NUs Decker relishing Shrine Bowl experience
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Michael Decker may have been the most high-profile prospect on the Nebraska Wesleyan field during the North team's morning practice on Monday for the 2015 Nebraska Shrine Bowl, but you might not have known it just by looking at him.
His No. 78 practice jersey was so worn and tattered that it barely draped over his shoulder pads as he went through drills. Needless to say, it certainly wasn't an expected look for a player who had signed a Letter of Intent to play for his home state Huskers only a few months earlier.
"It was hanging on by a thread ever since the first day," the all-state offensive lineman said of his shredded jersey. "Today was its final day."
In a way, the ripped up practice jersey perfectly embodied Decker's workmanlike approach on the field. At 6-4, 288, he helped pave the way for Omaha North's two straight Class A state championships as a junior and senior. Decker and Omaha Central defensive end DaiShon Neal (South team) become the first Husker scholarship signees to agree to play in the Shrine Bowl since Daniel Davie and David Sutton back in 2011.
"I guess you could say it was the kids (of the Shriner's Hospital); the charity of it and the fact that a lot of the seniors from my high school before me played in it and they said it was a great experience," Decker said. "Plus the fact that (Omaha North coach Larry Martin) was coaching and I was going to have a teammate (receiver Marquise Lewis) really made it a great thing."
Another factor in Decker's decision to play in the game was that it didn't interfere with his schedule with Nebraska, but only just barely. Decker, Neal and the other NU walk-ons will report to Lincoln on Sunday, June 7, the day after the Shrine Bowl game in Kearney, Neb., on Saturday, June 6.
Decker admitted he was a bit concerned initially about potentially burning himself out with a full week of Shrine Bowl practices right before beginning his offseason training program at Nebraska, but the opportunity to experience one final round of high school football while supporting a good cause was something he couldn't pass up.
"That did cross my mind, and the fact that there are two practices a day doesn't help," Decker said. "But definitely the fact that it's a charity event and it's just a cool way to talk and hang out with opponents and players from other classes and kind of get an idea of what their life is like, that's another really interesting part of it. Wearing out, I don't know if I'm going to be doing a lot of hitting when I get down there (to Lincoln before fall camp), and I think being able to play a little bit of football again also helped my decision to do it."
As his coach for four years at Omaha North and now again this week with the North squad, Martin knows Decker both on and off the field as well as anyone. He said Decker's decision to participate in the Shrine Bowl was yet another example of his work ethic and character, and Martin wasn't surprised one bit.
"Michael and I talked long before that, and so much of it with Michael was getting to play with us one more time," Martin said. "I think that tells you what type of a young man that he is, that he wants to go out and play with his teammates. At the end of the day, I'll tell you that I was cautiously optimistic when I approached him (about playing). He had a long year last year, but he feels really good. His health, his strength - everything is really good."
Looking ahead to when his collegiate career officially kicks off next week, Decker said he's continued to feel more and more comfortable with the new Husker coaching staff since Mike Riley took over in December.
"Oh yeah, definitely," Decker said. "Coach (Mike) Cavanaugh and Coach Riley especially. They're really cool. The fact that it was kind of a weird situation when the old coaching staff that had recruited me for two years got fired, and I kind of wanted to establish a relationship with (the new staff) if I was going to still want to go there. I definitely made a good choice on that front. Cav and Riley have been great."
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