Hobbled leader, still leading

As NU prepares for a game that could be pivotal in respect to conference position, they do so with the lingering thought that it will be without their defensive leader. Really, one of their team leaders as Chris Kelsay is still "day-to-day" with a hamstring injury. If you think it's frustrating to others and fans alike, you can only imagine how it feels for the player himself.

What you know about Chris Kelsay (beyond his sibling) is that he plays as hard as anyone out there. He is the unquestioned leader of this defense and his presence and lack thereof is felt equally by all. For Chris, this is a frustrating time, but as he has always been, he's trying to find the best way to deal with it. "The biggest part about it (dealing with the injury) is not being able to play with the team." Kelsay stated. "It's a big game Saturday and we all realize it and I wish I was out there with my teammates, preparing to play them, so I am just taking it the best that I can and trying to be a leader out there and at least be a part of the team."

Chris feels optimistic about his return, but still would not say with any definitive answer as to when his return might be. "It's still day to day right now." Chris said. "It already feels better than it did yesterday and the day before, so it's looking good from that aspect, but it's just a matter of time before I really know."

The players have already and will certainly still, feel Chris's absence. The way that this unit has gotten used to getting things done at times is with Kelsay on the field. Without that practice time for the younger ones, his loss could have a two-fold effect, but for Kelsay, he says that though he wants to be out there and in some respects, needs to be, his experience helps him even when he can only watch. "I would love to be out there taking the reps, but at this point in my career I feel at least mental reps, I still get a feel for practice and I still get a feel for Missouri as a team." Kelsay stated. "But, anytime you miss any physical reps, it's a disadvantage, but I feel I am at a point in my career here that it might not hurt me as much if I were a couple of years younger."

Chris is trying to feel out the practice and as everyone is attempting, he is trying to figure out Missouri as a team. Well, let's put that another way. Chris is trying to figure out Brad Smith, because in some aspects, he is the team. Smith has done nothing but set the conference and in some aspects, the country on it's ear with his un-freshman like play and his ability to make things happen. He's a sore spot for any defensive player and this coming weekend, it's the Blackshirts' turn to deal with him. "He's very talented." Chris said. "He really carries his team and it says a lot for him. Missouri's QB brings a lot of the same things to the table (as Seneca Wallace), so it will be a challenge for this defense, but they are going to get our best shot."

NU's best shot hasn't been considered "best" at much in recent weeks. The blackshirts certainly haven't been compared to Oklahoma's D-line, often considered to be one of the best fronts in the country. Even Bob Stoops said of Brad Smith that his vaunted defense simply "couldn't tackle him", so what's that mean for a Nebraska team still struggling to put pieces together? "When you look at OU's defense and all the publicity and credit they have been getting this season, you have to wonder how good this Missouri offense is." Kelsay stated.

"It wasn't that they only had trouble tackling him, but their offensive line did a great job against Oklahoma's defensive line, but we have to worry about what's at stake for us and what we can do to better ourselves this week before we play Missouri this Saturday."

After the recent troubles of NU with Penn State and Iowa State, some might have taken a look twice at the point spread to this game. NU by 9.5. If you actually listened consistently to what most fans are saying, you might have expected it to be MU to be favored rather than the Huskers. Some of that no doubt has to do with the fact that Missouri will be playing against NU at Lincoln and that means, the longest home-winning streak in the country. It's not lost on the odd makers and it's not even lost on the players themselves. "I know that we play our best ball here in Memorial Stadium." Chris said. "Every team gets our best shot when we play at home."

"We haven't been the type of team that has been able to go on road games and get the job done here recently, but when we have a game at home in front of our fans, in our atmosphere, it's a huge advantage for us and I firmly believe that we are a totally different ball club."

A change of atmosphere can make a difference as it also seems that certain changes in personnel. Before their last game against McNeese State, coach Solich and staff made quite a few adjustments on the defensive side of the ball, replacing four different starters.

Trevor Johnson over Demoine Adams, Fabian Washington over Pat Ricketts, Daniel Bullocks over Aaron Terpening and Patrick Kabongo over Jon Clanton.

These changes weren't meant to shake things up, but as coach Bohl stated, it was to simply get the best players on the field. These decisions were whole-heartedly supported by Kelsay. "I'm a firm believer that not necessarily seniority or scholarship athletes should be playing ahead of a walk-on or somebody that's younger." Kelsay stated. "The one that's getting the job done is the person that should be in there. That's the mentality our coaches have and that's the mentality our players have. Unless you are getting it done, somebody is going to take your spot."

That kind of "have to" mentality is something Chris believes in as it makes people better, but Chris also stated that this team's true success stems from the fact that win or lose, they are doing it together. "I have never doubted our unity and our cohesiveness." Kelsay stated. "We have always stuck together and have never pointed a finger at a person. It's an eleven man ball game and we win together and we lose together and we aren't going to have anyone come in here and pull us apart."

"That's one thing that can ruin a season quicker than anything and that is something that this team has definitely not done and my hat's off to all of them."

Chris finds himself standing on the sidelines, cheering instead of playing. For what would seem like an eternity for him, is still an indeterminate amount of time for everyone interested in when he will be back on the field. There's little doubt as to the angst it must cause him to have to lead from somewhere than amidst the players in the huddle, but he's still leading and he's still sounding the horn.

This defense hasn't been stellar by any statistical measure. They have struggled to stop the run sometimes and at others, were unable to stop the pass. They have experienced the worst NU has experienced in almost 20 years. For any defense that started so high, from this point, there's little place to go but up. Don't tell that to this defense however, because Chris speaks for all of his mates as he says that NU isn't looking at moral victories, but real victories that solidify that they are back. "As of late, we have been our own worst enemy." Chris said. "It was a heartbreaker for us at Iowa State, but we are ready to get back to the conference schedule and prove to the nation that we are still contenders for the


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