Huskers have options at center after Michael Decker announces retirement from football

Huskers have options at center after Michael Decker announces retirement from football
Michael Decker started five games at center before suffering a season-ending knee injury. (World-Herald News Service)

LINCOLN — Michael Decker wrote that he did not come at the decision lightly, but the “future career goals” of the junior Husker center outweighed his desire to play football at Nebraska.

So the Omaha North graduate announced Saturday on Twitter that he’s giving up football.  He thanked coaches, teammates and administrators at Nebraska.

A  starter for five games last season before suffering a severe knee injury, Decker sat out this spring. He chose to go no further in his preparation for the 2018 season.

Also Saturday, linebacker Andrew Ward announced on Twitter that he was leaving the NU program after one season.

During spring practices, three Huskers — seniors Tanner Farmer and Cole Conrad and redshirt freshman Hunter Miller — played center, with Farmer sliding over from his starting right guard spot. Decker, sometimes on crutches, watched the action. Now he will walk away from it.

“Over the past 6 months, I have taken a step back and looked at my future career goals and decided that I can no longer accommodate football’s commitments,” Decker wrote. “It was finally time to see that these aspirations outweighed the lacking desire to continue playing the game. Which, given the team’s goals, would only hurt them by my participation.”

He didn’t immediately respond to a request from The World-Herald for additional comment.

Decker said his teammates “kept me in it for so long.” He told The World-Herald in October — just before his knee injury at Purdue, the last game of his Husker career — that he had suffered a concussion as a freshman, which caused him to gauge his priorities for the first time. Once he had ascended to the starting job in 2017 — taking over for a then-injured Conrad — he said the sacrifices were “worth it.”

“So far this year I’ve been able to enjoy the experience with my friends, and I think I’ve really valued that and been waiting for something like that ever since I got here,” Decker said in October. “These past couple of games have really made the experience, I think, worth it. So far, I have kind of decided that the experiences of playing outweigh the consequences.”

A political science major, Decker is an honor roll student at Nebraska. His dad, Chris, is an economics professor at UNO. Michael Decker’s intellect helped him to identify defenses in the games he started.

His departure leaves Conrad, Farmer and Miller as the three favorites to play center. True freshman Will Farniok from Sioux Falls, South Dakota — who enrolled early but appeared headed for a redshirt season — may get a look, too.

Farmer is a two-year starter at right guard, but Nebraska’s best backup lineman may be sophomore right guard Boe Wilson. A move by Farmer to center would allow both to be on the field at the same time. If Farmer stays at guard, Conrad — the Fremont Bergan graduate who started seven games at center last year — becomes a key option. He missed some of spring practice  and the spring game while rehabbing a right shoulder injury. That opened the door for Miller, a walk-on from Cross County High School near Stromsburg who missed last fall with a shoulder injury of his own.

“It’s by committee,” offensive line coach Greg Austin said of Nebraska’s approach in the spring. “I’m actually glad it’s happening that way because you always want to build depth, especially at such a crucial position like center, the guy that has to communicate.”

Ward, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound scholarship player from Muskegon, Michigan, redshirted during his one year at NU. He saw time in the spring game but was not considered among the top candidates to play at either inside or outside linebacker.

Ward’s and Decker’s announcements come before the Huskers begin their summer conditioning program next week and ostensibly put Nebraska at 84 scholarships, accounting for the presumed departure of offensive lineman Bryan Brokop, who refers to himself as a “former” lineman on Twitter but hasn’t officially announced his departure. NU coach Scott Frost said Thursday his official policy  is not to comment on the departure of any players until they announce it.

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