Papuchis plans to be better from last year's experience

2013-08-30T01:30:00Z 2013-09-13T08:18:40Z Papuchis plans to be better from last year's experienceBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

OMAHA -- Although there's no reset button to take back a few of the gut punches from last year, John Papuchis is seeing the benefits of experience that came with that first season as Nebraska's defensive coordinator.

He's feeling more comfortable in the role in Year 2, he told a Big Red Breakfast crowd Friday on the eve of Nebraska's season opener against Wyoming.

"I think all of us in this room have had an opportunity to have their first day on the job or first day at school, and as much as you think you're prepared for that, there's going to be things that you didn't expect to come up," Papuchis said.

"I certainly learned a lot a year ago from good experiences and bad experiences, and I expect to be a better coach this year than I was a year ago."

If there is some concern from Husker fans about exactly what they'll see from a youthful defense, Papuchis was a picture of positivity when discussing the group and its potential.

"I can't tell you how jacked I am for (Saturday)," he said.

Speaking for more than 50 minutes, Papuchis said the players "have done everything in their power" to get ready to play.

Granted, there were some worries on his end coming out of spring ball.

But players put in the work in the summer, Papuchis said. And when they showed up for fall camp, he saw a "pretty unbelievable" jump.

"I told the guys when we broke at the end of spring ball, 'If we're not a better team on Aug. 1 than on April 6, then we're in some trouble.' Because, we were not ready to play a season on April 6. We just weren't. But the work that they were able to put in from April, May, June, July, leading us back to Aug. 1, we were like a totally different team."

Perhaps the most interesting part of the talk was when Papuchis was asked about his own journey, and how he became connected with Bo Pelini.

That story took on an amusing tone, at least when Les Miles entered it.

"I was at LSU with Coach (Nick) Saban, and Coach Saban that year of 2004 went to the Miami Dolphins," Papuchis said. "I wanted to go to the Dolphins with Coach Saban. ... I was virtually begging him and waiting on his doorstep. I was 25 years old and broke. But sometimes God has a plan that you can't see at the time that he'll let unfold at his pace."

Saban didn't take him. Miles became the LSU head coach.

That was interesting.

At LSU, there were about 30 people working in some sort of coaching capacity. In a scene straight out of "Seinfeld," Papuchis kept showing up to work, even though Miles didn't talk to him until he was on the job about a month.

Around then, Papuchis said Miles asked: "What do you do here?"

A defensive intern, Papuchis said.

"Oh, I just thought you came with the place."

Then Miles hired Pelini as his defensive coordinator.

When Pelini first took the job, he was living in a hotel while waiting for his family to get to Baton Rouge, La.

Papuchis was the only one on the staff not married, so in the evenings he'd just head over to the hotel and talk shop with Pelini.

"I had no wife to go home to, I had no kids, so I just hung out there with him," Papuchis said. "So that's where it kind of started. I looked at him as a mentor and the relationship just kind of grew from there."

Other Papuchis quotes:

* On the defensive line: "I finally feel like we have the depth that we need on the defensive line. For the first time in the six years I've been here, when I watch the film, I don't see a tremendous difference between the first group and second group."

* On defensive tackle Thad Randle: "You guys probably haven't seen the Thad Randle I've seen because he's never been healthy enough to do it. Knock on wood, this will be his year to really shine.

"When he's healthy, he'll be our best defensive tackle. I've said that time and time again, and sometimes people look at me cross-eyed. And I don't blame you for looking at me like that when I say that, because you've never really had the opportunity to see this guy on the field. Last year, he played on basically one leg."

* On linebacker Nathan Gerry: "One of the guys I know you're going to see early and often in the game is Nathan Gerry.

"Nate is one of those freshmen that comes in, that upon talking to him the first few weeks he's here, you kind of know he has that 'it' factor to him. ... If you were to watch our practices, you wouldn't know if he's a freshman or a senior."

* On tight end Cethan Carter: "This guy is the real deal."

* On cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste: "Stanley is one of the most gifted guys I've been around. It's now time for him to put it all together."

* On Corey Cooper: "He doesn't talk a lot. I don't even know if I've heard him put a whole sentence together and I've been with him for three years. But he's the consummate, hardworking guy that you want on your football team."

* On the safety battle: Papuchis said he doesn't know yet who Nebraska will run out first at the safety spot opposite Cooper -- either Andrew Green or Harvey Jackson. "I would feel good with either one of them lining up."

* On the kicker battle: Papuchis also wasn't sure who the place-kicker would be yet: Pat Smith or Mauro Bondi. But he expects Bondi to handle kickoffs.

* On Wyoming wide receiver Robert Herron: Papuchis singled him out as a guy the Huskers have to be dialed in on. "If he's not catching a lot of balls, we're probably doing OK."

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. Follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

Copyright 2015 JournalStar.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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