Founder's Day with NTN

Last year was special for me. I got a chance to talk to offensive coordinator, Jay Norvell, from Nebraska about a lot of things. There was also the chance to get up and present. This year the North Texas Nebraskans were able to bring in three coaches and you should have heard what they had to say.

Jay Norvell was a repeat offender this year for Founder's Day 2006 with the North Texas Nebraskans. Along side him was second year wide receiver coach, Ted Gilmore and first year (at Nebraska) coach, Shawn Watson. Coach Gilmore and Coach Watson got a little dose of Nebraska from deep behind enemy lines.

Fortunately for the coaching staff, and especially Jay Norvell, the event was held during the week and the Q-n-A session wasn't fueled by many twisting off for the weekend. The coaches all brought stories and information about the team that Big Red Report was able to catch for you:

Shawn Watson

Of course Coach Watson got a good ribbing about where he came from, Colorado, and he took it all in stride. Coach Watson was very impressive to listen to. First of all, you can just tell by listening to Coach Watson that he is sincere about being happy to be a part of this staff.

He mentioned that being with Coach Callahan again brought back some thoughts of the old days at Illinois. Callahan and Watson shared an office at Illinois and that is where a deep respect for Callahan was formed by Watson. Watson didn't just come to Nebraska to win, but to learn from a staff that he studied when they were together at Oakland.

The leap to go to Nebraska wasn't something that Watson had to take. In fact, Watson turned down more money and probably better titles elsewhere. However, a meeting with a former colleague was enough encouragement to come to Nebraska from one of the most ironic of people.

People are aware of the tension that exists between Husker and Buffalo fans when they square up against one another. But, Coach Watson got some wise counsel from a Buffalo to go to Nebraska. Bill McCartney, ex-head coach at Colorado, met Coach Watson for a cup of coffee and told Watson to go where he would be respected and that meant to go to Nebraska.

Coach Watson is of course the recruiting coordinator and talked a little about how hard the coaching staff is going to hit Texas. In fact, he made mention that Nebraska now has six coaches that will have responsibilities in Texas when it comes to recruiting. The six are Watson (Dallas mid-cities/Central Texas), Gilmore (Dallas/N. Texas), Norvell (E. Dallas/NE. Texas), Randy Jordan (E. Texas), John Blake (Houston and Dallas) and Phil Elmassian (S. and W. Texas).

Coach Watson said that 153 recruits in the state of Texas signed with Big 12 teams last year and there are typically between 300 and 400 that go division one. He knows that to be successful they will need to get the players out of Texas an into Lincoln.

Coach Watson broke down the current players and said that Matt Herian is almost 100%. Herian received the most reps in the spring game and that was by design. Watson said that Herian is an amazing player and that he is working extremely hard to get ready. He also made mention of Josh Mueller and Justin Tomerlin when it came to the "Y" receiver.

He said that J.B. Phillips doesn't make mistakes and that J.B. and Clayton Sievers are going to see themselves lined up at different places all over the field. They will be utilized as blockers and receivers. He did mention though what the prototypical tight end in the offense might look like.

Mike McNeil, according to Coach Watson, is perfect for this offense. It's the player that can do everything; go in motion, catch the ball, be dominant at the point of attack and be a down to down player; that will be the type of player that Coach Watson wants at tight end.


Ted Gilmore

As you can imagine, Coach Gilmore is glowing about the receivers that he has coming in this fall. Gilmore isn't a short guy, but at or around 6-foot-1, he said that he is looking forward to looking up to his players in the fall. He had a chance to break them all down.

He mentioned first that having a guy like Spain around is good for a number of reasons. But the biggest reason might be for his maturity. Spain is married and has a kid. The focus is on doing what is right and that goes along with a character theme about the recruits by this staff.

Next was Will Henry. He mentioned that one of the reasons that Henry wasn't very well known was because a fortunate change in offense for Henry. Henry, as a sophomore and junior, was part of an offense that operated out of the wishbone and that gave very little opportunity to him. He mentioned Henry being a very good student and he is excited about having a 6-foot-5 guy.

There is no doubt that had the recruiting year not ended when it did that things with Menelik Holt might not have included him at Nebraska. Gilmore noted Holt's physical ability to go up and get the ball if it is in his area. He also mentioned that he has been tasked by Meno's grandmother to keep Holt's head on straight and not go chasing the girls. Not a bad trade off to get a player like Holt.

He finished it up with talking about Maurice Purify. First of all, Maurice is actually the uncle to Bobby Purify and he noted that it is a big family. Gilmore said that the word that best described Purify is explosive. He talked about that first step and his acceleration. He also noted that Purify was voted as one of the best basketball players in the California League.

The comments about the current players were a bit more brief:

- Gilmore first mentioned that they are getting a bit back to the basics and is re-teaching the receivers how to block.
- Nunn was thrown 51 passes that were termed to be catchable. He caught 49 of them.
- Swift is still improving and really showed some great ability last year.
- Fluellen is healthy and if he stays healthy can help stretch the field.
- Peterson came in as a diamond in the rough and on academic scholarship. When posed with the situation that if he was asked to play and lose the financial support, Peterson said that he wanted to be on the field.

Coach Gilmore made mention of a chance that he had to meet and actually interview with Coach Ron Brown. He said that you knew immediately about Brown's character and about his faith. At that interview he said that he would like to coach at Nebraska one day.

After accepting the job at Nebraska, which included an interview exclusively with Callahan for about four hours, he and his wife were packing. They were out in the garage and going through boxes. In one of the boxes he found Ron Brown's card from Nebraska. He stopped and told his wife the story about his first interview.

In a personal conversation, I asked Coach Gilmore if the next step after offering is evaluating mutual interest. He said that was part, to an extent. He then went back and quoted Joe Tiller from Purdue and said that getting through the offering part quickly is critical to beginning the relationship part. That is the most important part of the process.

Coach Gilmore was asked about what the profile would be of this next group of receivers. He admitted that someone that can make the moves with the ball and the ability to the stretch the field would compliment his big receivers now. He admitted that the size at receiver isn't a phase.


Jay Norvell

Coach Norvell is always entertaining to listen to. After having a couple of years to be in Lincoln he had some pretty amazing stories about the growth of recruits under upper-classmen.

He admitted that the learning curve was the steepest for the players that we hit with it the first year. Not just because of the offense's complexity, but because there weren't any other players there to watch and learn it from. It was one coach to many players.

This year though you had a mentor and apprentice type of relationship, especially, between Cory Ross to Marlon Lucky and Cody Glenn. He said that Ross helped on understanding routes, reading blitzes and even in pass protection.

He mentioned that Cody Glenn did not want to be known solely as a short yardage runner. This spring he dedicated himself and slimmed down, losing eight pounds. He commented that Glenn was the most improved player on the team.

In a sidebar conversation, he admitted that this spring was about trying to get a running back to emerge out of Lucky and Glenn. He knows that spring was hard on them and that they are getting a well deserved rest. He also said that they are hopeful that when Brandon Jackson comes back to have great depth.

He did comment on Leon Jackson's decision to transfer from Nebraska. He said that Leon was a very talented player and that he would catch on and be successful somewhere.

A question was asked of Harrison Beck and his musical interests. Coach Norvell admitted that he had not ever heard Beck's band before, but explained that playing instruments is one of the ways that Harrison just unwinds. It's his character.

However, Coach Callahan and Coach Norvell had a long talk to Harrison following the April 1 scrimmage and about Harrison's musical performance apparently affecting his on the field performance the next day. He also said that his high school coach got a hold of Harrison and ripped him a new one.

Another on Harrison dealt with the injury and the possibility of red shirting him. First of all, there isn't any noticeable damage in Beck's shoulder so that is good. He said that we should expect to see Harrison this fall.

In the profile segment of defining his quarterback he mentioned what the best quality of Zac Taylor is. Taylor's toughness is second to none. He brought up a series in the spring game where Taylor was sacked on three consecutive plays, each one harder than the previous one.

Every time Taylor would bounce back up and come right back to the huddle. It was in those plays that Taylor made it "his" team. The respect at that point grew and the coaches knew that they had found their man.

However, it was also noted that Taylor will be encouraged more this fall to throw the ball or to slide then to take the hit. Norvell said that Taylor sees it as his job to go that extra mile and get those extra inches. He has reminded Taylor that it's fine and dandy until you get hurt.

While many questions focused on Taylor and Beck, as you would guess, there was also an interesting note that Norvell dropped on Joe Ganz. He said that in 250 passing attempts before spring practice that Ganz had not thrown an interception yet. Coach Norvell admitted that he was impressed in Ganz progress.

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Call it a coincidence that there were three offensive coaches at last night's gathering, but there were still questions asked and answered about the defense.

Coach Watson was asked whether or not Steve Octavien played spring ball. Watson looked as if he had just seen bigfoot and said that Octavien was on a whole new level and was thankful that he wouldn't have to see that again this fall.

Coach Norvell also weighed in on the defense saying that the front seven was going to be special. They are also looking forward to getting Stewart Bradley and Bo Ruud back on defense and getting everyone healthy. He went onto say that he was glad that they were on his side.

Little is known about the race for the starting punter, but Jay Norvell eluded to the possibility of a walk-on, true freshman getting the nod. While he did not mention Michael Such or Alex Henery by name, he did mention that those players at punter chose to walk-on over other options.

All in all, it was a night simply to remember. The night was kicked off by an emotional film with images going back to the days of Bob Devaney and before, onto Tom Osborne, and right into the present day on top of the emotional speech by Al Pacino from the movie "Any Given Sunday". Let me just tell you, it was simply a way to set the tone for the night and the coaches kept that tone the rest of the night.

Big Red Report wants to thank North Texas Nebraskans and Bob Van Horn for allowing us to play a role in one of the year's biggest events for their association. We would also like to thank Kelly Milligan, who was in rare form last night, and making the night go along so smoothly.


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