Blackshirt legends Grant Wistrom, Jason Peter deliver message to Husker football team

Blackshirt legends Grant Wistrom, Jason Peter deliver message to Husker football team
Grant Wistrom was a consensus All-American for the second time in Nebraska's 1997 national championship season. (World-Herald News Service)

LINCOLN — Two of Nebraska’s best-known Blackshirts — and former teammates of Husker coach Scott Frost — delivered a special message to NU players Friday night.

Grant Wistrom and Jason Peter, who anchored the 1997 national championship Nebraska defense, were invited by the Husker coaching staff, including football administrator Matt Davison, to share their experiences, according to Wistrom’s Twitter account Friday night.

Davison asked Wistrom, who lives in Missouri, if he and Peter, who lives in the Lincoln area, would be willing to speak to the players. According to Wistrom’s tweet, former Husker players Jim and Clete Pillen sent a private plane to pick up Wistrom and fly him to Lincoln. Jim is a current University of Nebraska regent.

“Very excited for this team,” Wistrom wrote on Twitter. “This group of men has the opportunity to be the team that rights the ship.”

Peter wrote on Twitter that he did a similar talk 11 years ago — in 2007, the last year of the Bill Callahan era — and players didn’t seem as interested as they did Friday night.

“Can’t express how good I feel about (Frost) and where we’re headed!” Peter said.

Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander told The World-Herald on Monday that Peter wanted to bring Wistrom to talk to the team. Peter and Chinander recently played golf together, and while Peter relayed his thoughts on the Blackshirts then, Chinander wanted him in front of the players.

“I can’t do that justice,” Chinander said. “I need him to be in front of the team. I think he wants to try and bring Grant and him at the same time.”

O-line leads the way

Offensive line coach Greg Austin lauded the chemistry of his unit .

“Our guys are connected,” Austin said recently. “Man, I can’t tell you how hard they worked over the summer. Golly! They came out Practice 1 and there was no lag.”

The line’s “businesslike” approach and the “night-and-day” difference in power and physicality that players have gained from spring and summer conditioning is important, Austin said.

“These guys have done a lot of things on their own from a mental side to get prepared,” Austin said. “The only thing I’ve been coaching is some adjustments to the initial scheme that we put in. Since day one, these guys have taken ownership of it and done an amazing job — a really, really nice job — of knowing their assignment from top to bottom. They don’t have very many mental errors.”

Tight ends coach Sean Beckton credited the offensive line with “setting the tone” in camp.

“The young skilled guys followed suit,” Beckton said.

‘Fight and strain’

If strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval has successfully reshaped the bodies of Husker players, coach Scott Frost still wants to see “fight and strain” during practice and games.

“I got the impression watching from afar that last year, when things got tough, the team kind of shut it down and quit,” Frost said Friday. “They tell me the same thing. I don’t want guys who quit.”

Frost said the mentality is coming.

“I want a whole team that, when they’re tired, they’re going to play even harder,” Frost said. “And when we’re behind, they’re going to play even harder. And in the fourth quarter, we’re going to play even harder. We’ve got a ways to go to get to that mentality.”

Huskers earn degrees

Three former Nebraska football players on Saturday graduated with their degrees.

Cornerback Ciante Evans, who last played for NU in 2013, returned to complete a degree in business administration. Evans currently plays in the Canadian Football League.

Other graduates included Boaz Joseph and Keyan Williams, who transferred to Ball State in the spring.

Scott Frost believes Maurice Washington will be ‘special’; Luke Gifford solid in return from injury

LINCOLN — Coach Scott Frost made no particular effort to slow down the hype train on freshman running back Maurice Washington.

Washington has been on campus one week, weighs 170 pounds and hasn’t eaten or lifted  the same as his teammates. But it’s football, and Washington is still good at carrying one.

“He’s had probably a dozen big plays, spectacular plays already in this camp,” Frost said. “He’s definitely opening some eyes and I think he’s got a bright future here. I’d say, at this point, he’s better than what I expected.

“It’s amazing. He hadn’t worked out much. He was focused on academics, he was working. I don’t think he was eating and getting all the nutrition he needed. He showed up quite a bit lighter than he was on his recruiting visit. So we didn’t know what we would get. But he’s going to be a special player.”

Frost praised running back Tre Bryant — returning from knee surgery — and senior Devine Ozigbo, who cut weight in the offseason.

“The big difference in our offense is, when you get a crease, are you going to get five, are you going to get 12 or are you going to go the whole way?” Frost said. “I think getting in shape and getting leaner for Devine has been big for him. He’s at least a step faster.”

Gifford solid in his return

Nebraska outside linebacker Luke Gifford was one of NU’s better defenders until a hip injury sidelined him for the back half of last season and spring practices.

Now Gifford has performed well in fall camp, Frost said.

“I’d say he’s exceeded my expectations, too,” Frost said. “He was still getting his sea legs under him at the beginning of camp, but he’s athletic, he’s big, he had pass-rushing skill, plays hard. He’s what you’re looking for.”

Gifford was one of five Huskers Frost picked out when asked which players were epitomizing toughness and physicality in camp. Frost also named receiver Stanley Morgan and inside linebackers Mohamed Barry, Will Honas and Dedrick Young.

Quick hits

Nebraska’s secondary created more takeaways on the first day of training camp than it did in five days of spring practices, said Frost, who called turnover margin the biggest stat in football.

“We’re ball aware and ball disruptive,” he said.

Two scholarship outside linebackers — Quayshon Alexander and Sedrick King — did not make the 110-man roster. Alexander, a sophomore, will miss the 2018 season while rehabbing an injury, Frost said. King, a senior, is away from the team handling personal issues in his home state of Florida. Frost said King will decide when he returns to school whether he wants to continue playing.

While Frost joked that Husker players may not love their new warm-up regimen , which he borrowed from an Oregon track coach , it gets them ready for practice in a short amount of time.

“It’s kind of a rite of passage, too, to not just go through stretch, but really dominate stretch,” Frost said. “It’s a mentality thing for us.”

After a weekend scrimmage, Nebraska will adjust how it allocates repetitions, giving more reps to players more likely to play during the season.

Nebraska’s next media availability is Tuesday.

With ‘miles to travel before Akron,’ Husker quarterback competition remains up in the air

LINCOLN — The defense looks great, freshman running back Maurice Washington is setting fall camp on fire and depth is building at nearly every position of need.

But coach Scott Frost would like to see more out of his quarterbacks.

That was his main message after Nebraska wrapped up the first week of preseason practice Friday. Frost said he’s amazed at the team’s growth since January. But the quarterbacks need to be better.

“I’d like to see them be farther ahead right now than what they are,” Frost said. “I think at the end of spring they were doing a really good job and it seems like they got it. We didn’t quite pick up there where we left off from spring.”

That’s the opposite of the overall team assessment after the first week. It seems the Huskers retained a good chunk of information from the spring, coaches said. Outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt said the defense looked better after a summer of work.

But the three eligible quarterbacks — true freshman Adrian Martinez, redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia and walk-on sophomore Andrew Bunch — are still coming along, Frost said. All three quarterbacks are taking equal reps. That will change after a scrimmage that will happen in the next week or so, Frost said.

They all need to be quicker, make faster decisions and be more consistent.

“Everything has just got to operate faster for them, and that’ll come when they’re familiar enough with the offense that it clicks in their mind faster,” Frost said. “We’ve gotta make some quicker decisions out there.”

You fix that by removing uncertainty, quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco said this week. And you remove uncertainty with reps on rep upon rep. That speeds up information processing.

“The better they know the playbook, they know the formations and they know the source of plays that are going to be hooked up,” Verduzco said, “the faster they’re going to be able to process the formation in regards to the play itself, the defensive structure.”

Already the quarterbacks have taken two “tests” given by Verduzco. They’re working on a fall camp open-book test. But knowing the schemes on paper is different from executing and making quick decisions in practice. Which is why Frost said Friday his staff doesn’t like giving the quarterbacks long, drawn-out meetings. If you are going to preach quick tempo, you have to practice it.

“So as many reps as we can give them in the classroom and on the field gives them an opportunity to improve,” Frost said.

The quarterback race will most likely come down to Martinez and Gebbia. Martinez is vying to be the first true freshman opening-game starter in Nebraska history. At times, Frost said, he looks great.

“Other times he looks like it’s moving a little too fast for him,” Frost said. “And he’s gotta pick up his pace physically and mentally. And at times its tremendous. At other times, when he’s not quite sure, he’s a little tentative.”

That’s the case of every quarterback in this system, Frost said. Eventually, they speed up and become more efficient. In 2017, UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton was second in the country in pass efficiency. But in 2016 as a redshirt freshman still trying to grasp the offense, Milton wasn’t close to the top 20.

So for the most important and most scrutinized position for Nebraska in 2018, it’ll be a slow burn.

“We know we have miles to travel before Akron,” Verduzco said. “I feel good about the fact that they’re gonna be where we want them to be for Akron.”

Maryland puts coach DJ Durkin on administrative leave amid football investigation

By: The Associated Press

Maryland placed coach DJ Durkin on administrative leave on Saturday while the school scrutinizes allegations of poor behavior by the football staff, apparent misdeeds that came to light following the death of a player on the practice field.

In an open letter, Athletic Director Damon Evans wrote: “At this time, the best decision for our football program is to place Maryland Head Football Coach DJ Durkin on leave so we can properly review the culture of the program.”

Offensive coordinator Matt Canada will serve as interim coach.

Earlier Saturday, the head of the football team’s strength and conditioning staff was placed on paid leave while the school investigates claims that he verbally abused and humiliated players, according to a person briefed on the situation. The person spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because Maryland had not announced the decision regarding Rick Court.

Maryland has also placed two athletic training staffers it did not identify on leave as it investigates the death of Jordan McNair. The 19-year-old offensive lineman was hospitalized May 29 after a team workout and died June 13. Dr. Rod Walters, a former college athletic trainer, has been hired by Maryland to investigate the circumstances. A report is expected by Sept. 15. McNair’s parents are being represented by Baltimore attorney Bill Murphy, whose firm is also investigating.

In his open letter, Evans wrote: “The external review into the tragic death of Jordan McNair continues, and we have committed to releasing publicly the report being prepared by an independent and national expert.”

ESPN reported that head football athletic trainer Wes Robinson and director of athletic training Steve Nordwall were placed on leave by Maryland.

An ESPN story Friday quoted unidentified players, former players and former members of Durkin’s staff, who contended that Court and Durkin created a toxic culture within the program.

“The safety and well-being of our student-athletes is our highest priority,” Evans wrote. “These alleged behaviors are not consistent with the values I expect all of our staff to adhere to and we must do better.”

Durkin is starting his third season at Maryland. The 40-year-old former Michigan defensive coordinator is 11-15 in two seasons after receiving a five-year contract worth $12.5 million in December 2015.

Durkin brought Court to Maryland to lead the strength and conditioning staff in 2016. Court had been the head strength coach at Mississippi State since 2014 under coach Dan Mullen. Court also worked with Durkin at Bowling Green in 2005 and ’06, when Durkin was an assistant.

Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald expressed support for Court on Saturday. Fitzgerald’s first two seasons with the Bulldogs coincided with Court’s time leading the strength program at the school.

“He worked us hard,” Fitzgerald told the AP. “They were definitely tough workouts, but ultimately he wasn’t out to get anybody. He wasn’t out to hurt anyone. His job is to make us physically fit and ready for the season, and that’s exactly what he did. From what I remember, he never really went over the line or did anything crazy like that.”

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