Thursday notebook: Six Husker walk-ons earn scholarships
It’s an annual tradition at the end of every fall camp that a handful of walk-on players are rewarded for their effort and contributions by being put on scholarship for the upcoming season.
Thursday was that day for six Husker walk-ons, as head coach Mike Riley announced that junior center Cole Conrad, senior fullback Luke McNitt, senior tight end Tyler Hoppes, senior tight end Connor Ketter, senior wide receiver Gabe Rahn, and senior wide receiver Brett Classen had all been given full rides.
“Great group of guys…” Riley said. “These guys are guys who have done a great job in our program and have earned a scholarship.”
Riley added that there were some other walk-ons who were also still under consideration to earn scholarships, as NU could potentially give out two more if they choose.
“There is a great balancing act between earning it and deserving a scholarship and then the number (of scholarships) we might have available for next year,” Riley said. “So there’s lots of factors that go into this.”
The players who did earn scholarships got the good news on Monday, when the Riley and the coaching staff had them come up to the football offices before practice.
Rahn said the honor definitely turned up his energy level for Monday’s practice and really the entire week.
“We were kind of wondering when it was going to happen,” Rahn said. “Some of us that thought we might have a chance of getting it because it usually happens at the end of fall camp, and it didn’t this year.
“So we were wondering when it was going to happen, but I had no idea it was going to happen right then.”
Hoppes said as soon as Monday’s practice wrapped up he immediately called his parents to pass along the good news.
For a player who started his career at Wayne (Neb.) State and took a risk to walk-on at Nebraska, Hoppes said there’s no question that he made the right move.
“(Nebraska) paying for school is pretty nice, it takes a lot sweat off my parents’ back,” Hoppes said. “I called (my parents) and I’m actually going to go out to dinner with them this weekend when I have time.”
Hoppes noted that, now with a full-ride scholarship in hand, he might have to pick up the check for that dinner.
“Yeah, I might have to buy this one,” Hoppes said.
- Robin Washut
Healthy Bryant focused on the little things
Running back Tre Bryant is ready to get his second season as a Husker underway after what he says was a productive offseason for he and his teammates.
The sophomore out of St. Louis saw his role in Nebraska’s offense grow seemingly each week last season before injuries derailed him. Bryant has missed some of fall camp due to a knee injury, but says that was more of the coaching staff being cautious with his health.
“It was just precautionary,” Bryant said. “I’m feeling pretty good. We’ve been practicing against each other for a long time. Next week we get to go against somebody new, so that will be a lot of fun.”
Despite being healthy and chomping at the bit to get on the field, Bryant says he doesn’t really have any personal goals for this season. Instead, his focus has been solely on getting better at the little things to help the offense.
“Just anything to help the team as far as like my pass protection, starting to notice different players and different spot calls a little more,” Bryant said. “Just anything to help the team to get to where we need to be. We know what our goal is and I don’t really have any personal goals as of right now.”
According to Bryant, doing those little things well has helped and he’s excited by what the offense has been doing on the practice field.
“Yes sir, I feel like we’re clicking a lot,” Bryant said. “I enjoy the tempo and the smooth identity we’ve got.”
- Nate Clouse
Lee's 'silent confidence' key to success
Nebraska redshirt sophomore cornerback Eric Lee's teammates sometimes say that he plays emotionless, but that’s far from the case.
“I play with silent confidence, I don’t really show a whole lot of emotion,” Lee said. “If you ask the guys they may say I’m an emotionless kind of guy, but that’s just because it’s just the way I play the position and I do everything in my head.
“When I make plays, I know what I’m capable of. I may do some sly stuff, but you’re going to have to really look for it.”
The former four-star has two career tackles to his resume, but he has a chance to be a key component in the secondary.
While Lee is excited to prove that he can be trustworthy on the field, the unique lesson on borderline cockiness from first-year defensive backs coach Donté Williams has a chance to be a big help.
“You have to be cocky to play this position,” Lee said. “If you let one bad play go to your head and let the guy in the booth see it, you’re going to have a long game. You need to have that kind of cockiness and edge to your game and you’ll be straight the whole game.”
While senior cornerback Chris Jones continues to recover from his injury, the defense will likely lean on Lee and redshirt freshman Dicaprio Bootle to do much of the heavy lifting. Lee says they have been really pushing each other harder since the injury.
“Me and D-Cap were already pushing each other before the injury, and ever since then, we said 'alright, things are going to lean on us now,'” Lee said. “We have been pushing each other harder and making sure we are ready for Sept. 2 and everything past that.”
- David Eickholt
Williams out, but Riley not worried about WR depth
Riley announced Thursday that wide receiver Keyan Williams is back out of practice after re-injuring a hamstring that had bothered him throughout fall camp.
Riley said the junior slot receiver was back for “one minute, maybe two minutes” before bothering the injury again, but indicated the Huskers aren’t worried about wide receiver depth.
He pointed to guys like Tyjon Lindsey, J.D. Spielman, Rahn, Classen, Bryan Reimers, and Conor Young as players they trust will be able to step up and play this year.
“All those guys I mentioned after the starters, I think they could go in the games and function well and make plays and know what they’re doing, particularly guys like Bryan and Gabe,” Riley said.
Rahn pointed to the foundation set by last year’s seniors as a big reason for the group’s confidence this year. That confidence will have to offset the overall lack of snaps from a group in which three of the top six receivers have yet to play a down in a Husker uniform.
After the knee injury to true freshman Jaevon McQuitty and the departure of Keyshawn Johnson Jr., the wideout room had just six eligible scholarship players entering the week, but Rahn isn’t concerned about the group as a whole.
“I don’t think we’re lacking depth,” Rahn said. “We don’t have a lot of guys with experience playing, but we’ve got a lot of guys that know the playbook, know multiple positions, so we’ll be fine in depth.
"We always do the next man up system anyway, so we’ll be good."
- Matt Reynoldson
***Riley said no final decisions have been made on the redshirt statuses of NU’s true freshmen, but said the staff was getting close and would likely discuss it through the weekend. Riley said some guys are “pretty defined” but there are others who they’re still not sure on.
***One player who won’t redshirt is Tyjon Lindsey.
"Tyjon is still young and learning, but he’s exciting," Riley said. "Basically my message to the coaches is ‘coach this guy and get him ready to play, because he can make some plays.'”
***With Williams out, Riley said J.D. Spielman will be the No. 1 slot receiver for the season opener.
***Bryant said he’s currently not on the depth chart at kickoff returner, the spot he manned last season.
***Riley said quarterback Tanner Lee did not throw the ball at all on Thursday, as the coaches wanted to give him arm some rest. Lee still practiced and took reps on running plays and pre-snap checks, but all of the throwing drills went to Patrick O’Brien and Tristan Gebbia.
Riley said Lee would go back to his normal throwing workload on Friday.
***Asked about being dubbed “the coolest coach in college football”, Riley would only say about his coolness: “It’s sneaky. That’s all I’m going to say about it.”