The camping trip is over. Aren’t you glad?
We can answer that question for you. Yes. Yes, you are.
The end of Husker fall football camp means the beginning of the fun times — you know, when we actually keep score and stuff.
But it’s always worth a quick look back at what was. Who caught our attention in the fall camp?
And how do those players factor into the fall grind that awaits?
Biggest stock risers
Start from the center and work your way out. Justin Jackson’s charge for the starting center job is nothing short of fascinating. Here’s a kid from Norris High School who was a defensive lineman until this year. But look at this fiery fella now. Teammates call him “Junior” — as in Ricky Henry Jr. That intensity has paid off. Heading into this game week, he’s said to have a slight edge over Cole Pensick to start Saturday against Southern Miss. Talk about a quick rise. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention cornerback Josh Mitchell. Consider for a second that Mitchell didn’t even go on the bowl trip last year. Now the 155-pound sophomore is very much in the mix for a starting job. Small in stature, yes. But Mitchell says: "I carry a big man mentality."
What about those young bucks? We present true freshmen Imani Cross (running back), Avery Moss (defensive end), Aaron Curry (defensive tackle) and walk-on Andy Janovich (fullback/special teams). All four were mentioned by Bo Pelini as potential candidates to play this year. Moss’ quick move at defensive end has been a surprise, considering the guy was focused on basketball up until this spring. He’s still raw. But he just makes plays, John Papuchis said. None of the young guys have made more waves than Cross, however. The 225-pound back could provide some thump to the Nebraska backfield. He’s 18 years old. But you sure don’t think it when you see him in person.
Under-the-radar position battle
It might have been assumed by program outsiders entering fall camp that the two starting safeties would be seniors Daimion Stafford and P.J. Smith. And it might be. But don’t take it to the bank just yet. Stafford, yes. In fact, Stafford could be Nebraska’s most dominant player on defense this year. But surging sophomore Harvey Jackson has been putting some heat on Smith. To Smith’s credit, he’s seemed to be a big help in trying to tutor the younger players and lead them. Whoever gets the nod, it’s expected Nebraska’s safety play will be improved from a year ago.
Also, it’s worth keeping an eye on the WILL linebacker spot. Senior Alonzo Whaley has worked hard to improve off the field. He’s done that. And he could be ready to make a big impact on the field. But redshirt freshman David Santos has quietly had a good fall camp at that spot, too. It’s possible Nebraska will begin the season with three seniors at linebacker — Will Compton, Sean Fisher and Whaley. But will the season end with three seniors leading the way there?
Oftentimes, the biggest fall camp news is an injury to a critical player. This time it was the departure of left tackle Tyler Moore, who went back home to Florida to consider his future. Moore was a big-time recruit, and so his leaving brought with it plenty of conversation. Nebraska presses forward with three players likely to take on the two tackle spots — Jeremiah Sirles, Andrew Rodriguez and Brent Qvale. Let’s highlight the last name on that list. The 6-7, 315-pound Qvale was said to have a very strong fall camp. Prior to Moore’s departure, Qvale was at least even with him, if not slightly ahead. Qvale played in all but one game last year but has never started in his career. That may be about to change.
Feel-good moment of fall camp
It had to be the day when five walk-ons learned they had been awarded scholarships. Brett Maher, Justin Blatchford, Spencer Long, Jackson and Seung Hoon Choi. It’s very possible the last three might be starting on the interior of Nebraska’s offensive line Saturday. All great stories, but we’ll point the laser pointer at Choi. This is a guy who didn’t start playing football at Lincoln Christian until he was 16. The fact he was able to pick things up that quickly to walk on and make the Husker roster was a story in itself. Then the story got better when he started playing. And now? A scholarship. It was big enough news that Choi said he’d probably call his parents back home in Seoul, South Korea. It was 4 a.m. there at the time, but here’s guessing Mom and Dad didn’t mind that call.
Biggest quarterback question
It is rare we say this, but Taylor Martinez was actually under the radar these past few weeks. After all, the footwork and passing mechanic questions surrounding him had been asked repeatedly during the spring. There’s really nothing more to say on that until we see the junior in action. Instead, the fall camp conversation turned to the backup quarterback. Mainly, who is the backup? We learned that Brion Carnes is being challenged by Ron Kellogg III and true freshman Tommy Armstrong. Yes, Armstrong made quite a good first impression it seems. Which brings us to the biggest question: Will he redshirt? Stay tuned. The fact the conversation is even out there, however, should encourage fans about the young quarterback's potential.
Most important player you hardly heard about
That’d be senior defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler. He doesn’t do many interviews, which means there aren’t many stories about him, even though he’s about as critical as anybody on the defense. Of course, the only question that really matters is how much noise Steinkuhler makes when the games begin. New D-line coach Rick Kaczenski likes what he sees from his veteran. "Does everything you ask and then some. You're going to win with guys like that,” Kaczenski said. “Probably a little bit more athletic than he gets credit for. But just a tough kid. You can't get him out of there. ... You need those tough guys in the middle to set the tone for the defense."
Best quote about centaurs
That’d belong to the one and only Eric Martin, who compared a teammate’s quiet ways to a centaur. “You know, centaurs are kind of quiet,” Martin said. “You just give them a sugar cube and they walk away.” See, we learned something this fall camp. Sugar cubes. Keep them handy.