Players can see nice things on the field: compliments, a pick-me-up, a joke. They can also see nasty things: physical play, fights, injuries. Read the most memorable experiences of a few key Huskers.
In 2013 against Northwestern, then-redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong was standing on the sideline as the Wildcats kicked off and NU’s return team lined up to block.
It did not go well for senior Wil Richards. He suffered a season-ending injury on the play.
It was one of the nastiest things Armstrong’s seen on the field.
“He broke his ankle,” Armstrong said. “He was just holding his leg up and his ankle was turned (the opposite way). I was right there. Literally, 5, 10 yards away when it happened.”
— Jon Nyatawa
Away from the field, Daniel Davie sees himself as a laid-back dude. A nice guy. Most of the time in the locker room, he’s minding his own business, listening to music or just enjoying the company.
But things change when he puts on those pads and the helmet.
“I’m a totally different person out there on the field,” Davie said. “I’m out there talking, talking, talking. Guys definitely have different personalities when you come to the field.”
They have to. How else do you handle the physical demands and the mental strains of football?
Especially playing cornerback, Davie said. Any type of distraction can keep you from performing to the best of your ability. Which is why, for him, it’s just easiest to become someone else.
“If you’re having problems with your girlfriend or you had a bad test or something — you have to let all that go,” Davie said. “If you think about that, especially playing corner, you’re going to get beat pretty bad. You just have to clear your mind when you come out here.”
Have a bad day as a kicker or punter? Sometimes you can be a real goat, your mistake(s) there for all to see.
One of the people who always seems to have your back, however, is over on the other sideline.
Kickers and punters regularly seek each other out during postgame handshakes and pleasantries, Nebraska punter Sam Foltz said. Living similar existences, they can commiserate or congratulate, and even build a little bit of a kinship.
"In a specialists world, punters after the game always go over and talk to each other,” Foltz said.
A pat on the helmet or shoulder pad from a peer never hurts.
Foltz said specialists have senses of humor, too. One of his favorite moments last year came when Michigan State punter Mike Sadler was petting an imaginary cat in his arms after a punt pinned NU inside its 20-yard line, a nod to his Twitter exchange that week with @FauxPelini.
Senior defensive end
Jack Gangwish has played enough football to know about the occasional push or shove after the whistle, or twisted ankle or scratched arm in the pile.
If not for face masks and mouthpieces, there probably would even be biting.
Gangwish can live with those, but …
“I got poked in the eye so hard one time that I didn’t think I’d ever see again out of that side,” he said.
The NU senior defensive end declined to name the opponent, but was pretty sure it was intentional. So did he do something to deserve it?
“Only if playing hard would be a reason,” he said.
Gangwish is about as blue-collar as they come, so he can actually laugh now. And admit it goes with the game.
“Some things we do to each other out here, you obviously can’t go do to somebody on the street,” he said.
Senior offensive lineman
Alex Lewis said before Nebraska fall camp started that hopefully he can “bring the mentality of being the nastiest guy out there on the football field.”
He doesn’t offer it to impress. But rather he is hoping to put that kind of philosophy to good use as the left tackle on the Husker offensive line.
“That’s something that I try to be every Saturday,” he said.
“If you want to put your hand down in front of me and tell me you’re going to try to touch my quarterback, (or) my running back, you can make sure that I’m going to stop you. Nobody’s going to hit my teammates, and I’m going to hit you first. That’s how I see it on Saturdays.”
It’s not just a nastiness with the returning starter, though.
NU defensive coordinator Mark Banker said Lewis’ overall game has provided a good test for the Husker defensive ends through camp. And players like Jack Gangwish and Greg McMullen have known they need to bring a certain energy and edge every day to match Lewis when the first-team offense and defense collide.
“Physically, he’s so long, he’s strong and plays with good technique,” Banker said. “All of those types of things. I would hope he’s one of the better ones in the conference.”
Junior wide receiver
Plenty of Division I cornerbacks like to talk on the field, and Nebraska receiver Jordan Westerkamp remembers plenty of it coming from Wisconsin standout Darius Hillary last season.
But Westerkamp was caught off guard by the lack of trash involved with it.
“Throughout the game he kept complimenting me,” Westerkamp said. “He’d say, ‘I like your route-running,’ and things like that. One play I kind of did a smash release where I shoved him off the line, and he said something like, ‘Oh, I wasn’t expecting that.’ ”
Westerkamp wasn’t quite sure what to think, although it was probably a simple mix of Hillary respecting his opponent and just enjoying the competition.
“You don’t expect those things in games,” Westerkamp said. “You’re like, ‘What? Did he really just say that?’ I’d just kind of laugh coming back to the huddle.”
Westerkamp rarely engages or instigates, so he usually gets reaction to something good from corners more often than anything nasty.
“After a good catch, sometimes DBs will be like, ‘Hey, man, that was a great catch,’ ” he said.
Senior defensive tackle
Randy Gregory was twice involved in melees last Sept. 20 against Miami, and Nebraska teammate Kevin Williams said his participation in at least one was understandable.
“I’m pretty sure he got punched in the (expletive),” Williams said.
That was obviously taking matters a little too far — and maybe the worst of it — but Williams said “people were always out to get Randy,” the Huskers’ former star defensive end who was a second-round draft choice last April.
“They always target one of your best players,” said Williams, an NU senior defensive tackle. “All the time. It was the same way in high school. People did that to me. People do that to anybody. That happened all the time.”
Brief skirmishes followed both Husker-Hurricane face-offs involving Gregory, with NU teammates coming to his assistance, including 160-pound Josh Mitchell.
“I wasn’t surprised at all,” Williams said.
There’s an interesting catch to a story Andy Janovich tells about the time last fall that a linebacker overdid it on a play and, well, Janovich’s retaliation was of a rather physical nature.
The Nebraska fullback got thrown to the ground to start it. As he was getting back up, the defender tried tackling him again.
“After the whistle and all that,” Janovich said. “It was pretty unnecessary.”
“I threw him over my shoulder and pushed his head into the ground,” Janovich says matter-of-factly. “I was just protecting myself.”
Now a reminder of the nature of the sport and a twist to the exchange: It wasn’t a game during the 2014 season, but a Husker practice. And Janovich was mixing it up with former teammate Zaire Anderson.
It did make for some fun the next day in NU offensive meetings.
“We replayed it a bunch of times,” Janovich said, “because it was kind of like rubbing a puppy’s face in the ground after he peed or something.”
The defense was getting lined up for a game-simulated practice rep and safety Nate Gerry made sure to bark out the down and distance.
He did it before each snap. And that was by design.
Gerry’s a vocal and confident competitor who’s one of the most athletic players on the team — so he’s unafraid to speak his mind. He’s the guy defensive coordinator Mark Banker wants directing traffic.
“(We) put him in position to make plays and line people up,” Banker said.
But Gerry’s not always yelling.
From the sounds of it, he’s actually a little goofy.
He’ll find ways to joke around with teammates and coaches. Anything to liven up the mood and have a good time.
There was one preseason practice during special teams drills when Gerry came up to Banker and asked what was next. A BYU-specific session was next.
“We’re going to be right over there on the grass,” Banker said.
Gerry’s response: “Oh, I hate grass.”
Well, not really. Gerry doesn’t hate grass. He just says stuff and waits for the reaction, Banker said.
But that’s Nate.
"He is fun to coach,” Banker said.
Nebraska cornerback Joshua Kalu isn’t sure what might have happened to Josh Mitchell, but one possibility was an ejection and another might have been physical harm.
Then Kalu saw Husker safety Corey Cooper looking out for his teammate in what he termed “a nasty environment” as the NU-Miami game turned ugly.
“I just saw Coop pull him off the pile,” Kalu said. “If you saw the picture, it was real funny.”
After Kalu had intercepted a late pass, the 160-pound Mitchell was in the thick of an ensuing rumble. Had Mitchell stayed involved long enough to risk getting ejected for fighting, by NCAA rule he would have had to sit the first half of the next game (the Big Ten opener with Illinois).
Kalu couldn’t recall doing specifically the same for a teammate in a game, but the sophomore said he’s done similar things for friends when trouble was brewing.
“In high school, seeing a situation that was about to happen and pulling my friends out,” Kalu said. “You’ve got to just know when it’s not the right time for this, and you’ve got to save people because they don’t always realize what they’re getting into.”