Mick Stoltenberg has football left to play in his collegiate career.
The senior defensive tackle and Nebraska team captain is feeling good four weeks after minor knee surgery and is in line to see at least some playing time Saturday against Bethune-Cookman, he told reporters Wednesday after practice.
“I practiced yesterday, practiced today. I took full speed with pads on reps. Real football reps,” Stoltenberg said. “So I’m hoping I can contribute Saturday. I might not go out there and play 45-50 snaps, but I’ll play what they give me and do what I can to help as far as that goes. I’m feeling ready to go.
“I don’t feel like I’m at the point where if I go out there I’m putting the team at a disadvantage. I feel like I can actually run and contribute.”
Stoltenberg missed most of spring practice due to knee problems and has dealt with them throughout his career. He said he probably actually hurt his left knee before the season-opener Sept. 8 against Colorado but played through it until Sept. 22’s road trip to Michigan. He limped off the field in obvious discomfort after a play during that game and hasn’t been back in live action since.
“It was one of those things we thought maybe we’d be able to manage,” he said. “Clearly, in the Michigan game, it locked up on me a few times and we realized we might have to go in and work on it. That’s what had to be done. It’s feeling good now.”
When Frost addressed Stoltenberg’s injury before the Huskers took on Purdue, he said he thought the senior had a chance to get back this season, but that there was some risk that it could end Stoltenberg’s career. Naturally, the 6-foot-5, 315-pounder worried about the same.
“Absolutely. Like I said, I’ve been kind of dealing with some knee injuries throughout my career, so I was kind of wondering the severity of it and how it would be,” he said. “But me and Mark Mayer and Drew Hamlin and the guys in the training room and the doctors and everyone came up with a plan and how we were going to rehab it and what we were going to do and basically a plan to get me back as fast as possible.
“Really it’s not a strength thing that I’m dealing with. It’s just getting used to some of the work that was done in there and making sure swelling is down and I get my full extension and flexion and everything like that.”
Stoltenberg’s return should free junior Carlos Davis to play more than just the nose spot over the coming weeks. Davis will still likely see significant time inside considering Stoltenberg may be limited as he works back in, but the 6-2, 325-pound junior can play multiple spots and defensive line coach Mike Dawson will likely be happy to be able to move him around more.
“Carlos stepped up and he’s played really well at nose,” Stoltenberg said. “He’s probably the most versatile defensive lineman I’ve played around. You can put him anywhere from five technique to shade to zero, anywhere across the board.”
Stoltenberg’s return will make that easier to do. Mostly, though, the big senior from Gretna will just be happy to be back on the field with his teammates for the final five games of his career.
“I just want to do what I can to help us win, to go out on a strong, positive note,” he said. "I was unfortunate to miss part of my senior season. It sucks and it’s tough and you spend a long time thinking about it, but at the end of the day I know I’m getting opportunities here at the end and I’m blessed for that.
“I’m blessed it wasn’t a season-ender. I’m blessed I haven’t missed too much time in my career even despite all the injuries I’ve had. You kind of just try to take it with a grain of salt, put it aside and try to finish up strong.”