I remember watching the Shrine Game oh so many years ago. There he was, not overly tall, but with some serious jitter-bug moves, DeAntae Grixby showed just some of what had him so coveted near and far. Alas, that was about all you would see of Grixby for the next two years as injuries plagued him continuously.
Following the battles with one physical ailment after another, Grixby returned to the field, but never quite found his place amongst the depth chart at running back. Thus, Grixby was moved to the most unlikely of places you would think based on his smallish size coming into NU, now number himself amongst the fullbacks of Nebraska.
None will marvel at his statistical exploits, because quite honestly, there are none. What you can marvel at is the attitude that has kept Grixby in the game, so to speak, head high, thinking nothing of what was or what might have been lost. "I live life regret-free." DeAntae said. "If I did that, I would be down a lot."
"The Lord has a plan for me and yes, I would have liked for it to have been better, but that bad things that happened to me made me a better person."
A person with perspective you might say. A perspective that not many on this team can say they have. Remember, Grixby came in before Frank Solich took the field as the head coach for Nebraska. When you think about it in those terms, Grixby's major might as well be Husker history, because he's seen not a lot chronologically speaking, but oh, the events he's experienced.
First, he was one of the few still on the team that can say he was recruited by coach Tom Osborne. DeAntae is also one that can say he was there when Frank Solich took the field as head coach for his first game. And yes, he can also say that he was a part of a national title contender, followed then by the worst team Nebraska has had in forty years.
With any memories, there is always the good and the bad.
What this year holds for Grixby is that perspective in that he can basically tell you how a team is and isn't when it comes to making serious runs at the title. He's seen the attitude of a team just coming off a national title, knowing just what it took to get back. He's also seen a team that just came off a national title game, subsequently plummeting, not even knowing what "back" was.
Into his final year, he uses all that experience to realize just what all these new changes offer and what they "really" mean. Yeah, he's using his own perspective. "It's a lot different." Grixby said of how he looks at this year as opposed to any other as a Husker. "First, I know my role now. There really aren't that many question marks about what I am going to be doing."
"This year, I just want to go out with a bang and just stay really focused."
With his own individual insight, there are the looming questions from all over as to what this team is like as well. All the changes meant many things would be different, but one thing that didn't appear different was coaches and players saying all the right things to placate the Husker faithful, hoping they would believe that this year would be equally epic in the comeback as it was in the fall from success a season prior.
So, are these comments about how positive everything is just another rebuttal, another read off of the script everyone has gotten so used to hearing? "When you go to any school during the Summer, they are going to tell you the same thing, that they are working harder and this and that." DeAntae said. "It's the right thing to say."
"Since I have been at Nebraska, we were always working hard, but we were winning, so everything seemed fine. This last year, it just put it into perspective that we weren't working as hard as we were saying. We just thought we were Nebraska and we were going to win and totally took it for granted."
"This year, we are more focused as coming together as a team. Us coming together has forced us to work harder than anytime during my career here at Nebraska and I know how the workouts are when you are good enough to win national titles and when you aren't. Everyone is working hard, because we have to. Nobody will let anyone not do the work."
DeAntae has been around awhile indeed. And, he's been amongst some of those that are already legends in Husker lore. Legends that contributed to titles, knew what kind of work ethic and attitude you needed to win it all, these were the people DeAntae learned from and uses those lessons now. "When I came here, there were the Brown brothers (not really brothers, but considered that), Carlos (Polk), Eric Johnson and all them guys, so when they said something, you paid attention." Grixby stated.
Grixby does concede though that it wasn't just the types of leaders that dictated success, but he pointed back to the price each player paid for that success. This season, again, DeAntae says the price this year is higher than any he's ever seen. "We are doing things harder this Summer than in any I have ever been a part of." he said. "Just the day before the 4th of July and everyone left, that was the hardest workout day I have ever had in my life, including track."
"At the same time though, we may have went through hell, but we did it together and we were all helping each other after it was all done. Last year, we might have had a couple of players that would have said ‘forget this', but not this year. Everyone is dying out there together."
There's a story you might remember about one of NU's most infamous if not notorious motivators, that of course being Jason Peter. The story roughly stated is one that after a practice, a player at another position was walking along the sidelines, only to be flattened by Peter, who ran clear across the field to levy what was considered punishment. It was punishment for one thing that stood as the worst thing you could do as a Husker during practice, slacking off.
While I haven't heard any tales of players being launched into the stands for not busting it to their maximum, Grixby stated that the accountability factor is there. "Practice has been about discipline." he said. "If you mess up, you have to do more, run to the line and we've never had before. We're tired and we're dying out there, but we all know that we are going to be there for each other."
NO MORE WORDS
You remember after the 1993 season after NU lost to Florida State? A slogan stating "Unfinished Business" became the war cry for Nebraska. Turns out, it was almost prophetic as NU took Tom Osborne to his first title as head coach with Nebraska, one that would turn into three.
Slogans seem to be a thing with players though, even as much as fans, everyone trying to summarize in one catchy phrase just what this up-coming year means to them. This year, that particular idea has also found itself in the box marked "obsolete". "We threw around a few, but this year, we are trying to move into a different direction." Grixby stated. "We don't want to live off of the success of old Nebraska teams, because this is a new team and for us, a new era."
"We are trying to find something that says who we are as the new Nebraska and yeah, we want to be that dominant Nebraska, but we have new coaches, a new administration and a new attacking style, so we want that to show what we are now."
"We don't want to be the ‘Yeah, we're Nebraska, we're the good boys'. We want to be the ‘Yeah, we're Nebraska and we are going to come and punch you in the mouth'."
FROM PAST TO PRESENT
Along with all the speculation about what the coaches are going to do off the field, likewise there has been much said about what they are doing off. More to the point, the recruiting that has suffered over the last few years has came under the microscope, everyone realizing that the new talent will dictate the future of Nebraska's success or failure.
When Grixby went through the process, he was being recruited by a different staff and though he might not personally have perspective about what this new staff is doing, he's got someone pretty close to him that does.
Cortney Grixby is a cornerback out of Omaha Central. He's not just a cornerback, but a CB that's rated as the second best at his position in the entire country by the Insiders. The younger Grixby does have his own perspective on this new staff and though DeAntae isn't even wishing to live vicariously through his brother as he experiences his own recruiting journey, together, each has learned something about the other. "The new staff is by far more exciting when it comes to that." DeAntae said. "When you look at Oklahoma, their staff is young, energetic and they aren't like a politician that is going to stand up and just give speeches all the time."
"A lot of kids these days look for that, guys you really want to play for and would go through the wall for."
"I came to Nebraska because it was Nebraska and in the past, it was always like that, but now, they see coaches like Pelini, Sanders and Albin that players will actually respect and run through the wall for."
While DeAntae now feels more at home at NU than perhaps he has ever had, his younger brother is still looking for that home. And though it really hasn't been all that long since DeAntae was a recruit himself, the recruiting process and the coverage of recruiting has changed and dramatically.
Now, if a recruit is any good, he's almost a household name. If a recruit is considering a well-known school, the coverage is usually quite intense. Things are different for Cortney, but at the same thing, the elder Grixby has advice that still works today. "I talk to him a lot about the process." DeAntae said. "The most important thing I tell him is that he needs to get to know the coaches. He needs to sit down with them and just talk to them. He just needs to have a regular conversation."
"When coach Osborne was recruiting me, we went like 15 or 20 minutes on the telephone and he never mentioned anything about football. He just wanted to get to know me and he was genuine."
What might be even more genuine than the legendary Osborne is the pressure. No, not the pressure of a game or even a season, but pressure that actually trumps that and is what Cortney is going through right now. It's the pressure any standout Nebraska player feels to go to the University of Nebraska. It's not pressure by some definitions, it's just expected. Of course, that's pressure personified right there.
With the older Grixby giving Cortney some tips though, the pressure from the state won't cease, but the pressure he puts on himself could be at least for a time, lightened to a degree. "I tell him to go where he wants to go and not where everyone else wants him to go." DeAntae said. "I tell him to go where he's going to be happy. I just tell him to go where he's comfortable with the coaches, the city, the situation, the whole deal, no matter where it is."
"I mean, I want him to come here, but I want him to do it because he wants to and not because I or anyone else wants him to."
I had to ask though, because it begged to be asked. DeAntae is genuine about his affection for this new staff and regime, if you will. He also readily admitted that he had no problems promoting them, because that's the way he felt. I was curious as to one thing though and it's slightly hypothetical. If Cortney was a senior last year and given the staff that NU had that year, would DeAntae had been as eager to sell the program to his younger brother as he is today?
"Let's just say that I am more comfortable now with how things are than I was a year ago." DeAntae said. "The staff is more genuine. If they say you are going to have an opportunity, they mean it. "When it comes to politics, there's just a lot less of that now."
BELIEVE THE HYPE
DeAntae has worn some rather large holes as he has walked a long and arduous path. Through his time as a Husker, it's gotten as seemingly bad as it could get to a point now, where the horizon is lined rather than clouded and as he walks amongst his teammates, it's with pride and most importantly, hope.
I know how everyone says that until the season starts and Nebraska spanks Oklahoma State, nobody will believe that the same old song and dance they have heard about how everything is so different is anything but that. They'll believe that it's what everyone is supposed to say.
That's not what DeAntae says and when you have been with this program for as long as he has, there is one thing you are definitely going to be good at and that is knowing what to say. DeAntae says that it is different, it is real and it is genuine. It's a new Nebraska and look out, because if you think your goals are lofty, you might want to check theirs out.
It's a new game out there and we have to become a new Nebraska." DeAntae said. "We've got the coaches and we have the right attitude, so now, we want to get back to being Nebraska and that means, going all the way."
"If you wanted to give us your best shot, last year was the time to do it and they did. This year, I don't see a team we can't beat. We are out here killing ourselves with Brian Bailey and we honestly don't see a team on our schedule where we don't think we can't come out on top."
"We deserve not to be ranked now, but that's not where we are going to be come the end of the season. We just have to show up and be Nebraska, but not the old one, the new one. We're the new Nebraska."
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619