Homegrown Huskers Stoltenberg, Stille setting tone as team leaders
While Nebraska has held just one helmets-only practice so far under new head coach Scott Frost, the player leadership he and his staff will be leaning on heavily during Year One is already started to take shape.
It’s not much a surprise that a couple of homegrown kids were some of the first Huskers to take the reigns in that regard.
Regardless of who you ask, nearly every response for who have been NU’s top player leaders this offseason has included senior nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg and redshirt sophomore defensive end Ben Stille.
Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said the Gretna and Ashland natives emerged as some of the strongest voices on the team during winter conditioning.
“They're doing a great job of obviously doing what they need to do strength conditioning-wise, but also in a leadership role, grabbing a guy and maybe talking to him on the side and saying, ‘I’m not going to allow that to happen anymore,’” Chinander said. “They're going to be uber important to this team. Not even this defense, but on this team.”
Stoltenberg is a natural fit for one of Nebraska’s key leaders, as the 6-foot-5, 305-pounder stepped into that role last year in the previous transition under former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco.
But Stoltenberg said he and the rest of NU’s core leadership group - which also includes guys like receiver Stanley Morgan and offensive lineman Jerald Foster - have made it a point to set a high standard within the team in practice, in the weight room, and off the field.
“I think there has been a big change as far as accountability,” Stoltenberg said. “Obviously, with what happened we know last season didn’t work. We had to change, otherwise, we would see the same results. The buy-in has been pretty great. It needs to be in order for us to get this thing rolling.
“I think guys are realizing how hard we do have to work. It is great we have new coaches and all that stuff is changing, but at the end of the day, we still have to work really hard to be successful. It is not an easy process. It doesn’t just happen by being there and showing up. You have to put in the work yourself, and I think guys are starting to realize that.”
Chinander - a native of Allison, Iowa, who was a walk-on offensive lineman at Iowa from 1998-2002 - has a true appreciation for the impact in-state players like Stoltenberg and Stille could have in establishing a strong culture within a program.
When pride and passion are driving forces in the locker room, Chinander said, everything else becomes that much easier.
“This program is built on kids like that,” Chinander said. “It has been for a long time, and anytime you can get a kid that's in-state that you evaluate and you think, ‘He is a guy that we want to scholarship,’ I think it’s not only a separator, it's a decision maker for us. It just matters more for those kids, like ‘I want to build this thing.’”