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Spring Game, 4.13

Nebraska men's basketball coach Fred Hoiberg stands on the sideline during the first half of the Red-White Spring Game on April 13 at Memorial Stadium.

There's always plenty to talk about, it seems.

So let's do this.

1. Josh Banderas excitedly took part in the Alliance of American Football's inaugural season. He had high hopes. His NFL dream was alive. But the league made it through only eight of the scheduled 10 weeks of play, and he came out of the deal with a bum shoulder.

The AAF halted operations April 3 and announced last week that it had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Poof, it's gone.

"It caught everybody by surprise," said Banderas, who played linebacker for the Salt Lake Stallions, one of eight AAF teams.

He said the team was in the middle of position meetings on the eighth floor of the team hotel near Salt Lake City, preparing to play April 7 on the road against the Atlanta Legends, when the bad news arrived.

"We were in our linebacker meetings and one of our vets was on Twitter, just messing around on his phone, when all of a sudden he was like, 'Well, it's been nice knowing you guys,'" Banderas said. "Everybody just looked around dumbfounded, like, 'Are you serious?'"

Turns out, Trevor Reilly was correct. It's been nice knowing you, AAF. Charlie Ebersol, the league's CEO, told CBSSports.com that the league's demise came about largely because of financial issues — specifically complications getting access to capital.

Banderas was one of four former Nebraska players on the Salt Lake roster, joined by Kenny Bell, Terrell Newby and De'Mornay Pierson-El. Newby and Banderas live in Lincoln.

"We had a 6 p.m. meeting that (final) night and after that we kind of looked at each other like, 'Let's go home,'" Banderas said. "We packed the car and left at 10 p.m. and drove through the night. We were like, 'We ain't staying here, man.'"

Salt Lake ended up with a 3-5 record. Pierson-El, a fleet receiver, benefited from his time in the AAF, parlaying it into a deal with the NFL's Oakland Raiders.

"At least we got eight weeks in," Banderas said. "We got eight weeks worth of pay and eight weeks worth of film. Unfortunately, my shoulder got hurt, so the film doesn't matter as much for me. Mostly, the situation stinks for all the support staff — the strength coaches, the nutritionists, the massage therapists. They were promised a full year, so they didn't get paid through (eight) weeks like the players did. They were promised pay through 12 months.

"So people bought year leases and all of a sudden it was, 'Sorry, your pay's done, you have no more benefits and you're on your own.'"

The players made $7,000 per week for eight weeks.

"That's more than I've made in my life," said Banderas, who's sporting a shoulder harness and facing a four- to six-month recovery period. All the injured AAF players have access to the necessary health insurance to get through their injuries.

In the Stallions' last game, an 8-3 win against the San Diego Fleet on March 30 in Salt Lake City, Banderas made a garden-variety tackle and the shoulder "just came clean out."

"It's a bummer, but it's the nature of the beast," the 24-year-old Lincoln Southwest graduate said. "Hopefully, the XFL is going strong next year."

That's right, his dream's alive even if the AAF is deceased.

2. Lincoln Southeast graduate Luke Gifford has learned plenty during the process of preparing for this week's NFL Draft.

The part that's been the most striking, he says, is how thoroughly teams delve into players’ backgrounds.

“You’re not really prepared for it,” said the former Nebraska outside linebacker who led the Huskers last season in tackles for loss (13) and sacks (5½).

To wit: The Minnesota Vikings handed him a paragraph summary of his social media use.

“For me it’s not a big deal, I’m fine in that regard,” he said, noting he mostly posts about football in particular and sports in general. “But the summary was to a ‘T,’ spot-on, just crazy. There are just so many things they look into — your family, the names, just everything. There’s nothing they don’t know about you. It’s wild.”

3. Let's be real, one of the best aspects of the Fred Hoiberg hire for Nebraska hoops fans is they'll finally get to watch an offense that doesn't make you nod off during games.

Tell me you didn't grow bored at times during, oh, the last 20 years or so.

Barry Collier's teams were fundamentally sound but boring to watch. Doc Sadler's teams played hard, but even Doc pokes fun at his acumen as a teacher of offense. As for Tim Miles' offenses, well, let's just say he was a decent defensive coach.

What makes Hoiberg such a good offensive coach?

"His imagination," said Sadler, who will coach defense for Hoiberg. "He sees it all differently. I think all of us talk about spacing and things like that. But I'm not for sure college coaches demand it like he does."

Sadler said Hoiberg watches NBA games and sees plays and concepts that others don't.

"I mean, he's got 500 to 1,000 plays," Doc said. "It's incredible. He's going to get guys shots. And they're going to be good shots."

Sounds like a good sales pitch for point guard Cameron Mack of Salt Lake (Utah) Community College, who will visit NU's campus this weekend. Hoiberg doesn't have a point guard on the current roster. Mack could be the guy if he chooses the Huskers. 

Watch the 6-foot-3 Mack's videos and tell me you're not intrigued. I especially like the fact he's a right-hander who looks very comfortable using his left hand.

4. Random thought of the day: Scott Frost has an offense that has potential to make noise in 2019, mostly because of quarterback Adrian Martinez's prowess.

But there's a long list of skill players on Nebraska's offense who have plenty to prove if the program expects to return to the nine-win realm.

Consider the skill players on Bo Pelini's final team at Nebraska (which was 9-4). That 2014 squad had Ameer Abdullah, who ran for 1,611 yards and 19 touchdowns. He was complemented by a talented crew of receivers: Bell, Pierson-El, Jordan Westerkamp, Alonzo Moore and Brandon Reilly. Throw in tight end Cethan Carter for good measure.

Think about Martinez and Abdullah in the same backfield. Wow. I'm guessing that team might've won 10 or 11 instead of nine.

What say you?

5. I'm 52 and feeling all of it. But whenever I came upon Daryl Blue, I was forever inclined to call him Mr. Blue.

I had that much respect for him.

In recent years, Mr. Blue became a go-to guy for me at halftime of Nebraska football home games. He helped keep official stats as well as helping the local columnist make sense of it all.

He was both frank and funny, a tough combination to pull off.

He was unfailingly warm and approachable.

He obviously was beloved by countless students at Lincoln Northeast, where he had retired from a career as a journalism teacher and yearbook/newspaper adviser.

RIP, amigo.

6. My wife insists I have a disturbing affinity for violent films and violent sports. I will admit to having an affinity for the word "decapitate."

Love ya, Trixie.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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Husker 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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