WOOD RIVER — There’s only one place on the planet where you could have sat among 500-plus people on Tuesday night and watched home video from 1989 of Scott Frost, then a high school freshman, wearing an ugly sweater alongside some of his teammates and presenting a local man with a gift.
That place was at Babel’s Barn here in the town of 1,300 where Frost starred in high school, preceding a football career that took him to 13 different states as a player and coach over two-plus decades before delivering him back to Nebraska in 2017 and, finally, on a beautiful April evening, all the way home.
Frost said he hadn’t been back in “way too long” as part of his brief comments to a large crowd gathered on the west edge of town in support of Stick Creek Kids, a proposed day care center that is more than 60 percent of the way to a $2 million fundraising goal and hopes to have up to 80 kids in its care after four years of work.
“The two people I look up to most in my line of work besides my parents, are Tom Osborne and Tony Dungy, and since those two stopped coaching, they have both devoted their life to fathering programs and mentoring programs,” Frost said. “They both feel like — and because they do, I do, too — the biggest hurdle and the biggest obstacle we have to get over in the United States right now is the lack of parents in homes, lack of positive role models and lack of fathers in homes.”
This was as hometown as it gets. Frost surveyed the room and pointed out people who he played with, who he recognized, who influenced him and who he just wanted to crack a joke on.
He pointed out Jim Skeen, the man in the old grainy video receiving a Wood River jacket, but referred to him by his nickname “Killer” in saying, “I think anybody who had any success can look back and pick out one person that people might not know about that made a huge difference in someone’s life … and being back here and getting reminded of it, I don’t think I’d be where I am without Killer.”
After dinner, between a live auction and Frost taking the stage, Joe Jack reminisced about his days around Scott and Steve Frost. Jack was the guidance counselor at Wood River High from 1971 to 1998 and also served as athletic director when Larry and Carol Frost moved with their boys from McCook.
“He was a good kid, National Honor Society, and so was his brother Steve,” Jack said. “They were really good kids, good athletes, and just nice to everybody.”
Jack, 82, also ran a successful trapping and fur company, and has been trapping for 70 years, looked around the room and marveled at the crowd that his old pupil brought together.
“I actually had tears when I found out he was coming back (to Nebraska), because I knew we need him bad,” Jack said, his voice cracking as he explained what it meant for Frost to return here.
Minutes later, as a video introducing Frost played on screens flanking the stage, the tears returned, sneaking down Jack’s left cheek.
Only momentarily, though, because Frost had a joke teed up for him, too.
“One thing that hasn’t changed — or maybe it has — are there more Zavalas here now than there were then? You guys are multiplying like gremlins,” Frost said. “It’s a good think there’s not a Zavala season around here because Joe Jack would have got all of you. Joe shot more things than Annie Oakley and he’ll tell you about it every time he hits one.”
This was a night to almost completely forget about football.
To wit, Frost ran through a couple of his standard talking points at the tail end of his comments and, with the floor opened up to questions, the Husker head coach got exactly four.
First, “What was your nickname in high school?” after Frost had reeled off several including Plug, Cheezer, Log, Cooter and others. He didn’t have one, or at least not one that could be repeated in public.
The other three: “Do you still keep in touch with your foster child?” “How are you enjoying being a daddy?” “Do you still know the Wood River school song?”
At that point, Frost brought some of his old teammates out and they gave a wildly incomplete — but certainly spirited — attempt.
“It’s crazy, everywhere I go I feel like I’m the head football coach at Nebraska,” Frost said, summing up the night. “I feel like when I come back around here I’m just Scott. And that feels good.”