Huskers fall practice, Day 5, 8/8

Nebraska head strength coach Zach Duval leads warm-ups last August during a Huskers football camp practice at Hawks Championship Center.

He doesn't do media interviews, which I sort of admire in that he obviously isn't much into self-promotion.

Plus, if I were him, I'm not sure I'd subject myself to this state's oversized mass of media that gorges itself on Nebraska football.

Because he largely eschews media, Nebraska head strength coach Zach Duval is a bit of a mystery man.

"It's hard to describe Duval," said Husker junior right tackle Matt Farniok, who then set about trying to do just that.

"He's got kind of a country-boy feel," Farniok said. "He's just a fun guy to be around, and he knows what he's doing."

Nebraska second-year head coach Scott Frost brought Duval with him from Central Florida because Duval fits perfectly into Frost's grand plan at NU -- that is, to meld new-school speed elements that fit his no-huddle spread offense with an old-school Husker Power approach that can supply the sort of physicality required in the unforgiving Big Ten.

"We combined the two things (at UCF), and we didn't lose," said Frost, referring to the Knights' 13-0 finish in 2017.

Duval cut his teeth in the Husker Power program during the 1990s as Nebraska marched to three national championships (1994, 1995 and 1997). He was a student assistant in 1994, a graduate assistant in 1995-96 and an assistant football strength coach from 1997-2002 and in 2008. 

Immediately preceding Duval's two seasons at UCF were stints at Wyoming, Buffalo and Creighton.

So, there's a glimpse of his resume. But what about the man? How does he go about motivating student-athletes?

"He has these expectations of you," Farniok said. "You don't want to fail for him. You want to meet his expectations so it's kind of a constant grind of like, 'He knows I can do this, so I've got to do this.' It's just kind of a cool way to do it. It's like he's saying, 'I know what you can do, so just trust me and do it.'"

"He will yell a little bit," Farniok added. "But it's not like in-your-face yelling."

Nebraska junior left tackle Brenden Jaimes agreed.

"When he needs to yell, he does," Jaimes said. "But I think he's a teacher first before he gets to that yelling point."

Duval doesn't use intimidation as part of his approach, Farniok said. No surprise there. I'm guessing Frost wouldn't tolerate such a style. It's certainly not Frost's style to intimidate. In fact, if you're wondering about Duval's personality, one clue is that it's in some ways similar to Frost's, Farniok said.

At least one of those ways sticks out.

"Duval definitely cares more about his players than himself," Jaimes said. "He can show it in a fatherly way."

In other words, Duval can be your friend to a point. But he also has to be demanding.

"I think he balances it very well," Jaimes said. "Off the field, he's definitely your friend or a father-like figure. In the weight room and on the field, he's a coach. I think that's what the players really like about him."

There's a bottom line to this discussion, and that is Duval's philosophies and messaging need to be consistent with Frost's. I think almost any good head coach would tell you that.

"The biggest factor is, Zach's the voice of our staff during more of the year than the coaches are the voice of our staff," Frost said. "Our players are around the strength coaches more than they're around the coaching staff -- not just Zach, but Andrew (Strop) and Jasen (Carlson) and the other guys in the weight room.

"They do a great job of being on the same page with us and carrying on some of the same approaches and ideas -- and even sayings and characteristics."

Former Nebraska head coach Mike Riley left Frost with a team that was much too soft on both the playing field and in the weight room. The program became unrecognizable in a number of ways. Frost is emphasizing the return of toughness in full form, and Duval is a big part of that process.

You saw progress in the late stages of last season, especially as Nebraska pushed Ohio State to the limit before falling 36-31. Two weeks later, NU slugged it out with Michigan State, prevailing 9-6 in the snow.

How much stronger and tougher has Frost's crew become? Well, we'll find out soon enough.

“You don’t have a choice with this staff," Farniok said. "With Duval, you’re either going to get really, really strong or you’re going to get really, really, really strong. He doesn’t give you a chance to back off. It’s a constant ‘We’re going to go’ mentality and it’s awesome because you don’t have a choice except to get bigger, get better, get stronger. It’s amazing."

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


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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