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Steven M. Sipple: Husker left tackle Qvale's career on uptick

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Brent Qvale

Offensive lineman Brent Qvale during practice at the Hawks Championship Center on Tuesday, March 16, 2011. (GWYNETH ROBERTS / Lincoln Journal Star)

You might say -- if you're someone other than Bo Pelini -- that Brent Qvale found his stride in the Nebraska football program late in his college career.

Pelini, always ready to defend his players, takes issue with "late in his college career," saying Qvale is like most offensive linemen in that he simply needed time to develop.

At any rate, Qvale, a fourth-year junior, appears poised to take over as Nebraska's starting left tackle, an important position, considering Pelini's stated desire for the Huskers to rely more heavily on the pass this season.

Nebraska obviously can't afford to have quarterback Taylor Martinez getting blindsided in the pocket.

So what took Qvale so long to reach this point? After all, the North Dakota native was an exceptional athlete in high school -- a two-time all-state basketball player, as well as a three-time state champion in the shot put. Iowa and Wisconsin recruited him for football.

"I don't see it as being late (in his career)," Pelini said. "That's one of the problems. People want to put the cart before the horse. It takes a lot of time, a lot of technique, a lot of fundamentals to get where you want to go. The notion that these kids are coming into college ready to play is absurd.

"It takes a rare situation, and it's not an ideal situation most of the time, for a freshman to come in and play."

Tyler Moore was a rare case last season, becoming the first Nebraska true freshman offensive lineman to start a season opener. He started the first four games at right tackle before giving way to senior Marcel Jones. 

Moore entered preseason camp early this month as the favorite to start at left tackle. The perception was his career was on the uptick, and Qvale's was perhaps stuck in neutral.

Be careful relying on perception.

Behind the scenes, a story was unfolding that defied perception. Moore and Qvale were neck-and-neck at left tackle, coaches said. Truth be told, it was Qvale who was on the uptick. As for Moore, he was struggling with "personal issues" -- the official word from Pelini -- that ultimately would lead the Florida native to leave the team Aug. 10 and head home to Palm Harbor.

So, Qvale, after two seasons as a reserve guard, appears to be the Huskers' main man at a high-profile position (think Anthony Munoz, Willie Roaf, Jonathan Ogden). The 6-foot-7, 315-pound Qvale's role is integral, in part because Pelini wants Nebraska to go from a run/pass ratio of about 70/30 percent last season to 50/50 this season.

Qvale sounds ready. His coaches say he reported for preseason drills in excellent shape physically and mentally.

"Everything seems to be working good," Qvale said. "I'm just trying to stay healthy through camp and through the season, finally."

Yeah, finally. He has incurred assorted injuries that slowed his progress. A shoulder injury here, a knee injury there. He has played both guard positions (as well as right tackle) and appreciates being able to settle in at left tackle.

He makes no excuses. He mostly talks of working hard and concentrating on improvement -- bettering his technique, pad level, how hard he comes off the ball.

"Strive for perfection," he said. 

A native of Williston, N.D. -- the busiest city in the state's booming oil patch -- Qvale wore a wide smile after a recent practice. It was the smile of young man who seemingly has discovered his own form of riches.

"Qvale has improved immensely," said Nebraska offensive line coach Barney Cotton. "He's having a real good camp. It's helped that he's only been playing one position. He's making the most of his opportunity right now. But he by no means is a finished product."

Pelini seems not the least bit surprised by Qvale's apparent rise. The coach points to Qvale's basketball prowess. Some of the best offensive linemen are accomplished basketball players. As a senior at Williston High, Qvale averaged 21 points and 12 rebounds.

"I think he could have went and played some college basketball," said Mark Slotsve, head coach at Williston. "He has such great feet. The things that that body did, I just didn't think should ever happen with a guy that big." 

Slotsve portrays Qvale as a nice guy with a hard edge once the whistle blows.

"He hated to lose and didn't back down from anybody from his freshman year on," the coach said.

There was one other thing Slotsve, who teaches high-level math, wanted to stress.

"I think people need to know Brent's about as intelligent a kid as you're ever going to get."

Qvale graduated from Williston with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average, "And I think he's proud of how smart he is," Slotsve said.

So, Qvale's attributes in a nutshell: Size, athleticism, competitiveness, intelligence.

And, yes, seasoning.

"You expect, especially at the offensive line position, that usually it's going to take a couple years," Pelini said.

It appears Qvale's wait is over.



Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or


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Husker sports 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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