As you look down Nebraska's current depth chart, you see "Fr." or "Rfr." all over the place. Starting for the Huskers, you have 1 true freshman, 2 redshirt freshmen and 10 total freshmen and redshirt freshmen combined other than the three previously stated that have contributed to Nebraska this year. Without having a stat that tells me how many that fall into that category that have contributed to NU each year for the past few years, you can't say how different this kind of contribution is, but you would have to assume that this is something highly unusual.
The contributions stem from a lot of reasons. Whether it's from injuries or just the lack of quality depth, the contributions of the youngest amongst the roster have had it's effect, both good and bad. Obviously, the bad simply comes from inexperience, but it's contradicted quite nicely by the good.
In his brief time as a Husker and with sporadic chances, Matt Herian has made the most of his limited time. In all actuality, at least for Herian, it's opportunities he wasn't sure he would get at all. "I guess I consider myself fortunate right now." Herian stated. "My thinking this year was that I wasn't going to play. So, when I did get to play, whatever chances I got, I tried to make the most out of them." Matt certainly did that as he might have only 2 receptions on the year, but one was for a touchdown and the other went for 44 yards, taking Nebraska down to about the ten yard line of the opponent.
Matt Herian's rise up the depth chart should not go unnoticed, because just like a few years ago when NU was simply loaded with tight ends, Nebraska is in familiar waters as the Huskers have 5 tight ends that have all caught balls this year. That kind of depth would be off-putting to some that are thinking about going to NU, but as Herian was made aware, there may be a lot now, but next year, Herian will be one of the few veterans on the squad. "That's one of the reasons that drew me to coming here." Matt said. "The coaches told me that the first year I would redshirt and after that, 4 of them would be gone. It makes me feel a whole lot better that I got to play this year, because next year I will be even more prepared for the season."
What's made Matt the impact player that he has been this season is one thing, speed. Herian is a TE with WR-type speed and that has set him apart from his teammates at the position. "That's what a lot of schools recruited me for." Herian stated. "I think that's one of the main reasons I am playing this year."
Does this represent a change in philosophy for NU though? Herian's speed does have a lot to do with his size. Not his height mind you, but his weight. Matt is a full 25 lbs. lighter than the next lightest TE, Jon Bowling. It's not the typical size of a Nebraska tight end as most NU tight ends are considered extensions of the offensive line, but that can catch. With that responsibility, size does matter and Herian said that it's something the coaches addressed with him even back in the recruiting process. "When they recruited me, they said they wanted me to put on about 20 lbs. or something like that to get me to around 240 or 250. They want me to be a good receiving tight end with speed, but they want me big enough that I can handle the blocking duties to."
Herian came to Nebraska with the same mindset as most recruits. He was coming to a major winning tradition, would be part of a lot of success and would try and contribute as much as he could as each year, Nebraska tries for another national title.
This year, plans have changed. Now, it's not a matter of winning it all, but winning at all, especially on the road. That doesn't change how players go about the games though, as Herian's goals are the same as when he first came in. "When you come here, you come in just expecting to play for a national title." Matt said. "So, when you get here and we have a year like this, it's a little frustrating, but I just want to go out there, play as well as I can and just help this team as much as I can. That's not going to change no matter what our record is."
Herian's frustrations are felt by coach, player and fan alike. Nebraska's unique situation this season has erupted in a wave of negativity about where this program is and where it is heading. Matt talked about those comments and the fact that for those at NU next year, this is the kind of year that really motivates a team to set things right. "Everybody is talking about we have fallen off." Matt said. "We aren't what we are supposed to be and it just makes you want to prove them all wrong. You play hard no matter what, but when everyone is doubting you, it just makes you want to get better that much more."
Getting better is just what NU needs to do and seemingly in all phases of the game. From QB to DB, OL to DT, this team has found itself in a collective drop-off in offense and defense alike. Matt reiterates something though that seems to have been lost on people who see NU as a team lacking in not just fundamentals, but the types of players needed to make a Nebraska team what it is. It is about the players, but not their ability to play with other teams, but it's about turning good practices into good games as well. "It's frustrating that we practice as well as we do and then play sometimes like we do in the game." Matt said. "I know we have the players to get it done even though everyone says we don't. We have the players, we just have to go out there and put it together and we will win some games.
"We can beat the teams we play, but we all have to be on the same page to do it."
This is a page to an extent. A page in Nebraska history. Right now, it's one that Herian and his teammates would like to tear out of the book and forget ever happened, but with so many tough games ahead and on the road, it's not the words already written, but those blanks pages yet to be etched that have the most substance right now.
Herian and his other youthful teammates are amidst a baptism by fire that none of their other teammates have had to endure. In times like these, there are but two directions to go. To go down is to go where everyone says you are right now and to go up is where everyone says you can't be, at least not this year. Herian chooses the latter. "It doesn't matter if it's this year or next year, if someone says we can't, we want to show them we can. We just want to win."