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Thenarse: Gambling problem led to trouble

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Nebraska vs. Idaho, 9.11.2010

Nebraska's Rickey Thenarse returns a second-quarter interception for a touchdown against Idaho at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010. (TED KIRK / Lincoln Journal Star)

Rickey Thenarse wanted to send a message to Husker football fans. He obviously felt it was important.

Which is why he sent me an e-mail this past weekend. He asked that I call him. He wanted to apologize to the fans.

"I just feel like I had a lot of fans, a lot of people expecting great things from me, a lot of people who have done things for me to get to where I was at," said the former Husker defensive back (2006-10) from the Watts area of Los Angeles, in a phone conversation.

A Lincoln judge sent the 27-year-old Thenarse to prison Tuesday for a home break-in a year ago. His sentence is three to six years. Click here for the story.

I talked to Thenarse Monday. He felt a lot of embarrassment for what he had done.

"I can't even show my face ..." he said.

You may remember that during the 2008 season, ESPN College Gameday did a profile story on Thenarse's upbringing in Watts (Click here). Gang violence was all around him. He lost two brothers -- members of the Grape Street Crips -- to that violence.

Thenarse was no stranger to trouble as a youth. But football was his way out of Watts. He changed his life. He left the gang life. Focused on grades. He earned a scholarship to Nebraska. Became a starter. Won the Tom Novak Trophy. Earned his degree. Yes, a lot of folks helped him along the way. Hence his feelings of guilt now.

He felt he owes people an explanation for what led to his current situation.

"What led up to it is gambling -- I had a very serious gambling problem," he said.

He said gambling has been an issue for him since high school.

"I got introduced to playing craps, and it took off from there," he said.

He was a graduate assistant coach in 2012 at Nevada-Reno, "and that's where it really took off," he said.

It took off in the casinos.

Gambling can become a horrible addiction in part because there are no visible physical side effects. It's a hidden addiction in that sense.

"I want to let people know that gambling can be a serious problem, that even a person with my background (in football), and all the good things I did, gambling will deteriorate you," Thenarse said.

Thenarse said he knows people will "speculate that I turned into a thug and went crazy." That's not the case, though, he said. He said he has a lot of people still in his corner. That was good to hear. Those are the people that matter most.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or


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Husker sports columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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