LINCOLN — Even Nebraska football coach Scott Frost had to admit his program had one terrific summer staycation. The Huskers added three transfers on defense, struck July gold in recruiting, and, best of all, some current players who looked undersized and defeated in January strutted around the sixth floorof Memorial Stadium with smiles and new muscles.
Frost can’t complain and didn’t try. But, by the end of Thursday’s training camp press conference, the first-year coach was ready to pivot to locking in and shutting out all the noise around him and his players. How about 110 blinders and mufflers for a month in the Husker fishbowl?
“Offseason momentum is for newspapers and fans on websites,” Frost said.
So, too, is any talk of mediocrity, of a rough first season against a stiff schedule with almost all of the toughest games on road. The coaches preseason poll dropped Thursday, and NU plays four of the top 14 teams. For the fourth straight year, Nebraska wasn’t in the preseason top 25. The Huskers didn’t get any votes, including from their own coach, who is voting in the poll. The number crunchers say it’ll be a tough season, 6-6, maybe worse. The preseason magazines say it, too. Patience, patience, patience.
Pshaw, said senior guard Tanner Farmer. Go big or go home.
“I don’t want to just win the Big Ten championship,” Farmer said. “I want to win THE championship.”
That’s probably where Frost wants the larger goal.
“It’s time to prove it, it’s time to show it, now is the time,” Frost said. “If we have anybody going into the season thinking this is a rebuilding year, we’re not going to accomplish as much as if we attack it.”
Having taken a 0-12 team to 13-0 — more than one Husker referenced it Thursday — Frost is an expert in fast turnarounds. He explained the progression that comes with a team thinking, then knowing, then expecting it can win. By the end of last season’s 4-8 disaster, when Nebraska gave up 54, 56, 56 points in its last three games, the Huskers were south of thinking they could win and flirting with full-blown doubt. Players were “second-guessing” themselves, outside linebacker Luke Gifford said, and it showed.
“I don’t think there was a whole lot of trust between us and the coaching staff,” Gifford said.
Frost, his assistants and strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval first built trust. Over the summer, in workouts that players said will prepare them for any rigors they’ll face during the season, the Huskers bonded even more. Though it takes time to know a coach, tight end Jack Stoll said, the phone calls and knocks on the office door increase over time.
Frost wants to see it translate to the morning practices that NU’s academic officials worked for months to guarantee. These workouts — with their unique, up-tempo warm-ups and a big emphasis on getting as many repetitions as possible — are part of Frost’s secret sauce, and its essence doesn’t change whether it’s April or August.
“I want them to be 100 percent all the time,” Frost said. “I don’t think we accomplished that in spring. It will be more intense if we get more guys to buy into that.”
He intended to tell players in the team meeting that their commitment ebbed and flowed in spring. Energy was great day one in spring. Other times, average.
Frost didn’t plan a ton of chatter about depth charts; the defensive linemen, Davis said, didn’t even have one in the spring, and Frost turned over the roster in the offseason — adding 51 players — that he couldn’t recall how many freshman walk-ons made the 110-man training camp roster. At quarterback — a red-hot conversation among fans — Frost declined to dish on how the race will play out.
“Have you ever played Monopoly?” Frost volleyed to a reporter. “And you have the race car and the horse and the iron and the battleship are all on Go to begin with? Everybody’s on Go right now. We might even roll a dice to see who can roll a six and take the first rep.”
At one point Thursday, Frost chuckled. He knows how it can be around Husker football, how little happens without the media knowing it. His team has to insulate itself from it and build.
“Time see how much ground we’ve made,” Frost said.
Farmer’s comments indicate he thinks Nebraska is further along than it was at any time before, during or after last season. Players are willing to work hard, Farmer said, but needed Frost and his staff to guide them.
NU was once a collection of guys all shooting off in their own directions, Farmer said. It was “chaos.”
“We’re all in harmony right now,” Farmer said. “And it’s awesome.”