Who better than John Parrella to stand before the Nebraska football team and use words like "brotherhood" and "sacrifices" when describing the longstanding, proud tradition of the Blackshirts?
Parrella earned the coveted practice jersey, symbolic of starting status on Nebraska’s defense, when he played from 1988-92.
Now in his first year as defensive line coach at Nebraska, the former defensive tackle and NFL veteran addressed those 13 players who were honored with Blackshirts before Tuesday’s practice.
“It’s one of the longest traditions in football," Parrella said. "It’s something that means a lot to our team, to the guys who have played before, and it will mean a lot to the guys who will play here next year and the years after.”
The group consists of defensive linemen Freedom Akinmoladun, Ross Dzuris, Mick Stoltenberg and Kevin Maurice; linebackers Dedrick Young, Michael Rose-Ivey, Marcus Newby, Chris Weber and Josh Banderas; and defensive backs Aaron Williams, Nate Gerry, Joshua Kalu and Chris Jones.
Four of those players are Nebraska natives — Dzuris, Stoltenberg, Weber and Banderas. Weber and Dzuris joined the team as walk-ons.
Jones was among the first-time Blackshirts.
“You can’t explain that feeling, just seeing that jersey up there, knowing now you represent the guys before you and the guys who are coming after you. It’s a great honor,” Jones said. “My play will show how I represent this jersey.”
The feeling is just as strong for veteran Blackshirts such as Banderas.
“This is the third time I’ve gotten it, and this time is probably the most special because I feel like I truly earned it and truly understand it more, with Coach Parrella being here, Kenny Wilhite, and the old coaches (George) Darlington and (Charlie) McBride coming out and talking about it,” Banderas said.
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“I feel like I’m able to represent the guys before me and the guys to come the most I’ve ever felt now.”
Defensive coordinator Mark Banker said the staff, now in its second season, had more fun with the Blackshirts process, now knowing how to go about it, and with a man of Parrella’s background on staff.
Last year, Banker said, was “an arduous task.”
One noticeable player without a Blackshirt is Kieron Williams, who’s listed No. 1 on the depth chart this week. Banker didn’t give a specific reason, only to say earning a Blackshirt means working off the field, in the weight room, in practice and carrying one’s self with leadership.
Banker said Williams and four other players are “right there" to become Blackshirts but have to prove to the team they’ve earned it.
Parrella knows as well as anyone.
“You’ve got to earn it every day,” Parrella said. “It’s one of those deals where you come out here every day and you prove that you’ve got to keep this thing every day and every week.”
Any emotional memories for Parrella as Tuesday’s ceremony unfolded?
“I don’t know. Those days are done,” he said. “The biggest thing is for these guys to enjoy the experience and in return come out here and play your butt off and get better and win games.”