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November 28, 2012Before each home game, defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski walks to the South end zone of Memorial Stadium. He checks out the Jumbotron, watches the antics of Lil' Red and tries to locate his family in the stands.
Kaczenski's job is to be a Nebraska football coach. But he also considers himself one of the program's fans.
"People ask me about the environment and I say, 'I'm a college football fan. I'm a Nebraska fan,'" Kaczenski said on the Sports Nightly Coaches Radio Show. "I enjoy this stuff too before I put my coaching hat on. That never gets old and I'm an emotional guy.
"When I talk to my guys pregame, I get a little choked up. It's a privilege not only to coach college football, but to be at Nebraska. Sometimes you sit out there on the sideline and wonder, 'How the hell did I end up here?' It's really special. You walk out of that Sea of Red and there is nothing like it."
Kaczenski is no stranger to college football. Since becoming a graduate assistant at South Carolina in 1999, he has also worked for South Carolina State, East Tennessee State, Elon and Iowa. Throughout those stops he's seen many of the nation's best programs and some of college football's most well-known cathedrals.
But although he's been a part of the program for less than a year, Kaczenski's praise for Nebraska never seems to end. The coach has become fully immersed in the school and can't believe he has earned the chance to coach for the Huskers.
"In this profession, to get great opportunities you've got to have a little luck," Kaczenski said. "I was fortunate to have the gig at Iowa and have some great players that made me look good. That gave me the opportunity to get noticed by Bo. This is a special place. From the day I've gotten here, I've grown as a coach, that's for sure. When you're surrounded by people like Coach Osborne and Bo, you grow as a person too. It's a blessing for me."
The environment on Saturdays in the fall doesn't just impress Kaczenski. He said the excitement surrounding Memorial Stadium is one of the staff's best selling points to recruits as well. He seldom fails to mention NU's sellout streak, which has filled the stadium for every game since 1962.
"(The environment is) probably the first thing we talk about when we see the kids after the game," Kaczenski said. "We say 'How about that environment? How about those fans?' I can't even imagine being a kid. If I would've taken a visit to Nebraska, it would have been hard to go anywhere else. We wouldn't get a lot of these kids here if it weren't for the fan base and the support they give us."
Kaczenski, who had coached at Iowa starting in 2005 before coming to Nebraska late last season, said none of his comments are to downgrade the Hawkeyes or Kirk Ferentz, who he is extremely thankful towards.
But two or three times a week, Kaczenski will be walking back from the training table and will glance up at Memorial Stadium. It's at these moments when he said he realizes how lucky he is.
"On my way back it's dark and I always look at that sign - 'I Play for Nebraska,'" he said. "I just take a peek at that stadium and you can't beat it."
Despite injuries, Kaczenski loves freshman class
Kaczenski had nothing but praise when asked to break down the freshmen defensive linemen Wednesday night. The Huskers have four rookies in defensive tackles Aaron Curry and Vincent Valentine and defensive ends Avery Moss and Greg McMullen.
"What a class," Kaczenski said. "If I could get four guys like that every year, I'd be a heck of a coach, that's for sure."
Valentine and McMullen were redshirted, but both Curry and Moss have seen playing time this season. Unfortunately, both have run into injury problems and neither has played since the Idaho State game. Moss had surgery and is out for the season.The duo combined for seven tackles in their limited opportunities this year.
"We started off with all intentions of playing Curry and Moss and they've been practicing with the varsity all year," Kaczenski said. "Unfortunately, they got a little bit banged up. Avery had his surgery, but he'll be back this spring and he'll get a lot of reps. That's the one thing he really needs. He's really a steal, an under-recruited guy. Same thing with Curry. He's just a tough, physical guy that stays skinny in there. He's another guy that got banged up a little bit, but we're expecting big things from him."
But the two that haven't seen the field yet have drawn strong reviews as well. Kaczenski said he can hear offensive line coaches Barney Cotton and John Garrison talking about Valentine and McMullen in practice and feels they will both be contributors for years to come.
"Vincent and Greg are going to be two great players for us if I don't screw them up," Kaczenski said. "We're targeting a bunch more like them and hopefully they can close the deal on them. They have an opportunity to be really special here."
NU could use 3-4 looks Saturday
The Huskers have experimented using packages with three defensive linemen and four linebackers at times this year but have played mostly in the 4-3. But with Baker Steinkuhler out, Nebraska's depth on the line has become even thinner and switching to a 3-4 look more often against Wisconsin this Saturday could be tempting.
"We have a lot of things in our package," Kaczenski said. "I can't just give up our secrets here, but the 3-4 is always something that we've had, something that we do, something that we practice. The thing with Wisconsin is that they do so many shifts and formations that you have to be smart with what you do. You have to make sure you give your players something they can get lined up to easy and give them a chance to be successful when the ball is snapped.
"The 3-4 is something is always something that we always have in our package. You kind of have to pick and choose when you're going to do it or if you're going to do it. I know a lot of people think it's makes you soft in the run game, but I don't think it does."
Kaczenski used Iowa's first drive last Saturday as a cautionary tale of the 3-4. He said the Huskers weren't sound in their gaps and as a result, the Hawkeyes were able to drive 62 yards in 12 plays (11 of which were runs) for their only score.
"Up front, we let them climb to the second level and cut off our backers. A couple times we had a few missed assignments where we played behind the blocks and we should have been playing the inside gap. Whatever defense you call, you just have to execute it."