I'm hardly a connoisseur of quotes, being able to recite phrases or speeches off the top of my head. I don't recall them with certain accuracy in not just what was said, but how. With all that being said, I feel fairly confident in saying that the message today wasn't any different, but the way it was delivered was.
Even the oft-timed overly politically correct head coach seemed to speak with a little more conviction today as he stated "We'll be ready" and "We know what we are doing" with a tone that seemed more emphatic than the usually-defensive tone messages like that took last season.
The excitement could be the fact that practices start today, thus the road finally hitting the homestretch to the point where Nebraska can begin to tear down the image that the Huskers firmly secured with their lackluster season a year ago.
That energy and conviction could also be the attitude from a plethora of changes amongst the coaching staff, everyone eager and receptive to the new injection of youth and energy.
Part of all this enthusiasm could be as well, not just the changes in personnel at coaching positions, the anticipation that always comes with a new group of players, but the off-season and what was different about it, that seems to have been it's own theme of sorts.
Enter, Bryan Bailey.
"It's been Death". Projected starting rush end, Benard Thomas stated of his experience under Bailey over the Summer. "He makes it hard, but that's how it has to be if you want to get any better." The promotion of Bailey to head strength coach has had it's apparent success, not just in physical shape, but mental as well. Thomas, having dropped close to 20 lbs. this off-season, stating that he's right around 260, while David Horne stated that he's up to 200 lbs. now, much of it due to the efforts of Bailey and his crew over the Summer.
"He expects you to work." defensive tackle Seppo Evwaraye said of Bailey. "And that's what you do, because you don't really have a choice."
That choice to believe in this staff seems to have come pretty easy for all the players, but one coach in particular seems to have sparked enthusiasm across the board.
Since Bo Pelini arrived on campus, expectations were drawn mostly from his NFL background, the assumption that he would have to be good. 9 years in the NFL has to be worth something, doesn't it?
Turns out that the most telling factor of why Pelini will indeed be a success at Nebraska isn't his resume', it's his attitude, towards the game, but especially the players. "There's no grey area with him." starting rush end, Trevor Johnson said. Starting linebacker, T.J. Hollowell reiterated stating, "With him (Pelini), what he says, that's what you get, no doubt about it. After talking to him, you don't have to wonder about anything. That's that and it's time to move on."
The injection of this attitude, energy, youth and all that has been a key part in why the entire team attitude is better, but more points to what there isn't so much of that has players on a high right now to play. "There's none of that he-said-she-said stuff anymore." Fabian Washington said. "You know that when a coach says something, that's it, end of story and it's not going to change."
"You get a fair shake, but what you get is what you get and you just have to live with that and move on."
End the end, it's about respect.
While the coaches today that spoke mostly of how things have gotten better, how they expect the progression to be good until the start of the season, the players were more than willing to tell it like it was, because unlike last season, most of it this year is good. And, I have found that when it's that good, players are eager to tell anyone that will listen anything they want to know. "All the coaches now, there's so much respect there." Hollowell stated. "There's a belief in what they do and what they say. You couldn't say that last year, so that right there, it has a huge impact on all of us."
"If a coach tells me I have to take you out, I'll just come to you and say, ‘sorry, but I'm taking you out'." Benard Thomas said. "They speak, we do and that's that."
I talked to Thomas earlier this year and he spoke of a slogan they had on defense, "hit or miss". Benard said where he sees that right now. "Hit." "We're hitting right now. Nobody even sees the miss part. Nobody even talks about it. It's all about hitting right now."
The "miss" is obviously a repeat of what happened last year, the Huskers not posting a winning season for the first time in right around 40 years. The "hit" part is, well, that depends on who you ask, but it's safe to say that this repeat isn't in the plans. "We don't worry about the polls." starting tight end, Matt Herian said. "We just go out there, play like we know we can and the polls will say what they will. We can't worry about that."
Hollowell concurred stating, "We don't go out to win polls, we go out to win games. We go out to win every game we play and if we do that, we know what the polls will say or should say. It just doesn't matter right now, because that's not why we play. We play to win games not polls."
Winning polls may not be the objective, but it's definitely a by-product and what you need to climb the polls is beat other teams that are already amongst them. Convenient enough for Nebraska, one of the many ranked teams they will be facing this year is their first opponent, a conference opponent and offensively-potent to boot, Oklahoma State.
While the Cowboys aren't getting much press for their potential prowess on defense, their offense is more than making up for it, the triumvirate of Josh Fields, Tatum Bell and Rashaun Woods are prompting a lot of respect and maybe, just a little fear into all those that have to defend against them.
For Fabian Washington, he can't think of any better team to start out with for a couple reasons. One, they are ranked, but second, Woods, a Heisman candidate to be sure, well, Washington is eager for his next go around with the Cowboy wideout. "I'm glad he didn't leave." Washington stated, indicating Woods' potential early departure for the NFL. "You only get better by playing against the best and he's definitely one of them."
Fabian is eager enough to acknowledge the ability of Woods, but he's eager enough as well to talk about a chance to rectify some mistakes. "Both he and Roy Williams got me pretty good last year." he said. "I was a freshman then and I made a lot of freshman mistakes, but I'm excited to take what I learned and I'm glad those two are still around so I can see where I am at right now."
Where Washington is at is going to be a sure-fire returning starter, but unlike years past, that doesn't necessarily mean he's going to have a blackshirt. Under the new regime, the coveted jerseys have been stripped, all players being told that you'll get one when you earn one, something Washington thought was too easy to do before. "Last year it seemed like everyone had a blackshirt." he said. "It doesn't mean anything if everyone has one, so I think it's great that everyone of us has to go out there and take it instead of it just being given to us."
"It doesn't mean anything if everyone has one." Benard Thomas said of so many having the shirts last year. "Go out and do something that says you deserve it. I don't think even the starters should have it unless they earned it and he'll (Bo Pelini) will tell you whether you deserve it or not."
After taking to so many players and getting as good a feel from the coaches as I was able, what I get from it all is an attitude and it's an attitude of "taking" rather than "expecting". Now, I can't say as to what coaches and players thought exactly in the last four or five years, but I never got the sense that some teams were going into a game or season with the mind-set that they don't go into games thinking the other guy has respect for them, rather this time around it would seem like they simply want to take it.
I suppose that's reflective of the season that NU just had, that fear some thought that was automatic when it came to playing the Big Red. Perhaps a loss of that fear and that respect has given the players a new insight into what it means to be the "other guy" rather than THE guy everyone is shooting for.
Call it humility if you will, but the air is thick with attitude thus far with practices just starting today. Attitude that was all but invisible last season. It's attitude that you get in a sense from the coaches, but definitely what the players are willing to say.
"There's no more politics." T.J. Hollowell said. "It's the best player that plays and what you hear is what you get. Nobody questions what's going on anymore, because the coaches are all real straight with us. That's what you want right there."
"That really makes you want to play."
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619
Make sure to check out the RED ZONE, where we will have yet more from Media Day, more quotes from players and coaches, in-depth interviews, plus we will have your answers to your specific questions to players in our new offering, "You interview the Players". It's where you submit questions for specific players or coaches, we ask and you get to hear just what that player or coach had to say.