I don't mean to be pretentious here, but going head to head with Oklahoma and winning a recruiting battle is one thing, but a young man actually committing to OU and then, changing his mind to head to NU, that's something. No, that's REALLY something. I couldn't even hazard a guess as to when that happened before, but for the new staff at NU and especially, Barney Cotton, this is an early notch, but a significant notch in the belt.
Obviously though, it didn't come down to something as trivial as one school over another, one tradition versus another for lineman, Ryan Schuler. It was about more than that. Much more. "It was a tough decision." Ryan said. "It came down to some factors I thought were important."
"I felt I had a better relationship with the coaches, it was close to home so I would be able to have my family more involved with my career which means a lot to me and the decision to de-commit was really tough because of the relationships that were built, but ultimately I thought I would be happier at Nebraska."
I don't know about you, but why now? What is there so different about NU now than there was when he was first recruited? Well, other than an almost completely different coaching staff, not much. In fact, that's why I eluded to this little notch in coach Barney Cotton's belt, because his presence certainly had an affect on Ryan's change of direction. "The reason I kind of put Nebraska out of the picture early (in the year) was because Dan Young and Milt are both great coaches, but I guess I didn't feel too much of a connection with them as far as being excited to come work with them everyday."
"I think coach Cotton brings a lot of energy to the program and some youthfulness. Somebody that has a lot of good ideas. It sounds like it is going to be a positive turnaround for the program."
The turnaround Ryan eludes to is the obvious one. How to go from the worst record in 40 years of Husker football, back to being , well, Nebraska. The influx of so many new coaches has appeared to not only bring new blood into the program, but also new life. It's a new attitude that even Ryan can sense, especially from the player level. "The impression I got from the players is that this is kind of a wake-up call." Ryan said. "I think the players realized they weren't invincible."
"The level they play at and the conference they play in, week in and week out and you have to bring your best game or you are going to get knocked off."
"I think everybody has a little desire to work hard and get it done."
Much of what you heard about NU's lack of success last year had to do with coaching, but you also heard about attitude. While players like Richie Incognito were at times chided for their almost fanatical intensity, it's that perceived lack of intensity that some think helped in putting the icing on the cake for what (in NU terms) was a season fraught with disasters. It's that "attitude" that Ryan thinks a player needs to, as he said, "get it done". "You basically just have to out there and think that you are going to kick the guy's ass across from you, is the bottom line." Ryan said. "Getting it handed to you is just something I am not going to accept."
What Ryan will accept though is the burden he has as a future Nebraska lineman. It's not an easy one either. Even in the years where this band of warriors isn't considered amongst the best in Husker history, they are still juggernauts. They can still play "smashmouth" football with the best of them. Ryan is looking to get in there and do his thing, but his plan is a little more orchestrated than that. "However my first year works out which I am not sure, I would like to have a starting spot my second year there, which is pretty unheard of." Ryan said. "Another individual goal is to be an All-American there and just keep the tradition going."
All-American? Ok, that's feasible. Heck, at Nebraska, it's pretty darn plausible. Don't misconstrue the origin for Ryan's desire though. Some will tell you they want those accolades because it means they are special or it means they've done something that will set them apart. That's not only NOT Ryan's motivation, he actually thinks that some of the attention even the best players get is a little too much. "I got invited down to that U.S. Army All-American bowl and just got a little glimpse of how players were treated there and I was just shocked." Schuler stated. "It just seemed silly to me that just for playing football, you get treated like that."
You can certainly forget about wondering if Ryan is grounded or not. He seems to have his ego well in hand. But, as you know, in sports, egos abound and even the most humbled person has an air about them, an angst if you will, all they need is a direction.
Angst? Towards OU? He's the one that said no to them, right? He's the one that changed his mind and decided on not just another direction, but went to one of OU's most storied rivals. Ryan's angst isn't at the University so much, but at how much OU made of a situation when Ryan knew darn well that regardless of how much they wanted him, they were ready if he (or anyone else) said no. "As soon as I say I am not going to them (Oklahoma), they got guys, five-deep ready to jump on that scholarship." Ryan said. "It's part of the game they play, trying to make it a personal thing, trying to make you feel guilty for not committing to them."
"At the same time, they are playing the game, calling guys up behind your back, saying if this guy doesn't commit, we drop him, pick this guy up and that, and it's just part of the game."
"The only school that is going to be happy is the one you sign with and everybody else going to be kind of bummed out about, but they aren't going to dwell too long. They are going to get after it in Spring ball and start looking towards the future."
That happy team is Nebraska. And, the fans should be happy as well. Yes, they got themselves a helluva lineman, but they also got a little more reaffirmation of all that time that Frank Solich took to find the coaches he wanted for the future. It was because of this new staff that Schuler is here and yes, it took some time, time that fans thought lost them this person or that, but it actually got one back. It got a player back that is more than happy to be at NU now, because not only will he bring his own attitude to the fray, he's expecting nothing less of those new staff members as well.
"I've nothing against them (the old staff), but with this new staff, I think it brings a new fire to the program." Schuler stated. "I like the guys that are anxious to get something done and don't sit back like they have already accomplished something."
"You haven't done a damn thing yet. You can't sit back and relax until the season is over. You
take two weeks off, smile about what you did and get back in the weight room."
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619