For many people in Nebraska, shaking the hand of a person you're meeting for the first time may just seem like what you do.

For a football player trying to make an impression with a new coach, it may have been a no-brainer.

Still, it stood out to new Nebraska football coach Mike Riley that during a meeting with Husker players Thursday evening, it seemed as if each player came and shook his hand. Especially when Riley knows how hard Bo Pelini's firing was for many of them.

“I was very impressed because they, almost one by one, a hundred-something guys it seemed like, came one by one and we shook hands, said who they were and said it was nice to meet me,” Riley said Friday.

A few Nebraska players attended Friday's news conference, standing at the side of the room. Among them were juniors Givens Price and Daniel Davie, sophomore Michael Rose-Ivey and freshmen De'Mornay Pierson-El and AJ Bush.

The past few days have been a waiting game for the players. When will the new coach be hired? Who will it be?

Getting the chance to meet Riley was a relief.

“He just said the biggest thing we’re going to need to heal and pull together is trust and respect,” Price said. “If we can get those two factors in, he said, and I think also, that we can be a great team.”

Added Davie: "Where he's been, what he's about, how he's invested in us, guys kind of got on board. I think most of the locker room now is behind him. We're just ready to put in work and win the bowl game."

Thursday's meeting didn’t last long, but Price could tell Riley is charismatic, and he was straightforward with the players.

“I like the guy,” Price said. “He’s got a great attitude, great mindset, funny guy. There were concerns about his age (61). I don’t really care about the age. He doesn’t even look that old. He looks really young. I’m just looking forward to next season with him.”

Pierson-El said he's still getting over Pelini's firing, but knows you have to move forward.

The past five days?

"A roller coaster," Pierson-El said. "It's just been up and down, questions from media (and everyone) of who we're going to get and everything like that. Just to hear it, and finally meet him, and hear him talk and everything, it's been a relief, kind of."

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There's work to be done, says the freshman. The meeting with Riley was just the start of the healing process.

"We still have to warm up to him," Pierson-El said. "We still have to gain trust and everything. There's a bond to be built. Just looking forward to building it."

Riley said he enjoyed meeting the players.

“I saw a group of very attentive young men,” he said. “I visited with them a little bit and told them I was just proud to be here. That I know that they’re facing a time of uncertainty.”

Many of the players tried to learn about Riley after his hiring was announced Thursday morning. Price has been focused on school, and said he did all the research he needed during the team meeting.

“He’s a good coach, great personality. I’m not going to let the record fool me,” Price said. “From what he said to us last night, I look forward to this guy.”

It’s been a difficult week for the players since Pelini was fired Sunday. The players met with him off-campus Tuesday.

“It was just a final message telling us that he still cares for us and he loves us and has our best interest at heart, and he believes that we’ll be fine with the guy they bring in,” Price said.

When Pelini was fired, many players showed support for Pelini on Twitter. Senior Josh Mitchell posted a message Friday apologizing for some of his previous comments that may have been interpreted as disrespectful of the new coach.

“Bo Pelini was much more than a coach to me and I will forever be thankful for the opportunity he, Tom Osborne and the University of Nebraska gave me. … I understand football is a production-based business. I apologize to Coach Riley for my previous comments,” Mitchell wrote. "This is not an accurate representation of who I am or who I was raised to be."

A coaching change is different for each player. The seniors don't get to play their final game with Pelini. Some players may consider transferring.

“It’s all across the board,” Price said. “Different guys are trying to figure out what the next, best move is for them. Based on what some of the players have said, I think a lot of the guys are staying, if not all of them. I don’t see why they wouldn’t.

"Besides football here, there’s great resources, the school, the town, it’s a safe environment. I don’t see why anybody would transfer.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or bwagner@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsWagner.


Sports reporter

Brent has worked at the Journal Star for 14 years. His beats include Nebraska volleyball, women's basketball and high school soccer and cross country.

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