CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — As Ben Stille answered questions after a breakout performance against Illinois, the chilly north breeze blowing across Memorial Stadium caused goosebumps to raise on his forearms.

Should Stille and his Blackshirt brethren keep playing like they have been, fans of the hometown kids who make good will start to feel the same way.

"A lot of the program was built around that, just all through Nebraska's history," the Ashland native said. "So we definitely take pride in that, just being the guys from around (Lincoln) and being the cornerstone."

Stille finished with four tackles, including three for loss, and a sack that led to a forced fumble.

Linebacker Chris Weber, an Elkhorn graduate, had a team-high nine tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and an interception on an Illinois Hail Mary to end the first half.

And Lincoln native Luke Gifford added five tackles, including one for loss.

"It's fun to have Nebraska guys, especially a young player like Ben, come in and play the way he has and not really bat an eye," Weber said. "But play hard, and really do his job. It's fun for an upperclassman to see guys like that."

The trio was part of a defensive effort that held Illinois to 199 total yards — the second consecutive week the Blackshirts have flexed their muscle in such a fashion, and the first time a Nebraska defense has accomplished the feat since 2001.

"I remember watching that defense. I mean, I was 6, but I remember what I can," Gifford said. "So it's cool to be compared, but we've still got a long ways to go and a lot of ways to get better."

It was a breakout night for Stille, who saw his first action last week against Rutgers and was even more productive against Illinois while playing in the same defensive line rotation as last week.

The redshirt freshman went from getting limited reps as a third-stringer behind Freedom Akinmoladun and Khalil Davis to earning impactful snaps in a span of two weeks.

"I didn't get many reps (in practice), but the reps I did get, I went all-out," Stille said. "And that's how I can an opportunity to move positions and get more reps."

Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco spoke after the Rutgers game about finding roles for players who hadn't seen much game action, but should be on the field. Stille fit the bill, and has reaped the rewards.

"He's worked hard, he's been nonstop in his effort and energy and preparation. So we're not shocked," Diaco said. "He understands force and alley defense as it relates to his positioning and the players around him.

"And he gives great, great effort, so he'll continue to thrash around until something good happens. It's fun."

Two years ago, Weber had 17 tackles in Nebraska's 14-13 loss.

"I don't know, man, I like playing here. I can say that," he said with a grin. "I think the biggest thing is just limiting explosive plays, making teams earn everything they get. If they're going to drive it down the field, our job is to bow up at the end. But make them earn everything they get."

Diaco spoke glowingly of his senior leader, just minutes before Weber spoke glowingly of his teammates. In their words and their actions, the Blackshirts appear to be discovering a plan to help carry a Nebraska team that will surely have to lean on them more than once as the season plays out.

"He is a stalwart for us, and a great leader. He's really one of the heart and souls of the whole team. And very appropriately," Diaco said. "Husker Nation should just be so proud of Chris Weber. He represents the state and the university really well. He's a special guy."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.


Husker basketball reporter

A Ravenna native, Chris covers the University of Nebraska men's basketball team and assists with football coverage. He spent nearly 10 years covering sports at the Kearney Hub and nearly four years at the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Mo.

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