Nebraska vs. Wisconsin, 12.1.12 (copy)

Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis (4) leaps to pull in the pass in front of  Nebraska's Ciante Evans during last year's Big Ten Championship Game. Evans says the Husker defense needs to be on the same page to be a success, and that didn't happen all the time last season.

Ciante Evans paints a portrait of utter chaos.

Perhaps you can relate to the scene on Nebraska's sideline in December as Wisconsin battered the Huskers 70-31, a beating nobody could have imagined entering the Big Ten Championship Game.

Nebraska trailed 14-10 late in the first quarter. Game on? Not so much. A beating ensued. Wisconsin, which had five losses, reeled off 28 consecutive points to lead 42-10 at halftime.

"They were running up the score on us, and on our sideline, everybody wanted to talk," Evans said last week.

There was so much noisy chatter, so much yelling and carrying on, it was difficult for meaningful messages to be conveyed. Evans described the scene as "clutter." He didn't even bother raising his voice; it wouldn't have mattered, he said.

It will matter now.

For the first time in sixth-year Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini's tenure at the school, he decided to name season-long captains instead of naming different ones for each game.

Evans, a senior nickel back, was the only defender to be so honored. He's joined by three fellow seniors -- quarterback Taylor Martinez, guard Spencer Long and wide receiver Quincy Enunwa.

"What it boils down to is, when things get tough, guys need to be led in the right direction," said Evans, the team's returning leader in tackles.

Two months ago, Pelini fired off texts to the four seniors, summoning them to his office. They were unsure why, Evans said. Head strength coach James Dobson also was present. Pelini gave the captains the news while issuing rules and guidelines for how to proceed in their new roles.

Evans said he felt "overwhelmed."

"I was a captain in high school," said the native of Arlington, Texas. "But it's a bigger deal in college."

Evans looks forward to Aug. 5, the start of fall camp, and Aug. 31, when Nebraska opens the season against Wyoming. 

No sense dwelling on last season's dramatic losses, Evans said, referring specifically to UCLA (36-30), Ohio State (63-38) and Georgia (45-31), as well as that nightmarish game in Indianapolis.

"I know I really took it hard, thinking about those losses," Evans said. "But right now, I tell the young guys, 'Don't worry about it.' And I tell the older guys, 'You especially don't worry about it, because you have younger guys looking up to you.'"

Evans, as a captain, not only holds himself accountable, he holds others accountable for various obligations. If someone is late for a class, Evans wants to know why, "and what can we help do for him to be on time."

Pelini's approach is to put ample responsibility in the hands of players. His objective -- like that of most college coaches, I would hope -- is to help players become responsible adults. Holding each other accountable is a significant step in that direction.

Same goes for striving to be effective at the (lost?) art of verbal communication. Evans said the captains stressed the importance of communication -- on and off the field -- during a team meeting.

Evans said the captains are assigned position groups -- his are the secondary and running backs. He makes sure the running backs and defensive backs are keeping up with schoolwork, working out hard, studying football video and generally doing more than merely what's expected. The setup requires interaction.

He might have benefited from a captain's strong words early in his college career. He said "the light switched on" during the offseason before his junior year, after he endured a rather humbling sophomore season.

"I don't know what I was doing, to be honest with you," he said. "But it wasn't good enough. It wasn't how I was accustomed to playing."

He readily admits he was taking plays off. He didn't study video of opponents, at least not enough of it. He wasn't properly respecting the game, he said, especially the level at which Nebraska's defense is expected to perform.

Husker secondary coach Terry Joseph noticed.

"He told me, 'You have all of the ability in the world; you just don't know what you're doing,'" Evans said.

He knows now. He arguably is the team's most valuable defender, playing a position (nickel back) that demands athleticism, toughness, versatility and intelligence. But his value transcends the playing field.

"He's not a very vocal guy, but he leads by example," Pelini said. "He does everything the right way, on the field and off the field. In the classroom, everything."

The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Evans is surrounded by inexperienced players on his side of the ball. Nebraska lost eight starters on defense from last season's 10-4 team (7-1 Big Ten). The Huskers will rely heavily on underclassmen, perhaps even a few true freshmen. The young players will need guidance.

"Some of these freshmen will have to come in and play immediately," Evans said. "I think the sky's the limit for those guys. They're fast, young, athletic. And I think they really want to learn.

"I've had a lot of young guys come up to me and ask for help. I like that. It shows me they're willing to learn."

Evans flashes back to the memorable day a couple months ago, when Pelini called the captains into his office.

"It was overwhelming, actually," Evans said. "But at the same time, I felt honored. I felt blessed. I don't want to let him (Pelini) down. I hold myself to a higher standard, and I'm ready to take on the challenge."

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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