injury. Bryant rushed for 299 yards and 5.9 yards per carry before the injury. Devine Ozigbo praised Bryant’s health.
“Seeing Tre ever since we came back from break, he’s looking super healthy,” Ozigbo said. “He was definitely getting on that good path before we left but coming back, talking to him, seeing him move, he definitely looks good. Tre’s gonna push himself as hard as he can to be that guy.”
» Frost was hesitant to say whether quarterback Noah Vedral would get an immediate eligibility waiver from the NCAA. Vedral transferred from UCF back home to Nebraska, following Frost. Generally in those situations, players have to sit out a year.
“We’ll go to bat for him,” Frost said.
» Frost said NU is at 109 players for the 110-man roster. One of them is running back Mikale Wilbon, whose status had been the subject of message board rumors.
» Though Frost reiterated Thursday he’ll say little to nothing about injuries — unless a player is out for the season — he noted slot receiver JD Spielman, who battled an injury and an illness in spring, is 100 percent healthy and ready for camp.
Tanner Farmer believes he can lift 1,000 pounds — and win a national title too
LINCOLN — A microphone sat fastened to the black podium next to Tanner Farmer as he finished what amounted to a sermon. He didn’t physically drop the mic, but he may as well have.
The senior offensive lineman expounded on a variety of topics as he held court with dozens of media members. Big dreams, fueled by hard work. His path from an underclassman with low expectations to a believer in the power of the human spirit.
His stirring final remarks on the sixth floor of Memorial Stadium prompted some in attendance to applaud. It was one of the better closing salvos in recent memory.
“I don’t want to just win the Big Ten championship. I want to win the championship,” Farmer said. “That’s my goal. … A lot of people say winning the national championship isn’t a realistic goal. Well, I’m not about realistic. I want it all. Go big or go home. Thank you.”
The product of Highland, Illinois, wasn’t smiling as he walked off, either. The 6-foot-4, 325-pounder said he’s been serious about what he can do — what the team can do — with a little more direction than what the previous coaching staff provided. He was serious about recovering from a leg injury that cut short his 2017 season after eight games. He was serious about increasing his strength and is now lifting up to 765 pounds.
“Whenever I first came to Nebraska, I had the goal of, ‘Oh, I want to squat 700 pounds one day,'” Farmer said. “I was thinking, ‘That’s a goal that I could achieve, but I’m going to have to really put in a whole bunch of hard work to get there.’ So now I’m squatting close to 800 pounds, so I need to set a new goal. I’m thinking maybe 1,000 pounds.”
Farmer started at right guard last year but has been splitting reps at center with Cole Conrad as training camp opens.
So moving were Farmer’s comments that both outside linebacker Luke Gifford and running back Devine Ozigbo — who were in the room listening — answered follow-up questions about them.
Ozigbo said Nebraska’s locker room is full of guys with the same beliefs. Gifford said a summer with strength coach Zach Duval has drastically changed the team outlook.
“Tanner was exactly spot on with that,” Gifford said. “There was just a lot of trust that needed to be gained back. 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 whole lot of trust between us and the coaching staff.
“So when Coach Frost came, and Coach Duval and the rest of the staff, that was the first thing we started doing was building that trust back up again.”
This was the hardest conditioning drill the Huskers did this summer
LINCOLN — Sophomore defensive tackle Damion Daniels sat up on the sixth floor of Memorial Stadium and asked junior DaiShon Neal.
“What do you think was the hardest conditioning we did?”
Neal just scrolled on his phone without answering.
“I think it was Four Quarters, probably,” Daniels said, staring down on the field. “Definitely Four Quarters.”
Every day, around 2 p.m., Daniels and the rest of the defensive lineman lined up on the goal line.
“Coach (Zach Duval) stands at the 40,” Daniels said, pointing.
Duval blows the whistle, the team takes off to the 20.
Twenty-second rest. Duval heads to the 25. Blows the whistle again.
“We sprint from the 20 to the 25,” Daniels said.
They do that, rotating from 20-yard sprints, to five, to 10, to 15, to 20 to 25, then back down to five. They do that down 100 yards, and back 100 yards.
“That’s one quarter,” Daniels said.
Nebraska spent a great deal of time this summer working on speed, and being efficient with that speed. That meant a lot of conditioning, which was a nice juxtaposition for all the pounds players packed on in the weight room.
“It’s really not timed. It’s basically, (Duval) wants you to give 100 percent effort, every play,” Daniels said of Four Quarters. “So that’s what we be doing. Giving 100 percent every rep. Because, it’s basically that’s how long you gotta go during a game. Some of the short, nice bursts.”