Nebraska Football Practice, 11.15.16

Nebraska offensive lineman Jerald Foster (from left), Dylan Utter, Nick Gates, Robby Painter and Sam Hahn have a laugh during a recent football practice.

Word was getting around that Jerald Foster was going to play against Minnesota.

Then his buddy Nick Gates provided the final injury report just hours before that game against the Gophers.

"Glad to have Salt and Pepper back together!" Gates wrote on his Instagram account on Nov. 12.

"Yeah, that's our nickname," Gates said Tuesday. "Just thought of it one day, it kind of stuck and everybody started calling us it."

The nickname has been solidified, and so too has the left side of Nebraska's offensive line now that Foster has returned from injury.

Gates started 10 games as a redshirt freshman in 2015, while Foster played sparingly as a backup. They were to debut as starters together against Fresno State in September, but Foster tore his MCL during fall camp.

Foster's rehab, however, went better than expected, and he made his season debut against Minnesota.

"I never had a guy come back like this," NU offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh said. "Pretty amazing, really."

Minnesota marked the first time Gates and Foster started side by side, but the chemistry has always been there.

"I feel like we've had good chemistry since our first snaps that we took in the spring," Foster said recently. "I don't think it really matters how many games we've played together."

The two are bonded by that O-line fraternity, but the relationship between Gates and Foster is much closer.

Yet, that wasn't always the case.

They were roommates their first year on campus, and well, as Foster puts it, "We saw each just too much.

"We started butting heads."

Added Gates, "You know how it is cooped up in those dorms. It was a, what, 15-by-15 size room?"

Gates and Foster eventually moved out into separate places, and Foster said the space allowed them to build a strong relationship.

"I love being able to play with Gates, and being able to hang out with the guy," Foster said. "He's a whole lot of fun. He's just a great person."

Gates and Foster actually got to know each other well before those first days in the dorms. Both played in 2014 Semper Fi Bowl, Gates representing Bishop Gorman High School out of Las Vegas, and Foster the Southeast Knights.

It was there that Foster made the sales pitch.

"He was probably one of the main reasons why I committed," Gates said of Foster. "That and the fans and the tradition here, and the coaches, too."

Gates was a long way from home when he arrived in Lincoln, and it was the Foster family who made him feel at home. Gates would attend dinners at the Foster home, and go to church to listen to Foster's father, Jesse, preach.

Why are the two sophomores able to work well on the left side despite Foster's lack of playing time until now?

The 6-foot-5, 290-pound Gates credits the work done in the summer, and the extra time spent in the film room, sometimes until 1-2 a.m.

Gates and Foster also share similar traits on the field. They're both extremely tough — Foster, at 6-3 and 310 pounds, showed that in his quick recovery from injury and Gates has played through an ankle injury.

They also play with a lot of physicality and emotion.

Who's the more passionate player?

"I don't know, that's a good question," said sophomore lineman Cole Conrad, who also is close friends with Gates. "I think they're equally passionate for the game. That shows on Saturdays for sure."

There's still work to be done. Nebraska visits Iowa on Friday, and hopes for a trip to Indianapolis remain. But Gates is OK looking ahead, knowing what the next two years hold for a talented offensive line. Foster's fast track to playing this season is something the unit can build on going forward.

"That's definitely big for the next year," Gates said. "We have four sophomores on the line that all came in together, so that definitely helps. We're definitely going to help build the chemistry up together."

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsCG.


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