Category Archives: Huskers News

Husker Camp Countdown: No. 36 Michael Decker

The World-Herald is counting down the top 50 Nebraska players you need to know heading into the 2017 season.

Michael Decker | 6-4 | 305 | Sophomore | C

A starting job came open with the departure of Dylan Utter, and Decker continues with his offseason push to win it. NU finished spring practice with Decker and Cole Conrad appearing fairly even, but Conrad also has value as a backup at other spots.

Decker is smart and athletic, and he added needed size through his first two years in the program. It has been awhile since Nebraska has featured a multiyear starter at center. Can the Omaha North graduate with a winning background become that player?

Husker notes: New tackling focus lies with ball disruption; Cole Conrad settling in at center

Though fans never saw them, reporters did, and Husker players remember them: The rugby-style tackling drills developed by NFL coach Pete Carroll. Nebraska practiced those drills often in preparation for last season — one of them had Nebraska defensive linemen on the ground, smacking their shoulder pads into a blocking pad.

NU isn’t using those drills anymore, said cornerback Lamar Jackson. The Huskers still practice tackling, Jackson said, and intend on becoming the “best tackling team in America.”

“It’s all proper footwork, proper shoulder-foot contact, but not really rugby style,” Jackson said.

Said defensive lineman Khalil Davis: “Coach (Bob) Diaco came in with what he wanted to do, and that’s what we’ve been doing. It’s basically like a normal tackle — head in front of the ball.”

Davis didn’t mind the old drills, especially when the scout team would try to “bring the heat” and start something with the first unit, but Nebraska has focused more on takeaways. The Huskers forced just four fumbles last season. That ranked 13th in the Big Ten.

“From the day he got here he talked about ball disruptions, getting the ball out, and we’ve definitely had more of an emphasis on that,” Davis said. “We’ve had a lot of it in spring ball and fall camp. Get our hands up and knock the ball.”

Each time the ball is on the ground — whether it’s an incomplete pass or a fumble — defenders who aren’t on the field yell, “TBD! TBD! TBD!” over and over. What does it mean?

“I can’t tell you — you’ll just have to hear it,” Davis said.

The purpose of the acronym is something Davis can share.

“It keeps the sideline happy, keeps us excited, keep us in the game,” Davis said.

Conrad settles in at center

A 12-word exchange with his position coach was all Cole Conrad needed to learn he was moving to center.

Nebraska offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh began the brief conversation midway through spring practices by posing a question to the junior from Fremont, who spent last season filling in all across the trenches.

“Hey, are you a smart guy?”

Conrad’s response: “Uh, I mean, I can be.”

Now Nebraska’s starting center, Conrad recalled Tuesday just how far he’s come in a few months from never playing the position before. It helped that he was eager to make the move and that snapping the ball came naturally to him. But there’s more to the job — like recognizing the defense, making calls and figuring out who to block.

Center also calls for different technique from tackle, where Conrad is more experienced and played throughout high school. The adjustment was significant, so much so that the 6-foot-5, 300-pound Conrad felt technique might be what cost him the starting nod as he and Michael Decker took their competition into fall camp.

“It was a battle; it was neck and neck for a while,” Conrad said. “I thought (Decker) might have had a better spring than me, honestly. But you just gotta keep working, keep grinding, keep growing, and things worked out.”

Nebraska settled on Conrad after spring workouts began with Decker and John Raridon vying for the top spot. Raridon has since moved to backup left guard while the sophomore Decker will also provide depth with the second unit.

Coach Mike Riley said a good center starts by being steady. Conrad is that.

“I think that Cole’s always had the confidence that that was what he could do,” Riley said. “He’s proved himself to be a good football player and a very reliable person.”

More good news could be coming, with the walk-on among the favorites to be awarded a scholarship in the next week. Conrad said it’s just more motivation to keep working as the line aims to be a catalyst for a breakthrough fall campaign.

“That definitely hits close to home when people are kind of calling us out or saying things,” Conrad said. “We try not to look at that. We try not to look at the negatives, but we also know what we have to correct, and we know what we did good (and) what we did not so good last year.”

Scholarships handed out

Riley said he handed out a few scholarships to walk-ons after practice on Tuesday.

But the coach said he isn’t done yet, so he declined to say who the scholarships went to. He said the same about news on which true freshmen will redshirt and captains.

Those announcements will be coming soon, the coach said.

Nebraska adds eight former football players to its list of Huskers with retired jerseys

Eight former Huskers who are members of the College Football Hall of Fame are being added to the list of Nebraska players with retired jerseys.

The university on Wednesday announced the honor posthumously for Guy Chamberlin, Clarence Swanson, Ed Weir, George Sauer, Sam Francis, Forrest Behm, Bobby Reynolds and Wayne Meylan. The most recent to play was Meylan, whose career spanned 1965 to ’67.

The players will have their names added to the North Stadium facade and will be honored at the season-opening game against Arkansas State on Sept. 2. The eight will join 17 other former Husker players to previously have their jerseys retired.

The numbers of those retired jerseys will continue to be used. The only permanently retired numbers in the NU program belong to Tom Novak (No. 60) and Bob Brown (No. 64).

“This is a fitting recognition for the greatest players of the first 75 years of Cornhusker football,” Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst said in a press release. “These men were at the pinnacle of the sport, earning induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. They are deserving of their names being placed alongside our other all-time greats at the top of the North Stadium.”

Surviving family members of the eight honorees will be invited to attend the Nebraska-Arkansas State game for the recognition.

The honorees:

Guy Chamberlin, Number N/A, 1913-1915 (1962 College FB HOF Inductee), Blue Springs, Neb.

Clarence Swanson, No. 1, 1918-21, (1973), Wakefield, Neb.

Ed Weir, No. 35, 1923-25, (1951), Superior, Neb.

George Sauer, No. 25, 1931-33 (1954), Lincoln.

Sam Francis, No. 38, 1934-36 (1977), Oberlin, Kan.

Forrest Behm, No. 33, 1938-40 (1988), Lincoln.

Bobby Reynolds, No. 12, 1950-52 (1984), Grand Island, Neb.

Wayne Meylan, No. 66, 1965-67 (1991), Bay City, Mich.

Quick hits

» Jackson said he’s not on special teams. He’s OK with that.

“It makes you feel like you’re a little bit more important,” Jackson said of not being on special teams. He’s likely to be NU’s starting boundary corner. “It’s all part of the game. If that’s where they put you, you’ll have to go out there and earn your respect just like everybody else. I mean, I did my time, now it’s time for me to do my work on the field.”

» Conrad said the difference is “noticeable” when lining up against starting nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg (a 6-foot-5, 305-pound junior) compared to Deontre Thomas (a 6-3, 280-pound true freshman). He said Thomas “has got some shake” to him while Stoltenberg offers more sheer power.

» Tanner Farmer said fall camp has been invaluable as he prepares to open his junior season at right guard. “It was a big growing period for the entire team as a whole, and especially for me,” Farmer said. “I learned a lot and I got a lot better.”

» In terms of preparation for the Sept. 2 opener against Arkansas State, Riley said there hasn’t been a ramp up in enthusiasm or intensity. He has liked the intensity of this fall camp from the beginning, he said.

» Stoltenberg is back practicing with the team. He underwent concussion protocol last week. Thomas was practicing in Stoltenberg’s place.

» Freshman running back Jaylin Bradley is out with an ankle injury. He’s missed “a few days” Riley said. Bradley is among a handful of true freshmen vying for playing time.

» Riley still doesn’t see any separation at the running back position. He does like what he sees out of the three healthy backs — sophomore Tre Bryant, junior Mikale Wilbon and junior Devine Ozigbo.

» Riley said he anticipates senior wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El will be returning punts this season. True freshman Tyjon Lindsey and junior Stanley Morgan Jr. also have been returning punts in practice.

After Huskers captured Big Ten title in 2016, Penn State looks to return to top of league

Nebraska joined heady company last year when the Huskers captured the Big Ten volleyball title a year after winning the national championship.

NU coach John Cook became only the second Big Ten coach to put both an NCAA title and Big Ten championship on his résumé, joining fellow Hall of Fame coach Russ Rose from Penn State.

The Huskers and Nittany Lions have been star-crossed volleyball rivals since well before both joined the nation’s top volleyball conference, but last year’s match in the NCAA regional semifinal — the teams’ third meeting in 35 days — showcased how razor-thin the margin was between the Big Ten’s top clubs in 2016, perhaps the best collection of teams in the conference’s history.

Nebraska won its second Big Ten title by one game over Minnesota and Wisconsin, thanks to two regular-season wins over Penn State. Yet on Dec. 9, the Nittany Lions played confident, powerful volleyball in taking the first two sets and led the Huskers 24-22 in the third, one swing away from ending NU’s season in front of a stunned Devaney Center crowd.

But Penn State never landed the killing stroke. Nebraska fought off the two match points, won the third set, and rolled the rest of the way to a five-set win.

In a postgame press conference, Cook expressed as much relief as joy. Nebraska had spent so much energy over 10 weeks to win the league that being matched against its Big Ten rival made the Huskers feel like they had to start pushing the rock up the hill all over again.

“When you’ve got to beat a team that has nothing to lose and that you’ve already beaten twice, it’s like you’ve got to win the Big Ten again to get somewhere,” he said.

Finishing atop the Big Ten standings is never a small task, but NU’s trophy might take on extra shine with a little perspective. The top three teams in the conference each spent time ranked No. 1 in the country in 2016 and six conference teams reached the sweet 16.

Half of the 14 players named first-team All-Americans were from Big Ten schools, including the national player of the year, Minnesota outside hitter Sarah Wilhite.

Two of those players are Nittany Lions. Because both return, and the Huskers graduated three All-Americans of their own, the expectations between the two programs are switched in 2017. Big Ten coaches picked Penn State to win its 17th conference title in a preseason poll.

The Nittany Lions were the clear choice because of their returning firepower, including outside hitters Simone Lee and Ali Frantti, All-America middle blocker Haleigh Washington and experienced setter Abby Detering.

Every other Big Ten challenger lost a signature player from a year ago. So to challenge to be Nebraska’s successor as conference champion, teams will have to develop new talents quickly.

With another batch of high-ranked recruiting classes entering the league, young skill abounds. And if recent years are indications, even falling short of the Big Ten championship can put a team within a couple of swings of postseason greatness in December.

Here’s how I think the Big Ten race shakes out this season.

1. Penn State

2016: 24-10 overall, 14-6 Big Ten

Preseason ranking: 6

Rose returns as much offensive talent as any team in the country not named Stanford or Texas, the teams that played for last year’s NCAA title. Front-row talents Lee, Washington and Frantti were each preseason All-Big Ten picks, but Penn State’s best teams also have been excellent in the back row. Sophomore libero Kendall White was outstanding as a freshman and will be key to keeping Penn State in system to get the ball to its terminators.

2. Minnesota

2016: 29-4, 17-3

Preseason ranking: 4

The Gophers outrank Penn State in the national preseason coaches poll as a courtesy for making the final four last season. But it won’t be easy to replace Wilhite or twin middle blockers Hannah and Paige Tapp. Luckily for coach Hugh McCutcheon, he gets to rebuild around the best setter in the conference — and maybe the country — in junior Samantha Seliger-Swenson. Sophomore outside hitter Lexi Hart will be asked to carry more of the load, and the Gophers landed a dynamic talent in freshman opposite Stephanie Samedy, the No. 5 recruit in the country.

3. Wisconsin

2016: 28-5, 17-3

Preseason ranking: 7

Life after Lauren Carlini begins for Wisconsin after the graduation of the Badgers’ four-year starter and first-team All-America setter. Her replacement is likely to be freshman Sydney Hilley, the nation’s No. 3 recruit who graduated from high school early and arrived at Wisconsin this spring. Hilley headlines the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, which joins preseason All-Big Ten middle Tionna Williams. Much will depend on the health of outside hitter Molly Haggerty, the 2016 Big Ten freshman of the year, who is still recovering from offseason back surgery.

4. Nebraska

2016: 31-3, 18-2

Preseason ranking: 5

It’s hard to say which departed star Nebraska will miss most. Opposite hitter Kadie Rolfzen was NU’s best all-around player, middle blocker Amber Rolfzen was one of the nation’s most feared net defenders, and Justine Wong-Orantes was often the player for whom opposing coaches saved their highest praise. The battery of setter Kelly Hunter and outside hitter Mikaela Foecke, veterans from NU’s NCAA and Big Ten title teams, should keep Nebraska from free-falling in the Big Ten. Redshirt freshman middle Lauren Stivrins has the talent to be a star. With Wong-Orantes, Nebraska was one of the country’s top passing and defensive teams. The pressure is on her replacement, junior Kenzie Maloney, to keep the Huskers there.

5. Michigan State

2016: 25-9, 13-7

Preseason ranking: 17

Picking the order in the middle of the Big Ten, where all of the following few teams should make the NCAA tournament, is tough. The Spartans get the edge here because even though Michigan State must replace All-Big Ten outside hitter Chloe Reinig, junior setter Rachel Minarick will still have plenty of targets, including 6-foot-6 opposite Brooke Kranda and 6-4 middle Alyssa Garvelink.

6. Purdue

2016: 19-14, 8-12

Preseason ranking: 25

The Boilermakers finished well under .500 in the Big Ten, but still made the second round of the NCAA tournament. Many of the players who got them there return, highlighted by preseason All-Big Ten middle Danielle Cuttino, who averaged better than four kills per set last year. Returning starting setter Ashley Evans and pin hitters Azariah Stahl and Sherridan Atkinson give the Boilermakers an experienced unit that only has to face Penn State and Wisconsin once this season.

7. Illinois

2016: 17-14, 10-10

Preseason ranking: NR

Former Husker assistant Chris Tamas was the pick to become the new Illinois head coach when Kevin Hambly left for defending national champion Stanford. He’ll have potential All-Big Ten players at a few key spots. Junior middle blocker Ali Bastianelli led the Big Ten in blocks, and senior libero Brandi Donnelly led the Big Ten in digs in 2016. Junior setter Jordyn Poulter is in need of a breakout star on the pins. It could be outside hitter Jacque Quade, who averaged 2.8 kills per set as a freshman last year.

8. Michigan

2016: 24-11, 11-9

Preseason ranking: 16

The Wolverines return five starters from last year’s team that reached the sweet 16 before losing to Creighton, but will have to replace 6-5 Abby Cole, one of the league’s top middle blockers throughout her career. Sophomore setter Mackenzi Welsh was Big Ten freshman of the week four times last season. Her primary targets should be middles Claire Kieffer-Wright and Cori Crocker, plus versatile outside hitter Carly Skjodt.

9. Ohio State

2016: 22-13, 10-10

Preseason ranking: 21

Coach Geoff Carlston’s Buckeyes seem to have found some magic against Nebraska, earning a win over the Huskers three years in a row. Repeating last year’s success of reaching the sweet 16 won’t be easy with the graduation of second-team All-America middle Taylor Sandbothe, but the Buckeyes bring back experienced outside hitters Audra Appold and Luisa Schirmer, the latter of whom had 16 kills in Ohio State’s win in Lincoln last year.

10. Iowa

2016: 19-13, 9-11

Preseason ranking: NR

Keep an eye on a couple of new additions that signal coach Bond Shymansky’s recruiting prowess. Outside hitter Taylor Louis comes in from Marquette, where she averaged 4.4 kills per set last season. Freshman setter Brie Orr, a product of the powerhouse Northern Lights club program in the Twin Cities, should start immediately. This could be the year Iowa makes a run at its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1994.

11. Maryland

2016: 12-20, 4-16

Preseason ranking: NR

Just when Big Ten coaches thought they had enough to worry about, Maryland brings in its first top-10 recruiting class this fall to go with sophomore outside hitter Gia Milana, a breakout star last season. Maryland earned a 3-2 win over ranked Ohio State last season, and seems poised to spoil a few other teams’ weekends this year. The Terrapins play Nebraska twice over the course of 10 days in November.

12. Northwestern

2016: 10-22, 3-17

Preseason ranking: NR

Further evidence of the Big Ten’s prestige in volleyball is Northwestern landing a top-25 recruiting class despite winning 10 matches last year. Northwestern’s freshmen will have the benefit of hitting off senior setter Taylor Tashima, who should end her career near the top of the school’s all-time assist charts. A full college athletics experience will have to wait, however. With Welsh-Ryan Arena undergoing renovations, Northwestern will play home matches at a local high school this fall.

13. Indiana

2016: 17-16, 6-14

Preseason ranking: NR

Indiana did well to get above .500 last year, but now must replace leading attackers Allison Hammond and Jazzmine McDonald. The Hoosiers also are making a move to keep up in the Big Ten facilities race, moving out of University Gym and into a new 3,000-seat volleyball/wrestling venue in 2018.

14. Rutgers

2016: 4-29, 0-20

Preseason ranking: NR

Rutgers is 1-59 in Big Ten matches since joining the conference. The good news: The Scarlet Knights will play six of their first eight conference matches at home. The bad news: Rutgers ends the regular season playing Penn State, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Progress of several Husker true freshmen leave some in position to play this year

LINCOLN — Ready or not, a handful of Nebraska’s true freshmen will play this season.

For some, such as wide receiver Tyjon Lindsey or linebacker Avery Roberts, that isn’t much of a surprise. Both were highly touted recruits who coaches have said would compete for time early in their careers.

But for others, such as defensive tackle Deontre Thomas, running back Jaylin Bradley and offensive lineman Brenden Jaimes, injuries and dwindling depth at their positions could push them onto the field sooner than expected.

While senior defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg underwent concussion protocol last week, the 6-foot-3, 280-pound Thomas marched up the depth chart. He was practicing with the first team at nose tackle by week’s end, and coach Mike Riley hinted last week that Thomas could see the field even after Stoltenberg returns.

“Really quick,” Riley said of Thomas. “Good change of pace for the Huskers there with Mick and then Deontre. Good change of pace.”

Offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh also said Thomas is giving his unit a bit of trouble in practice.

“That guy is powerful and explosive and he has some stuff to him,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s an explosive guy and he’s fun to watch every day and compete against.”

But Cavanaugh has admitted his line has struggled some days. The starters seem to be set, with Nick Gates and David Knevel at tackles, Jerald Foster and Tanner Farmer at guards, and Cole Conrad at center. But inconsistency could mean different lineups, which means Jaimes could poke his nose into games.

“Jaimes is doing a really nice job,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s learning quick, he’s a good athlete, obviously. He picks up technique quick, he’s getting quite a few reps in there. He’s doing a good job.”

Bradley, who led Bellevue West to a state title nine months ago, impressed Husker coaches early in fall camp.

Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf and Riley have been waiting for one of Nebraska’s backs to take charge. But in the past three weeks, neither sophomore Tre Bryant nor juniors Mikale Wilbon and Devine Ozigbo have run away with the starting spot — providing coaches more time to think about giving Bradley a shot.

“When he has the ball in his hands, he’s explosive,” Langsdorf said early in camp. “It’s been fun to see. He’s had a couple really nice runs, caught a screen and came out of the backfield nicely. He’s doing a good job of showing what he has, talent-wise, and then he’s just got to keep continuing to learn.

“But he’s pushing this group. It’s been fun seeing how quickly he’s picked it up.”

Lindsey and Roberts, meanwhile, will play for sure.

Lindsey received praise from Langsdorf, Riley and wide receivers coach Keith Williams last week. And Roberts has been impressing Riley and linebackers coach Trent Bray since he enrolled early and began practicing last spring.

Whether true freshman quarterback Tristan Gebbia plays will be determined on the health of starter Tanner Lee. Nebraska doesn’t like to burn the redshirt for quarterbacks. The Huskers redshirted freshman Patrick O’Brien a season ago.

But Langsdorf said a few weeks ago that Gebbia is battling with O’Brien for the backup spot. Meaning Gebbia could be an injury away from seeing the field.

Riley said Friday he and his staff would determine who they redshirt over the weekend. He’ll likely announce that early this week.

Who those redshirts go to may mean guaranteed playing time this season for a few true freshmen. Ready or not.

Arkansas State at Nebraska

When: 7 p.m. Sept. 2

Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln

Radio: 103.1 FM

Competition suits Nebraska tight ends to a tee with each Husker battling to start

LINCOLN — Three weeks into a heated position battle, the biggest source of tension in the Nebraska tight ends room is about golf.

More specifically: whether redshirt freshman Jack Stoll is any good at it.

“I am the best golfer in the tight ends room,” Stoll said confidently the other day. “For sure.”

Senior tight end Connor Ketter disagrees. Vehemently.

“We argue about it all the time,” Ketter said.

This summer, with more time off than usual, the Nebraska tight ends golfed together fairly often. They played doubles at a handful of courses in Lincoln, and seemed to rotate who had the best day on the links.

If you add fullback Luke McNitt in the group, Ketter says, then the best golfer is Luke. If not Luke, probably Tyler Hoppes. Or, Ketter says, himself.

“Stoll thinks he might be in the top, but I’ll throw myself in the top,” Ketter said.

That time spent on tee boxes and greens this summer is starting to help the group during camp, they said. The summer camaraderie is spilling onto the football field as Stoll, Ketter, Hoppes and the rest compete for the starting tight end spot. And as with their golf game, they all believe they’re out to prove themselves. That as a group, despite losing three senior tight ends from a season ago, they’re all actually pretty good.

“No one knows what the tight ends got this year,” Ketter said. “So we all talked about how we all need to step up. Prove ourselves not just to our teammates but to the coaches and everyone that we’re here to make plays and we can do it.”

Tight ends accounted for only 28 receptions, 283 yards and two touchdowns last season. But with the repackaging and retooling of the offense under redshirt junior quarterback Tanner Lee, the tight ends will no doubt be getting more looks in 2017.

And they know it.

“With Tanner Lee at quarterback,” Ketter said, “we’re gonna make plays.”

Coaches have praised the tight ends’ work the past three weeks.

Hoppes is the leader in the clubhouse to start Sept. 2 against Arkansas State. Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said Hoppes is “probably playing as well as anyone” the past few weeks.

Hoppes transferred from Wayne State in 2014. He redshirted, then played sparingly on special teams in 2016. But the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Lincoln Southwest graduate is starting to show flashes of exactly what Nebraska wants at the position.

“He’s a great matchup with the linebacker and the safety,” Langsdorf said. “That kind of player at that position can be tough on defenses, especially in the red zone. We’re looking forward to seeing him make those plays.”

Tight ends coach Tavita Thompson called Hoppes a “very, very, very good route runner” and hailed Hoppes’ soft hands. Quite simply, Thompson said, Hoppes just gets it. He understands the position. Gets where he’s supposed to be, and when, and why.

“He’s one of those guys if you tell him, ‘Hey, why don’t you try this or that? do you see this or you see that?’ he knows what you’re talking about. He gets it,” Thompson said.

Losing Cethan Carter hurts, the tight ends coach said. The things Carter could do on the field, even just how physically imposing he was, Nebraska will miss that.

But Thompson says the Huskers can make up for that with Hoppes’ finesse. The way Hoppes plays reminds Thompson of Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.

Kelce was the Chiefs’ leading receiver in 2016, catching 85 balls for 1,125 yards and four touchdowns. And Thompson thinks Nebraska could use Hoppes like the Chiefs use Kelce: as a legitimate threat through the air.

“Travis Kelce fits that Tyler Hoppes mold,” Thompson said with a smile.

Behind Hoppes, coaches don’t see much of a drop-off. Thompson really likes the way Stoll looks. How aggressive he is. And loves what sophomore Matt Snyder can contribute.

Which is encouraging, Thompson said, considering what Nebraska wants in the passing game.

With Hoppes or Stoll or Snyder or Ketter, you can put defenses in uncomfortable positions, Langsdorf said. Rather than show your hand on a passing down with four receivers wide, Nebraska can mask plays with three receivers and a tight end, making the defense question that much more what the Huskers will do.

“You can get them in weird defensive personnel groups (that way),” Thompson said. “And game by game you can figure out what you can do with a tight end and force the defense and force their hands in places.”

Hoppes might be the leader to start now, but Stoll and Ketter feel great about stepping in as needed, they said.

The competition to start is still there. Everyone obviously wants playing time. But the collective mentality of the tight ends room mirrors the competitive nature they all shared on the golf course.

They’re just out to prove they’re better than some may think.

“In winter workouts, every single day we decided ‘Hey, we’re going to get better. We’re going to prove everyone wrong,’ ” Stoll said. “And I think by now at this time in fall camp we’ve really proved we can go out there, we can play, and we can really make a huge impact for this team.”

Freshmen Lauren Stivrins, Anezka Szabo show promise in Nebraska volleyball scrimmage

LINCOLN — After the last couple of preseason Red-White scrimmages, Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook’s need to review video to decide starters was a little perfunctory. With several multiyear starters in place, lineups were set. Roles were decided.

But this year’s edition of the annual intrasquad matchup will likely have Husker coaches poring over footage to figure out who has the edge in a couple of battles before NU, ranked No. 5 in the preseason, opens its schedule in Florida next weekend in the VERT Challenge.

On a Red team made up mostly of players with more match experience, redshirt freshman Lauren Stivrins made the most of her debut with 16 kills on .538 hitting to go with seven blocks, as the Red rallied after dropping the first set to beat the White team 19-25, 25-13, 25-23, 25-18 in front of 6,028 fans at the Devaney Center.

“She’s worked really hard to get in this position,” Cook said of Stivrins. “She’s at our M1 spot, meaning she’s next to the setter. You saw tonight how good she is in transition of getting up, getting available, getting behind (the setter) when the play is going really fast. That’s why you get her 26 (attacks).”

Most of Stivrins’ damage came in the second half of the match, when both teams settled down after a ragged start. The player from Scottsdale, Arizona, had seven kills on nine swings in the final set, finding a rhythm with redshirt freshman setter Hunter Atherton from Prospect, Ohio, whose time with the Red unit may come in handier than expected.

After the match, Cook said Atherton would see at least some playing time next weekend at the VERT Challenge because senior starter Kelly Hunter is still recovering from an injury the coach declined to specify. Hunter, a first-team All-American last season, may play in one of NU’s matches against No. 18 Oregon or No. 12 Florida, but not both.

“Her injury is still in the process of rehabbing and it’s not 100 percent yet,” Cook said, “so we’re risking potentially fatiguing her out and having her get hurt and reinjured.”

Atherton, who would be making her college debut next weekend, had 33 assists Saturday, and as the match wore on, became increasingly comfortable, Cook said. After committing 10 hitting errors with some shaky passing in the first set, the Red team hit .278 over the final three sets.

“We started communicating a lot more, which definitely helped,” Stivrins said. “We figured we play this team every day in practice, like why is it any different? We should focus on the game and not what’s going on around us, so we just focused in.”

Coaches put the two freshmen vying for the starting opposite hitter spot on different sides Saturday, and Anezka Szabo made a strong statement leading the White team with 15 kills on a match-high 46 swings. The 6-foot-3 left-hander from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, took confident swings much of the night, earning compliments from Cook.

“She’s been doing it the whole time she’s been here,” the coach said. “She’s like a different player than what I saw in club. She’s really blossoming.”

Said Szabo: “I just tried to think of it as a practice, I guess, and zone everything else out and just really put my game face on.”

Freshman opposite Jazz Sweet from Tecumseh, Kansas, finished with three kills and as many errors on her 16 attacks for the Red.

Mikaela Foecke finished with a double-double — 11 kills and 12 digs — for the Red to showcase her bid to be a six-rotation player this year. But the upperclassmen competing for the second outside hitter spot had their ups and downs Saturday.

Junior Olivia Boender got 42 swings for the White team, which played assistant coach Kayla Banwarth at setter, and finished with 13 kills and eight errors.

Senior outside hitter Annika Albrecht had six kills and seven errors, but showed off her all-around skills by adding 12 digs and four aces playing for the Red team. Earlier in the day, the team revealed on Twitter that Albrecht was named one of the two captains for the season, along with Hunter.

“I walked in the locker room for practice, and Coach had put a plaque on my locker,” Albrecht said. “It was pretty cool. It’s a really big honor and it’s something I’ve been working toward. Very exciting.”

Sitting next to Albrecht, Stivrins interjected: “Very well deserved.”

It was a sentiment everyone agreed on after the scrimmage. But little else is certain as Nebraska opens the season next weekend.

Not even for Cook, who when asked which players improved their chances of playing time, didn’t have a quick reply.

“I’ve got to look at video,” he said. “It’s tough because we’ve got to figure out a lineup and rotation to go with. I don’t know yet.”

Red………………….19 25 25 25

White……………….25 13 23 18

Red (Kills-Aces-Blocks): Stivrins 16-3-7, Foecke 11-1-4, Holman 6-0-7, Albrecht 6-4-3, Atherton 3-0-3, Sweet 3-0-4

White: Szabo 15-0-2, Boender 13-1-3, Slaughter 6-0-2, McClellan 5-0-4, Banwarth 3-0-0, Havers 1-0-2, Densberger 0-1-0

Set Assists: R 38 (Atherton 33, Townsend 3, Maloney 2), W 39 (Banwarth 33, Densberger 3, Boender 2, Slaughter 1). Total Digs: R 58, W 50. Attendance: 6,028

Husker notes: Freshman receiver Tyjon Lindsey proves to be fast learner; New looks for offensive line

LINCOLN — A big play at Nebraska’s Thursday practice pitted two top-100 recruits against each other.

Husker freshman receiver Tyjon Lindsey beat sophomore corner Lamar Jackson by several steps on a post route, and quarterback Tanner Lee placed the ball right in Lindsey’s hands for a 30-yard-plus gain.

Later in practice, Lindsey caught a deep pass in double coverage. He also caught a touchdown during a red-zone drill. With injuries to Jaevon McQuitty, Keyan Williams and Bryan Reimers keeping them out of practice, Lindsey was working with the Nos. 1 and 2 offenses.

“Today was a little bit better example of what he can do and what he can show,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. “There’s been some days where he’s played probably not as fast, where he’s thinking. But I like what I saw today.”

The No. 50 overall player in the nation according to 247 Sports’ composite service, Lindsey has been working to better learn his assignments, according to several coaches and teammates. Nebraska’s pro-style pass offense requires precise, well-timed routes, and receivers coach Keith Williams is a stickler for it. On Thursday, Williams gave Lindsey pointers during drills on how to run routes at full speed.

Redshirt freshman receiver JD Spielman said Lindsey is forthright about asking questions when he doesn’t know something.

“If he doesn’t know the play, he’ll look directly at one of us and say, ‘What do I have on this?’ Then we’ll tell him and we’ll talk about it after and then he’ll understand it,” Spielman said. “Each practice, you can tell he’s been getting better and better with his plays. He’s understanding more, he’s making less mistakes.”

New looks for offensive line

Nebraska’s offensive line on Thursday saw some exotic pressure packages from NU’s defense. Several overwhelmed the line, including one that led to a touch sack and safety of quarterback Tanner Lee. Langsdorf conceded they were “tough” looks from the defense, but line coach Mike Cavanaugh wanted more “frickin’ intensity” from his unit.

“There’s going to be moments where something new comes up,” Cavanaugh said. “I’m not a guy who’s going to tell everybody what’s going on. We’re going to have to figure it out and then work and then straighten it out.”

Cavanaugh spoke to three different sets of reporters over 15 minutes. Generally, Cavanaugh said, Nebraska’s offensive line has had a strong camp. He likes the chemistry of the group.

It appears NU’s No. 1 line is set for the season. Junior Tanner Farmer is the starting right guard — staving off any lingering challenge from redshirt freshman Boe Wilson — while junior Cole Conrad has “locked down” the starting center job over sophomore Michael Decker. A swing lineman last season who started at right tackle, Conrad moved to center halfway through spring camp.

“He’s done a pretty good job overall consistently with calls, technique,” Cavanaugh said of Conrad.

At left guard, Cavanaugh said, Jerald Foster starts, while John Raridon and No. 2 right tackle Matt Farniok are working behind him. Farniok, a redshirt freshman, also backs up the starting right tackle, senior David Knevel, whom Cavanaugh said has had a good camp.

At left tackle, junior Nick Gates enters his third year as the starter.

“When Nick trusts his technique, he’s as good as there is,” Cavanaugh said. “It comes down to that. It’s what you do. He’s a good enough athlete. He’s tough, he’s powerful. He’s worked real hard. He’s been doing a good job.”

Gates’ backup — should he need one — may be true freshman Brenden Jaimes, who worked with the No. 2 offense Thursday.

“He’s smart guy, picks things up fast, he doesn’t flinch,” Cavanaugh said of the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Jaimes. “He’s been fun. He’s tough.”

Cavanaugh said he’s not sure whether Jaimes will play or not this season. Nebraska hasn’t used a true freshman lineman with any regularity since 2011, when Tyler Moore started at right tackle. Moore left the following training camp.

Asked about other freshman linemen, Cavanaugh only mentioned Matt Sichterman, who’s working at right tackle and center.

“Powerful guy, uses his hands well in run blocking,” Cavanaugh said.

Still no separation in backfield

Nebraska coach Mike Riley’s deadline to find a clear No. 1 running back is here.

Riley said he wanted to find a starter among Tre Bryant, Mikale Wilbon and Devine Ozigbo by the end of this week. Otherwise, he said, he’d stick with a rotation.

As of Thursday, Langsdorf said, no back has separated himself from the pack.

“We haven’t really had anyone take off with that job yet,” Langsdorf said.

One reason, Langsdorf said, is Nebraska needs to have more live tackling to figure out which back is the best.

“You’ve really got to get some live tackling in there to really have a good evaluation,” Langsdorf said. “When you’re doing things that aren’t live, it makes it hard sometimes to see how they’re hitting a hole and breaking tackles and taking on those hits. It’s just a tough evaluation and we haven’t really had anyone take off with that job yet.”

Langsdorf again praised true freshman Jaylin Bradley’s work, though he didn’t give a word on whether Bradley, a Bellevue West graduate, will redshirt this season.

Quick hits

» Senior tight end Tyler Hoppes is having a strong camp, Langsdorf said.

“He’s probably playing as well as anybody on the offense,” Langsdorf said of Hoppes. “That kind of player at that position can be tough on defenses — especially in the red zone.”

» Bryant, Reimers, Williams and nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg did not practice Thursday.

» Nebraska will hold an open practice for students next Saturday.

» Several NFL scouts attended Thursday’s workout.

No. 22 Nebraska jumps to early lead in shutout of Kansas in season opener

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Nebraska showed the kind of offensive punch and balance it was hoping to see during Friday’s regular-season opener at the Rock Chalk Invitational.

The 22nd-ranked Huskers got goals from three players as they rolled past Kansas 3-0.

Nebraska scored a total of 25 goals in 22 matches last season. But on Friday, sophomore Meg Brandt scored her third career goal and then sophomore Elyse Huber added her first career goal and senior Alli Peterson followed with her second career goal.

Brandt, who was on the Big Ten all-freshman team last year, scored in the seventh minute off an assist from Michaela Loebel. Then with 8:33 left in the first half, Huber scored on a header off an assist from Haley Hanson as the Huskers took a 2-0 lead to halftime.

Peterson’s header midway through the second half gave the Huskers some insurance. Peterson had scored one goal in 46 career starts at Nebraska before Friday.

Peterson was one of four Huskers to play all 90 minutes, along with Sinclaire Miramontez, Caroline Buelt and goalkeeper Aubrei Corder. Corder, a sophomore making her 23rd career start, made two saves in earning her 12th shutout.

Nebraska controlled the offensive attack as it took eight shots on goal, while Kansas, which was an NCAA tournament team last season, only had two.

The Huskers will stay in Lawrence and face Tulsa on Sunday at 10 a.m.

Nebraska (1-0) ……… 2 1—3

Kansas (0-1) …………. 0 0—0

Goals: NU, Brandt, Huber, Peterson.

Bob Diaco coaching from press box is a change from past Nebraska defensive coordinators

Bob Diaco is used to working from the press box as a defensive coordinator. It will just be a change for Nebraska football in 2017 to have its defensive coordinator on level six of Memorial Stadium during home games and visiting coaches booths on the road.

In recent seasons, Mark Banker, John Papuchis, Carl Pelini, Kevin Cosgrove, Bo Pelini and Craig Bohl all worked from the sideline during games. It was the regular place, too, for Charlie McBride from 1982 through 1999, the first 16 of those 18 years working alongside former Husker head coach Tom Osborne.

Diaco told The World-Herald this summer that he prefers the vantage point and that his demeanor switches for games — he’s very dialed in.

Asked about it during his Tuesday post-practice session with reporters, Diaco said: “I just like to focus. Vantage point. Distractions, lack of them there. Hide from the masses, the pitchforks and the burning sticks.”

Diaco will return to the press box after spending the last three seasons as head coach at Connecticut. Previous stints as a defensive coordinator came at Notre Dame and Cincinnati, and as co-defensive coordinator at Central Michigan.

The late Bob Elliott, who worked with Diaco at Notre Dame, had told The World-Herald during NU spring practice that Diaco shifts gears during games — when he is studying the opposing offense and calling plays — from the ball of energy that people see at practices.

“Bob’s great before a game, he’s great at halftime … but he’s a different guy up in the box,” said Elliott, the veteran coach who died last month. “He’s calm. And sometimes I get out of hand and he has to calm me down.”

Papuchis spent his first four years on the Husker staff watching from the press box as defensive line coach. He moved to the sideline full-time in 2012 after replacing Carl Pelini as NU defensive coordinator, a position he would hold for three seasons.

“Like anything, when it’s new there’s a little bit to get used to,” Papuchis told The World-Herald after the season-opening game in 2012. “Obviously as time goes on my comfort level will become greater and greater. That’s the first game, other than the bowl game, that I’ve been on the sideline since 2002. So it’s been a while.

“The game looks different obviously from the field level. Where you need to stand to see what you need to see is different, so it takes a little bit of time to get used to it.”

Recent Nebraska offensive coordinators have mostly worked from the press box, although Danny Langsdorf spent the 2015 season on the Husker sideline before moving back upstairs a year ago, and Shawn Watson came down for some games in 2009.

Tim Miles pleased with return of Saturday home games in Big Ten schedule, but tough stretches await Huskers

LINCOLN — What a surprise.

Nebraska gets to play a Big Ten home game on a Saturday.

Last season, the Huskers never played a home league game on the most traditional day for college sports. For 2017-18, Pinnacle Bank Arena will be used on two Saturdays: Jan. 27 against Iowa and Feb. 10 against Rutgers.

“That’s something I took note of,” coach Tim Miles said Wednesday.

The sixth-year coach also noticed a four-game stretch from Dec. 3 through 16.

All Big Ten teams will play two league games in early December because the schedule has been pushed up one week so the league tourney could be played in New York at Madison Square Garden starting Feb. 28.

Nebraska will play Dec. 3 (Sunday) at Michigan State, then host Minnesota on Dec. 5 (Tuesday).

NU’s next two nonconference games are at Creighton on Dec. 9 and hosting Kansas on Dec. 16. Those four combined to win 100 games (20, 24, 25 and 31) last year. Michigan State and Kansas are expected preseason top-five picks.

Once Big Ten play resumes in January, the Huskers have three road games in 11 days (Northwestern, Purdue, Penn State) around a Jan. 9 home game with Wisconsin.

“Those are two big challenges in the schedule when we’re going to need to be at our best,” Miles said.

If Nebraska can hang on until mid-February, it wraps up the regular season with four of its final five at home.

NU also will have three games on Mondays and one on a Friday. This season, for the first time in Big Ten history, games are scheduled for every day of the week.

“This is a compressed schedule,” league TV liaison Mark Rudner said Wednesday. “We took 112 games and fit them into a 55-day period.”

Miles said Nebraska still awaits an answer on the eligibility appeal of junior forward Isaac Copeland.

The 6-foot-9 transfer from Georgetown currently can’t play until Dec. 16 (Kansas) because he was a midyear transfer. But his injury status last season for the first semester — he had back surgery at Nebraska in February — has led to the appeal for his season to begin in November.

Miles also has yet to fill two openings on his staff: the player development spot held by Ali Farokhmanesh, who left to become a full-time assistant at Drake; and video coordinator, held by Gregory Eaton, who moved into NU’s basketball operations job.

Check out the Huskers’ complete 2017-18 schedule below:

Nov. 11: Eastern Illinois

Nov. 13: North Texas

Nov. 16: at St. John’s

Nov. 19: North Dakota

Advocare Invitational (Orlando, Fla.)

» Nov. 23: UCF

» Nov. 24: West Virginia or Marist

» Nov. 26: TBA

Nov. 29: Boston College

Dec. 3: at Michigan State

Dec. 5: Minnesota

Dec. 9: at Creighton

Dec. 16: Kansas

Dec. 20: Texas-San Antonio

Dec. 22: Delaware State

Dec. 29: Stetson

Jan. 2: at Northwestern

Jan. 6: at Purdue

Jan. 9: Wisconsin

Jan. 12: at Penn State

Jan. 15: Illinois

Jan. 18: Michigan

Jan. 22: at Ohio State

Jan. 24: at Rutgers

Jan. 27: Iowa

Jan. 29: at Wisconsin

Feb. 6: at Minnesota

Feb. 10: Rutgers

Feb. 13: Maryland

Feb. 17: at Illinois

Feb. 20: Indiana

Feb. 25: Penn State

Big Ten tournament

Feb. 28-March 4