Jack Stoll isn’t afraid to put Nebraska’s 2019 aspirations right out in the open.
“I didn’t come here to go 4-8, as I’ve said before,” the junior tight end said Thursday, referring to his team's final record each of the past two seasons. “I came here to put a ring on my finger and win the Big Ten. That’s just something that, personally, that’s how I feel. That’s why I came to Nebraska and I know that’s how a lot of other people feel, too.”
Everybody in the country feels good about their football team this time of year. In Lincoln, that confidence stems from a summer that players and coaches say without hesitation was the best here in some time.
The difficult part, of course, is turning summer momentum into autumn wins. Head coach Scott Frost has made it clear he thinks his second team at Nebraska is leaps and bounds ahead of where his first team was. He thinks it is more talented overall, deeper, in better shape and more familiar with the schematics.
Now, after the team reported Thursday and hits the practice field for the first time Friday, Nebraska is at the outset of figuring out if it has the mentality necessary to turn attributes into results.
“I want this team to prove that it can be tough,” Frost said. “We have some tough guys on the team, for sure. We have some other guys that I think are going to be tough. We have some young guys that still have to prove it. But to win in this league, you’ve got to be tough and you’ve got to be physical.
“I think our talent level, our speed, our strength and all those things are going to be considerably better this year, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t go hit somebody in the face on the field. We need to block and tackle with that kind of mentality.”
Some players take such a mentality naturally, but Frost said he has no doubts it can also be developed in the weight room during the offseason and on the practice field, too.
“We’re going to hit each other and compete in practice,” Frost said. “If you ask me what made our team tough when I was playing, it was the day-to-day challenge of going up against some of the guys you had to go up against. We’re going to have a lot of live periods, we’re going to have a lot of competitive periods, and I hope our guys get comfortable in that kind of arena where they’re having to go to battle with some other really good player and try to come out on top.”
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Frost said his second year at Central Florida in 2017 featured more live periods and more physicality after former NU coach Tom Osborne visited before the season and talked about how much work the top units got against each other in practice when Frost was a player. That comes with injury risk, Frost said, but also reward.
“The benefit that we thought we gained from that, staying sharp and refining toughness and grit, was more valuable than any potential risk of getting someone injured,” said Frost, who added that NU was somewhat limited in its ability to do such work last year because of depth concerns. “We’re getting close to deep enough this year that we’re going to be able to do some of the same things.”
That must be music to junior defensive lineman Ben Stille’s ears. The Ashland-Greenwood graduate said the coming four weeks are critical to testing — and forging — the group’s mettle.
“(Toughness) is something you show throughout camp,” he said. “The hardest part of any season is fall camp. It’s week in and week out, six days a week. Just coming to work every day and not having any fall-offs around practice five or six.”
The next four weeks feature plenty of work, and toughness certainly is not the only item on the menu. Frost, though, thinks this group has enough to compete. The rest, well, time will tell.
“I think they’ve put themselves in position to accomplish a lot of things, but none of that matters until we go earn it, and we have to start earning it on the field tomorrow,” Frost said. “It’s not a thing where you earn it on the field on Saturdays during games. It’s earned in practice, and they’ve put themselves in position to accomplish those things if they earn it.”