Senior linebacker Micah Kreikemeier enters this season at Nebraska keeping a close eye on next season.
To understand, you have to know Kreikemeier’s approach to football.
He’s 100 percent about the team, 100 percent of the time.
This isn’t fluffy, peppy cheap talk, either.
It’s who Kreikemeier is, who he’s become through an injury-plagued career that’s kept him on the sidelines.
“It’s going to be all new guys next year, so we don’t want the linebacker squad to be down next year,” Kreikemeier said, noting this year’s three senior starters. “We want (the younger guys) to be able to replace us when we’re gone.
“If I’m not helping on the field, at least I’m helping the younger guys, helping build the program up. That’s what it’s all about: Getting this program back to where it’s supposed to be.
“I think this year, we can get there.”
Kreikemeier aims to contribute — preferably on game day, but most certainly on the practice field.
This me-last attitude might not be something you’d expect from a memorable Husker recruit who graced the pages of Sports Illustrated his senior year of high school. Kreikemeier, the son of a former Husker walk-on, was pictured in his West Point Central Catholic letter jacket, sitting on a fence at his dad’s feed yard while holding his dad’s Nebraska football helmet.
This attention was because Kreikemeier didn’t have a bunch of recruiting stars next to his name, and because fans weren’t drooling over his 40 time.
But he was Bo Pelini’s first scholarship recruit, handpicked by athletic director Tom Osborne because Kreikemeier displayed characteristics of those players who had been the backbone of Nebraska football for decades.
Tough. Hard-working. Passionate. Smart. Dependable. Local. Loyal. Hungry.
“I know this: He’s a phenomenal young man,” second-year Nebraska linebackers coach Ross Els said. “I think any time you stick through a situation where you’re not playing a lot, and there’s not a word of complaint, and there’s a full-fledged attitude, helping guys who may eventually move ahead of you on the depth chart — that shows what a solid teammate and a solid person he is.
“He cares so much more about the team than he does himself. He’s realistic in his abilities, but he’s made some good strides from spring to fall. I like what he’s doing right now. I would love to be able to get him on the field more in the fall.”
Kreikemeier would like to get there, period.
This is his fifth year in the program, and he’s yet to play a snap, not even on special teams. Injuries, including two knee surgeries in Kreikemeier’s first two seasons, have played a major factor.
The second surgery, he says, was most debilitating. Kreikemeier was in the middle of his redshirt freshman season, had worked his way up to second string and was even on the travel squad.
“That’s the one that hurt the worst,” said Kreikemeier, who also missed the following spring.
Never has Kreikemeier thought of quitting. Not once.
“That never goes through my mind,” he said. “Being a Husker has been a life-long dream. I wasn’t a quitter, either. I don’t care if I’ve had two or three injuries, or whatever it’s been. I’m going to fight through it and make the best of it.”
Kreikemeier has always worked at BUCK linebacker but moved to MIKE in the spring. He figures the fact he knows two positions, and knows them well, increases his chances of playing a backup role.
That, and Nebraska’s thin linebacker unit.
“Everyone’s one snap away from getting on the field,” Kreikemeier said. “Always be ready. You never know.”
Until then — and even after — Kreikemeier will make sure the younger linebackers will take note of his work ethic, patience and determination.
“Hopefully they see that and they kind of learn from that,” he said. “And any time they have a question, you know, I’ve been here for 4½ years now. I kind of know the defense fairly well. I’ve worked two positions now. I’ve got a good grasp of most of the defense.
“As long as I help those young guys out.”