Dylan Utter still remembers what in most cases would seem a forgettable question posed to him by his high school coach 4½ years ago.

"Do you know any of these guys?" asked Jeff Govier, who coached Utter at Papillion-La Vista High School.

Govier was one of the coaches for the South team in the 2012 Nebraska Shrine Bowl. He was going through the potential roster, thinking of possible additions.

Utter can't keep the grin off his grill when he thinks about that now. Some of those guys would turn out to be his best friends who he'll be linked with the rest of his life.

"It's kind of sweet to see all those names that now are here," Utter said.

It's kind of amazing, really. When Nebraska honors 30 seniors Saturday prior to its game against Maryland, 18 are native sons, and 12 played in that all-star game four years ago. That's not even counting Andy Janovich, either, who was in that Shrine Bowl, was a Husker senior last year, and is now sort of a big deal with the Denver Broncos.

The South squad alone had eight Husker seniors who will be honored Saturday: Ross Dzuris, Trey Foster, Sam Hahn, Garrett Johns, Logan Rath, Brandon Reilly, Brad Simpson and Utter. (Janovich and Drew Ott, who had a very successful career at Iowa, were also on that team.)

The North team had five more: Ryker Fyfe, Graham Nabity, Jordan Nelson, Mitch McCann and the late Sam Foltz.

It is still easy to remember Foltz — hair buzzed at the time — doing interviews a few days before that Shrine Bowl in a gymnasium at Nebraska Wesleyan, explaining how he started punting after his father, Gerald, bought him a few footballs each fall to keep Sam busy while he worked on the family farm.

"So I got that football and started punting," Foltz explained. "I'd punt as far as I could, run after it, run back and do it all over again. I'd do that for hours and hours. After about a month or so, the football wouldn't take air anymore. So my dad would grab me another ball. I'd just keep doing it."

That quote sums up Foltz and that group of Shrine Bowl Huskers well. Work behind the scenes, sometimes running into those days where it feels like you're kicking a flat football.

Still always coming back for more.

It's a group that arrived at Nebraska almost entirely as walk-ons. Eventually, 10 of them would earn scholarships.

There was a bond in a shared mission: Start low, aim to finish high.

"When you see one of your good friends start playing, it almost feels like it's part of you, too, because you care so much about those guys," said Dzuris, the defensive end who not only gained a scholarship but also a starting role and a Blackshirt.

Simpson, a member of special teams with the Huskers since his freshman year, is a close friend with Utter. The two have been roommates through college. They've been there for each other through the triumphs and those days after you just lost to Purdue.

"Every night in the living room, we talk about the day," Simpson said. "We talk about what's ahead and we talk about what's happened."

When Simpson received his scholarship this summer, Utter got chills like he'd just received one too.

While celebrating each person's highs, it's a group of seniors who have also needed to lean on each other through incredible pain, losing Foltz in a car accident a week before their final fall camp began.

A football season continued. And Foltz, many of those seniors will tell you, remained part of it.

Utter has joked with fellow team captain Nate Gerry about the fact the Huskers have won only a couple of coin flips this year. Even when using the commemorative coin that features Foltz on one side.

But when the flip really mattered, in overtime against Wisconsin, the Huskers called "Foltzy" and it landed on Foltzy and Utter thought, Thank you, buddy.

"He's definitely helped us," Utter said. "He did all he could against Wisconsin, right? You got to believe in stuff like that."

On Saturday, before Nebraska and Maryland play football, there will be recognition of Foltz. "And it's perfect," said NU coach Mike Riley. "It's the way it should be."

Utter said Foltz's name still comes up once or twice at most practices. His locker remains. So does a tribute to him in the weight room.

"He is kind of the epitome ... about that guy that wants to go to Nebraska that had chances to go on a scholarship to other places, but elected to come here. He's kind of one of those guys that set the bar," Riley said.

"It's part of the identity of not only Nebraska, but I think particularly of this group. So many friends. It continues to be both great memories and sad memories as we go forward."

When Senior Day comes every year, there are always attempts at heart-warming stories. Some of them hit the right chord and some are forced.

But Riley didn't seem to be forcing any words at all when he said he'll miss this group.

Last year was hard. Not everyone bought in. If this year was going to be different, the seniors had to believe in the staff and let the Riley culture take over.

They did. In many ways, this group of seniors helped the program move past transition and fully into the Riley era.

"I could go through name by name and basically tell them I appreciate them because they allowed that to happen," Riley said. "They could've put up a wall, especially after the year we had, so that part of it's been good."

It really shouldn't be a surprise, though, that this group of seniors kept so tight.

Even back at that Shrine Bowl, Foltz recognized the bond likely to form with that walk-on group heading to Lincoln.

"We can do something special," Foltz said.

His teammates are still thinking about doing something special this season.

It hasn't been perfect. They wish they had finished that deal at Wisconsin. Some said they didn't even recognize the team at Ohio State. A shot at a Big Ten championship is no longer in their own hands.

But Utter expects this team, certainly these seniors, to come back and fight for the right ending. Because he's sure, by now, that's what these guys are all about.

"If there's one thing that's been consistent the last couple years, it's our ability to reset from the week before, whether it's a win or a loss, and work hard," Utter said. "That's kind of how it can be in football. Sometimes you get the short end of the stick, and life moves on. The sun rises.

"That's kind of been the story even with Foltzy. The sun rises and he wants us to keep grinding. That's how life works."

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


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