December 8, 2011

Thursday notebook: Life without Carl

One of the most familiar faces of the Nebraska football team was noticeably absent on Thursday, as the Huskers went through their second practice without former defensive coordinator Carl Pelini.

On Monday, Pelini officially accepted the head coaching position at Florida Atlantic, achieving a life-long goal by taking over his first collegiate program. For his former players, it's taken a bit of getting used to not having one of the leaders of the defense around, but everyone was happy to see Pelini take the next step in his coaching career.

"Coach Carl is a great football coach, and we knew it was going to come sooner or later, because he's a great football coach," David said. "I know a lot of people were probably gunning for him. You just have to take your hat off to him. He worked himself to get that opportunity, and he took advantage of it."

David said he felt Carl Pelini would flourish as a head coach because of the way he's able to develop strong relationships and earn the respect of his players.

"His leadership," David said. "He was the defensive coordinator, and defensive coordinators have to have leadership. I think he was ready to take leadership over a whole team on his own. He was a great motivator, and just a great coach as a whole. He looks out for his players, and he puts you in the best position to succeed."

Few players were as close to Pelini than David, as Pelini was the one who first spotted the Miami, Fla., native down at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College and convinced brother Bo Pelini to offer him a scholarship.

"I was very close with Coach Carl," David said. "He helped recruit me, he's a very good football coach and he helped me get to where I'm at right now. That's what I like about him so much. He put his players in a great position to succeed and I take my hat off to him."

Senior safety Austin Cassidy played the past four seasons under Carl Pelini, and based on what he knows of his former defensive coordinator, he anticipates Pelini to do big things down in Boca Raton, Fla.

"I expect him to have quite a turnaround down there," Cassidy said. "This kind of challenge I know is right up his alley. He's the kind of guy who loves something like this, and he's going to hit it head on. I'm excited to see how he does down there. I know he's going to have a lot of FAU fans in the Midwest now."

Carl Pelini's move now gives Youngstown, Ohio, three natives as Division-I head football coaches, with two of them obviously being from the same family.

Junior receiver and fellow Youngstown native Tim Marlowe said his hometown takes great pride in its college football coaching tree, and Carl's move to FAU was yet another accomplishment for the entire community.

"There's only 120 head coaching jobs out there and to have him and his brother have two of them, that's a great a thing for the family and a great thing for Youngstown and our high school Cardinal Mooney," Marlowe said. "It's an exciting time for them. We're obviously going to miss them here, but I'm excited for him and who knows, he might bring so more of our coaches down there."

- Robin Washut

Huskers excited for new bowl experience

Compared to the last year's deflating and angering repeat trip to the Holiday Bowl to face an opponent they had already beaten by 35 points earlier that season, Nebraska's players couldn't have been happier when they learned they would be taking on South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando.

While they obviously would have loved to go to their first BCS bowl since 2001, the Huskers jumped at the opportunity to play a strong Southeastern Conference opponent in a bowl game considered by many to be one of the most prestigious non-BCS destinations.

"Of course it's going to be a different attitude from last year," David said. "We played the same bowl game two years in a row and we played the same team we played already. I mean, this year we have a better opportunity and a better bowl game against a much tougher team, an SEC team, and we know they have great teams down there. I mean, we're all pumped up."

The trip to Orlando will be extra special for David, as he will get to play his final collegiate game in his home state of Florida in front of his family and friends.

"That was one of the top bowl games out there," David said. "Personally for me, it's a chance to play in Florida. My last game playing in my home state. The team as a whole, we're very fired up to get to play in a great bowl game like that… It means a lot, just to go out with a bang in my home state."

Of course the chance to take on a team from the heralded SEC is an added bonus for the Huskers, as they want to show the rest of the country that Nebraska can compete with any team in any conference.

"I'm really excited," redshirt freshman receiver Kenny Bell said. "We're going to get a chance to compete against an SEC school and hopefully get a W, because that will hopefully put a stamp on our season. These Gamecocks are a very solid team, especially on the defensive side, so I'm looking forward to proving what we've got."

There will be no lack of motivation this post-season for Nebraska. Because of the letdown the team had when it learned it would have to face Washington for the second time in a little more than three months in a bowl game it just played in a year before, the Huskers admittedly came out flat and got roughed up in a 19-7 loss to the Huskies.

This time around, the players are more ready than ever to get back out there for one more game.

"(You learn) just that you can be humbled on any day," Marlowe said. "We beat Washington pretty good during the year, and maybe some guys thought we'd do the same and just roll them. But you have to come out and bring you're A game every day, because those guys are getting ready down there in South Carolina."

- Robin Washut

Backyard football

With most of Nebraska's coaching staff on the road recruiting, only running backs coach Ron Brown was in Lincoln to run NU's practice on Thursday, along with a handful of graduate assistants.

With that said, senior offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardrick said Thursday's practice had a different feel to it without the likes of Bo Pelini or any of the other assistants coaches around.

"There really haven't been very many coaches here, so it's really been a backyard fight," Hardrick said. "The last couple of days it's just been a fight and back yard football.

"We are just having fun and we are out there competing. We are just out there running practice and competing."

Bell said it almost felt strange being off the practice field since the season finale against Iowa.

"All that time off didn't feel right," Bell said. "We wanted to be in that Big Ten championship. Everybody was a little disappointed that we didn't get to practice last week, but we got after it this week."

- Sean Callahan

The schedule going forward

Nebraska practiced on both Tuesday and Thursday of this week and they'll come back for another workout on Saturday.

Next week NU is scheduled to practice on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Bo Pelini will send his team home on Dec. 20 after a practice in Lincoln, and they will report back again on Dec. 25.

The Huskers will depart for Orlando on Dec. 26 and begin practices at the bowl site on Dec. 27. In all, NU will conduct around seven or eight bowl practices in Lincoln and five practices in Orlando.

"The coaches gave us a week off from that Friday to the next Friday," Marlowe said. "I've just been lifting a lot of weights and staying conditioned.

"We've been running quite a bit, we had two practices this week, which was nice to knock the rust off. We'll really start to get into the swing of it next week with game planning and stuff."

- Sean Callahan

Burkhead, Cassidy earn academic honors

Two Nebraska players received the highest academic honors a college football player could get on Thursday, as Cassidy and junior running back Rex Burkhead were named to the Capital One Academic All-America Division I first team.

It was Cassidy's second first-tam selection in a row. The Lincoln native has already earned his degree in Psychology with a 3.91 G.P.A., and is currently a graduate student pursuing his M.B.A. carrying a perfect 4.0 G.P.A.

On the field, Cassidy was named honorable mention All-Big Ten after finishing fourth on the team with 68 tackles, two interceptions and recovering a fumble.

He was joined by Burkhead, who along with his tremendous success as NU's star running back held a 3.38 G.P.A. as a History major.

Burkhead said he was surprised and honored when he found out he had been named a first-team Academic All-American.

"It's a great honor," Burkhead said. "I found out around lunch time today. It's something special. It's something my parents have always preached to me and that's the importance of schoolwork growing up. It was something I definitely had in mind coming into this season after seeing Cassidy win it last year.

"I just tried my hardest in the class room to hopefully get it and I ended up getting it, so it's a great honor."

Nebraska was just one of three schools to have two first-team Academic All-Americans, joining the U.S. Military Academy and Montana.

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***David said he wasn't upset when he learned he only finished fifth in the voting for the Butkus Award, given to the nation's top linebacker.

"Just to get the opportunity to be ranked up there with those guys was a great opportunity for me," David said. "I just cherished every moment of it. All those guys were well deserving of it. I think (Boston College's) Luke Kuechly won it, and that guy is outstanding. He's a great football player, and I think he deserved to win it."

***Marlowe said it was rough having to watch Wisconsin and Michigan State play in Saturday's Big Ten Championship game after Nebraska had played for a league title the past two seasons.

"It was really tough watching it," Marlowe said. "I had to shut it off sometimes. I couldn't quite handle it, just knowing that I felt we should've been there and what we did to Michigan State here in Lincoln. I thought that should've been us, but you know, that's something to work for for next year."

***Burkhead said he wasn't really rooting for either Michigan State or Wisconsin in the game.

"I was just rooting for a good game," Burkhead said.

***As for this weekend's Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York, Burkhead said he thinks either Wisconsin running back Montee Ball or Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin will take home the hardware.

"I think it's a toss-up," Burkhead said.

***One player tie on the South Carolina roster to Nebraska is Gamecock defensive tackle Byron Jerideau, who played his junior college ball at Fort Scott with David, Hardrick, Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Brandon Kinnie.

***One of the highlights for this year's bowl trip to Orlando will be visiting Disney World.

"I think that's on the itinerary," Burkhead said of Disney World. "I went when I was 2. I don't really remember it a whole lot, so I'll go act like a big kid now."

...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!