OAKLAND, Calif. — Before Wednesday's Husker football practice began, Mike Riley made his way from the field to a nearby building to knock on an office door. He was going to see a longtime friend.

John Beam, Laney College athletic director and head football coach, has known Riley since 1993, and there's a fun story about how they met.

"He just got the job at USC and one of the kids I had coached at the high school was the returning starting tailback," Beam recalled. "Mike moved him to fullback. So the first time I saw him, me and Mike had some heated words. And Mike goes, 'Uhh, I guess I better check on that, right?' And then, he said, 'Just trust me.'"

Beam, then coaching at Skyline High School in Oakland, waited to see how it would turn out with that player, Deon Strother.

He turned out being All-Pac 10 and getting a shot in the NFL with the Denver Broncos.

"So, you know what? You trust Mike Riley," Beam said. "We just had a great friendship over the years. Mike is one of the gems of college football. He's genuine. He cares for people. He's a hell of a coach but he cares for people."

Riley certainly has some special feelings for the Bay Area, where he began his coaching career and recruited often while at Oregon State. He also has a soft spot for Laney College, where the Huskers have been practicing for their Foster Farms Bowl meeting with UCLA.

Riley has been here before to watch games and see his friend Beam, who stands out with his thin, silver mustache. If their relationship had a strange start, Beam would now be first in line to offer a positive opinion about Riley.

"He's going to be successful here. I know it was rough this year. Mike will be successful," Beam said. "And he's going to turn young men into men, and he's going to win a lot of football games. I love being around him. I love watching him coach. I love learning from him and his staff like Cav (Mike Cavanaugh) and Bank (Mark Banker). Guys I've known for a long time. Just quality guys."

While some Nebraska fans may be doubtful after a 5-7 regular season under Riley in Year 1, Beam thinks better days are coming, in large part because of the way he believes the Husker coach identifies and develops talent others may not see.

"This is what Mike does. Everybody wants five-star recruits. I get it. But Mike sees a guy, and goes, 'Oh, wait, that guy is special.' Maybe he's not as big or whatever, but he has something special, and he finds a way to put that specialness on the field," Beam said. "And then they coach them. They take guys no one ever heard about, like my guy, and turns him into an All-Pac 10 fullback who has been a tailback."

* DOWN A LINEMAN: The Bruin offense will have to make do without junior right guard Alex Redmond, who has left the team and signed with an agent in preparation for the NFL Draft. UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr. confirmed the news to reporters after Tuesday's bowl practice.

It's no small loss, because Redmond has started 18 games over the past two seasons.

The speculation is that right tackle Caleb Benenoch may slide over to right guard, with Kolton Miller coming in to take Benenoch's spot.

* FOLTZ, BROWN WANT MORE: Husker punter Sam Foltz and kicker Drew Brown watched ESPN's college football awards show together a couple of weeks back.

Both had strong seasons, receiving all-conference honors, including unanimous first-team status for the junior Foltz, who was named the league's punter of the year.

But they want more in 2016. It's something that came up as they watched that show.

"We watched the Lou Groza (best kicker) and Ray Guy (best punter) presentations and said we want to be those guys," Foltz said. "We want to be down at the last three in contention for that.

"I think if people aren't laughing at your goals, then you're not doing it right. I think I have the ability and I think he has the ability, that at the end of the day, we can both be one of those final three guys. That's what our goal is."

* BANKER’S STANCE: Generally speaking, Banker likes to see players stay in school as opposed to leaving early for the NFL.

"I’m not a real fan of guys coming out early,” the Husker defensive coordinator said. “College and development are so important.”

He emphasized the business part of the NFL. He also emphasized the importance of a player’s skill set being a fit for a particular team’s system.

“Somebody has to like your skill set — and not only like your skill set, but like it because they can utilize it in their scheme,” Banker said. “You have to truly be a program guy.”

Husker defensive tackles Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine are contemplating an early jump to the NFL.

Collins’ distinguishing traits are his explosiveness and quickness, Banker said.

However, “I’m not positive that he’d just be a two-gap guy,” the coach said. “He would need to be in a system in which not only would he play base technique, but in a system that utilizes movement.”

As for Valentine, Banker said, “It’s tough to single-block him. If he’s left alone, whether it be run blocking or pass blocking, chances are he’s going to be effective as far as getting to the football. There’s no doubt about that.”

* TWO WILLIAMSES: Husker wide receivers coach Keith Williams' son, Keyan, is in the process of attempting to transfer to Nebraska. While nothing official has been said on that matter, he's been on hand for NU's bowl practices this week.

Asked where that situation stood, Riley said: "Let's soon talk about that."

The 5-foot-10, 194-pound Keyan Williams is a wide receiver who had seven catches for 34 yards as a redshirt freshman at Fresno State this season.

— Brian Christopherson and Steven M. Sipple


Husker columnist

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

Load comments