If you have aspirations to play for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, you'd better be good. If you play eight-man football from a small town in Nebraska, you'd better be great to even get noticed.
Terry Connealy was from a ranch located by Hyannis, Nebraska, a town with only a couple of hundred people in the heart of ranch country. It is located in the panhandle of western Nebraska, roughly 350 miles from Lincoln.
"The ranch has been in my mom's family forever. I am the youngest of seven kids, and we were all raised on the ranch. We had no fast food, no movies…we just worked on the ranch and went to school in Hyannis. We raised Angus cattle, and we still do today. I tell people I grew up in Whitman, a suburb of Hyannis, which is obviously a joke," Connealy laughed. "My best description of where Hyannis is located is if you were to cut off the panhandle of Nebraska, Hyannis is halfway down the line. It is about 60 miles west of Alliance and about 70 miles north of Ogallala."
In high school, Connealy stood 6-5 and weighed 235 pounds. He was a versatile all-state athlete, playing tight end, fullback, linebacker and monster back. Recruiting analyst Tom Lemming rated him No. 51 among offensive lineman nationally.
"Terry has great stature to play the game. He's strong and has really worked with the weights. I can see him getting bigger and stronger," his head coach, Chris Kraus, said when Connealy was being recruited.
Nebraska and lead recruiter Dan Young noticed him and saw someone who was athletic and could run. So when they offered, Connealy accepted without hesitation. "It was dream come true for me and my family. My dad was a scholarship recruit back in the 50s for Nebraska," Connealy said.
"I then got a lot of interest from other schools but never pursued them," he added. "Before Nebraska offered I seriously considered Wyoming, they had recruited me pretty hard and knew they were going to offer me a scholarship. But Nebraska was first to the table and I committed to Coach (Tom) Osborne that I would not take any more trips. I was recruited as an athlete, with the focus on tight end, linebacker or defensive line."
After graduation, Connealy arrived on the Nebraska campus for fall practice in 1990. He said he could have cared less where he ended up playing; he would just play wherever they could use him. But Defensive Coordinator Charlie McBride liked him on the defensive line.
After redshirting his first season, Connealy worked himself up the depth chart, eventually becoming the starting nose tackle as a junior in 1993 and a co-captain defensive tackle for the national championship squad in ‘94. He was a first-team All-Big 8 selection as a junior, and was a first-team GTE Academic All-American as a junior and senior.
Not bad for being the first scholarship athlete from Hyannis, so you expect his success made the community of Hyannis brim with pride.
"Our community was very supportive, and everyone was really excited," Connealy said. "Everyone in Hyannis area liked having a connection to the team, and always wanted to know how the team was going to look. I had a senior day that the community put on for me. We had a big reception in Lincoln after the Oklahoma State game. Then we had one at the Hyannis High School after the bowl game."
So, what would Connealy, who now works in Omaha as a market development manager for Wells Fargo Bank, tell kids who come from small rural Nebraska communities who have aspirations to play at a place like Nebraska?
"I would tell them they have to believe in themselves. I wasn't the only kid to make it at Nebraska…there have been a lot of kids who played eight-man and smaller eleven-man schools who have went on to play there. The one thing you got to do is work that much harder than everybody else. Don't take any plays off, and have a great work ethic. The thing that is suspect from recruiter's point of view is how good the talent is you are playing against. So you have to make up for that, and do everything in your power to get noticed."
If you do make it, according to Connealy, who has four children of his own, then you become one of the Nebraska kids who are the heart and soul of the program. They are the kids who grew up dreaming of playing in Lincoln, and they set the stage for that work ethic and what Nebraska football is all about.
"When I played, we had guys who were not from Nebraska and it spilled over to them on how important the program was to all of us," Connealy explained. "They saw it was about more than just one person, it was the state, it was the community. This is what we did and what we wanted to be known for, which was football. We all just bought into the program and trusted our coaches. A lot of high schools in the state emulated the Husker program…we were physical with a power running game and we outworked people. So when you got to Lincoln, you knew what the culture of the program was all about."
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