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Garrett Nelson

Scottsbluff's Garrett Nelson (23) celebrates a first-quarter tackle of Omaha Skutt Catholic QB Ryan McCormick as teammate Sabastian Harsh (4) looks on at Memorial Stadium Nov. 20 during the Class B state championship. 

Dudes with big plans often rise from bed extremely early.

Garrett Nelson was full of life at 5 a.m. Wednesday in his hometown of Scottsbluff. He had a radio interview to do, then a workout to attack, then more media interviews, then paperwork to finish. 

A 6-foot-3, 235-pound outside linebacker, Nelson signed his letter of intent with Nebraska. And, yeah, he has big plans, big goals. He thinks big. If you're a Husker football fan who heard his interview Wednesday morning on "Early Break" (93.7 FM), you perhaps got the chills. You perhaps thought back to the program's glory days in the 1990s, when the Blackshirts intimidated opponents. They knew they were bad you-know-whats. The whole country knew it. Nelson watches it all on YouTube. He wants those days to return in Lincoln, and be part of it.

"I ultimately want everybody to be happy where Nebraska's at as a program, just get back to where the 1997 team was at, just back to its prominence in the football world," Nelson said. "When people look at Nebraska, I want them to go, 'Wow, we want to duplicate what they've done.' But they can't because we have the guys, we have the staff, we have the mentality that's a step above everybody else.

"I want to go on the football field, see all that, have some fun and kill some dudes."

You have to appreciate Nelson's can-do mentality, his vision for the program, and perhaps excuse his expression "kill some dudes." Focus on what he says about mentality. That's the key in this discussion. It's about having an aggressive, attack-dog mentality. If Nebraska's going to improve defensively, that's where it'll begin.

Along those lines, I like what I heard from Husker coach Scott Frost as he discussed his newest scholarship players, a list that includes 11 defenders. Asked what sort of mentality he seeks in defenders as he recruits them, his thoughts aligned with Nelson's words.

"When we're recruiting defense, obviously we want athletic ability, but we're also looking for toughness," Frost said.

The 1997 Nebraska squad's starting quarterback, Frost said he looks for "guys you'd want to be in a scrap with. That kind of edge, that kind of mentality, that kind of toughness. That's what Husker defense has been built on as I knew it. The more guys we can get like that, I think the better mentality the whole defense will have."

Even though Frost is an offensive-minded head coach, the Husker defense must operate with the mindset that it's going to be a wrecking ball, a game-changer. Because of the up-tempo nature of Frost's spread offense, the Blackshirts probably aren't going to hold teams to 13.7 points per game, as Clemson did this season. But the Huskers can force bushels of turnovers. They can play with reckless abandon week in and week out. They can leave their imprint on every game and punish opponents the way Grant Wistrom and company did in 1997.

There's so much in this world you can't control. But you can control effort and attitude. That's half the battle in playing excellent defense. Nelson seems to get that.

Having no-nonsense, playmaking brawlers such as Nelson, Ty Robinson and Nick Henrich also could help matters.

Nelson understands high-level defense because he literally falls asleep at night watching video of Nebraska's 1997 unit, which held opponents to 16.4 points per game (while the Husker offense averaged 47.1). Wistrom and Jason Peter led the way. But that defense was loaded with NFL talent. The 2019 Huskers will be a long way from that realm. But this discussion is more about mentality than talent, at least for now.

Give Frost at least another year of recruiting to get the defenders he needs.

If you're a Nebraska fan, you hope every Husker defender has a mentality that mirrors Nelson's. We've covered his goals for the defense. He said he hopes to contribute to those team goals by being Big Ten newcomer of the year, all-conference, All-American and a Butkus Award finalist. 

He paused after saying "finalist."

"Winner would be nice," he said. "More than anything I just want my play and my practice to exemplify the person I am. Just to go 100 percent on every drill and be a leader and be somebody who looks like he loves his brothers he's playing with, and just loves the game. I know those things aren't going to come easily and that I have to focus on the little things that matter before I move on to the big things."

It was 5 a.m. and Nelson clearly was on the attack -- yes, a good guy to have in a scrap.

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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