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Nebraska vs. Michigan State, 10.4.14

Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis checks the scoreboard during the third quarter against Michigan State on Oct. 4 at Spartan Stadium.

Much has changed in the life of John Papuchis during the past seven years, but maybe it's best beginning with the one thing that hasn't.

It's the last thing the Husker football assistant coach told the media after Friday's practice.

"I walked in excited, with my head held high, and I plan on leaving the same way," Papuchis said.

He held many titles as a coach in Lincoln — defensive line coach, special-teams coordinator, recruiting coordinator, defensive coordinator. But as Papuchis reflected on the seven years that have come and gone, one thing he wasn't going to hold was a grudge.

The coach who took his share of arrows during his time with the Huskers is, at 36, still a young man in his profession. He came in having never been a full-time assistant. He'll leave as the defensive coordinator at Nebraska.

He'll leave with much more than that, he's sure.

"It's been a pretty dramatic growth," he said. "I was 29 years old when I was hired here, and had no kids at the time, and was going through this for the first time. And I leave Nebraska with four kids and a lot of experience. I learned a lot along the way and feel like I'm better prepared for whatever situation comes down the road."

The next turn isn't yet certain, or at least Papuchis isn't ready to share it aloud.

He has been like all the assistants from Bo Pelini's staff, prepping for Nebraska's Holiday Bowl game against USC while also making phone calls about future employment.

"I feel confident in terms of the people I've talked to and the direction I want to head," Papuchis said.

And, yes, the bowl game matters plenty to him. That's his defense that will be on the field against USC. You better believe it matters.

"For me personally, I don't mind saying this at all, I look at this as an opportunity again, another chance to build upon your resume, to go play a great team. Hopefully we have a good defensive showing and that will help going forward."

Pelini may be gone, but Nebraska's defense will stay "pretty much in the parameters" of what it's done all year, though Papuchis says that "obviously, there's going to be a little bit different spin on it."

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And while some may wonder exactly how inspired the Huskers will be in a time of transition, sophomore safety Nate Gerry said he's seen a focused team when it steps between the lines.

"I don't think we took a step backward or anything," Gerry said. "If anything, I think we took about a step-and-a-half, two steps forward. The energy is a lot higher than it's been in awhile."

Gerry makes it clear he'd like nothing more than to send members of Pelini's staff out with a victory.

"JP and Bo and all those guys, they're the reason I'm here. They gave me the opportunity to come play football," Gerry said. "They gave everything they've got to me and my family over the past two years I've been here. The least I could do is give everything I've got to them. So that's what I'm going to do is, I'm going to send them out on a good note."

Likewise, Papuchis wants to do right by the players, preparing them to play their best and win a bowl game for the second straight season.

A win would allow Nebraska to avoid at least four losses in a season for the first time since 2003, which also happens to be the year Pelini got his first victory and the last time the Huskers walked into a bowl game in the midst of a coaching transition.

Strange times then. Strange times now.

"It's definitely unique," Papuchis said. "I always like to think that you focus on the job you got. And I guess that's true until you don't have one. I've been totally invested in getting ready for this game, because I think it's the right way to finish our time at Nebraska, it's right for us as coaches.

"But at the same time, obviously, I have four little ones and a family to take care of, so I'm trying to do the best I can in terms of balancing what's going to come after the 27th and what's taking place now."

So you make a few calls on the side when you're not trying to get a game plan ready to stop Cody Kessler.

Whatever job is next, Papuchis will have plenty of experiences from his time in Lincoln to draw from.

"We've had some ups and obviously some downs. I think we've kind of run the gamut in terms of the experience here," Papuchis said. "What I hope that doesn't get lost are some of the things that have been positive. I think it's easy, and a lot of times we know what the negatives were, but there are a lot of things I can walk away from here being proud of, and our football team should, too."

He laughed a bit as he finished his thought, offering up the undisputed truth of the day. "I think it has been a pretty well-rounded experience."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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