Cam Taylor-Britt says tears would flow on gamedays and he wasn't sure exactly why.
As a grade-school student in Montgomery, Alabama, he fell in love with the sport of football to a point where he literally would begin to cry before every youth game, as if he were reuniting with a wayward family member.
"It's always been like that," the Nebraska sophomore safety said this week. "You could say it's the emotion I have for the game."
Taylor-Britt noticed that not all the kids adored the game like he did.
"In practice, when we'd do something like an Oklahoma drill (with live tackling), those kids would sit in the back," he said. "I was the one stepping up to the front ready to go. I said, 'Who wants to go? Who wants to go?'"
Yeah, who wants to go?
That seems like a critical question in the Nebraska camp at this stage of the season. The Huskers, picked in July to win the Big Ten West Division by conference media, are 4-5 overall and 2-4 in the league. They've lost three games in a row and four of their last five to drop out of the divisional race.
So, who wants to go? Who wants to dig in?
Nebraska is preparing to play an 11 a.m. home game Saturday against Wisconsin (7-2, 4-2). The Badgers are 7-1 against the Huskers since 2011 and in winning the past six games in the series have averaged 368.8 rushing yards with a startling 8.1 yards per carry.
So, Huskers, who wants to go?
Nebraska needs two wins in its final three regular-season games in order to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2016. Considering the resources and commitment that go into Husker football, the program going three straight seasons without a bowl game would be an exceedingly disappointing — and somewhat embarrassing — development.
So, who wants to go?
"We've got to 'eat up' a little more going forward," said Taylor-Britt, whose hunger is evident by the way he plays. "We've got to take everything off someone's plate. We've been taking just three-fourths of it. We've got to take everything and play four quarters or whatever it takes to finish strong."
Nebraska second-year head coach Scott Frost often refers to the importance of recruiting players who love the game because those type of players typically will do whatever it takes to win — regardless of circumstances. Players who love the game can become particularly valuable when a season goes a little sideways. Let's face it, much of the fun in football comes from winning. If a team is losing, all the pain that comes with the game becomes a little less tolerable for some.
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Those games and practices in cold weather feel even colder.
Those position-group meetings seem a little longer.
It's not a stretch to say some Nebraska players probably just want the season to end. Frost understands that sentiment, at least to a point. He's been around the game his whole life. It's only natural that not everyone loves the sport at the level of, say, Taylor-Britt and Frost. But Frost also believes the vast majority of his roster pushes forward this season with the right mindset. He says he has plenty of players who love the game. But as he builds his roster, he's putting a premium on that quality.
How does a coach measure a prospect's love for the game?
Head football coach Scott Frost talks about Wan'Dale Robinson's status for Saturday during a news conference on Nov. 14, 2019.
"There's got to be some things you see on film," Nebraska inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud said. "Hopefully, you're seeing the energy to the ball, the all-out running. In evaluation, you've got to make sure you watch the whole game. And then when you talk to kids, do they have a sense for football? Do they watch football in their spare time? Or do they do other things? Do they play video games?
"Are guys more about the limelight? Or are they more about football? That's very important to measure as you go through the (recruiting) process. You want guys with the right mentality."
You can't help but wonder if current Nebraska players' mentality and confidence are affected by fan discussion. You wonder because few folks seem to be giving Nebraska much of a chance to beat Wisconsin. So, you wonder what the home crowd's energy level will be like Saturday morning.
For those players who love the game intensely, they play with passion regardless of their team's record, regardless of kickoff time, regardless of what fans are saying.
"It's easy to play hard when you're winning all the time," said Nebraska junior cornerback Dicaprio Bootle, another Husker with an obvious affinity for the sport. "But you want guys who play hard even when you're losing. Those are the guys who really love every aspect of the game, every phase of the game. In recruiting, you're looking for guys who play at a different speed than everyone else and do multiple things on the field to help the team.
"It's the little things that really separate the guys who love the game from the guys who like the game."
There's an obvious bottom line to this discussion. It's a bottom line that is no doubt on Frost's mind this week. That is, if his team shows a lack of passion — a lack of fight and lack of energy — against a physical Wisconsin squad, the game could get ugly because the Badgers have a clear advantage in overall talent.
Plus, let's face it, it's a game that pits a program in a growth period against an established one.
So, I'm guessing you know the key question for players in Frost's program.
Who wants to go?