After months of wanting nothing more than to get back onto the field and redeem itself from last year's disappointing finish, the 2011 season officially got under way for the Nebraska football team on Friday.
Prior to the team's annual Fan Day at Memorial Stadium, several Huskers met with media to talk about the upcoming season. By far the most common theme of the day was just the pure excitement of getting back to football and to see all of their hard work over the summer start to pay off.
"I've been anxious," senior wide receiver Brandon Kinnie said. "I've been patiently waiting, but excited at the same time. I'm just taking it all in stride and enjoying it while it lasts. This summer went really fast, but I've enjoyed it. I've enjoyed our bonding and enjoyed everything that we've accomplished as a team. It's going good. I'm loving it."
Mostly every player interviewed had nothing but rave reviews for the team's summer conditioning program under strength coach James Dobson. From the sound of things, almost every Husker made significant gains in their overall strength and conditioning.
In fact, NU's strength coaches told the players this summer was the most grueling and intense training program the team had ever gone through since head coach Bo Pelini took over in 2008.
"We had one of the best summers we've ever had," junior linebacker Will Compton said. "They were saying we did more condition during the first part (of the summer) than we've ever done. We were more focused on conditioning because our offense is so different now, but at the same time we had a lot of strength gains too. They weren't fully expecting what happened, and it did. We had a great offseason."
Compton said that while he only put on about three pounds of muscle, he dropped five percent body fat through the summer workouts.
Sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez was another player who showed up to Friday's press conference looking bulked up from last season. Martinez said he put on about five pounds of muscle over the summer and is now up to 205, but his main goal was to keep the weight on through the season after Huskers cut back their lifting and focus more on football.
"(The added weight) will help me a lot," Martinez said. "I've just got to be able to keep my weight on throughout the season."
One of the main reasons for the increased focus on strength and conditioning this offseason was to get the players in good enough shape to handle Nebraska's new up-tempo offense. With as much running the Huskers will be doing each practice in the fast-paced scheme, there was a definite need to make sure the team was in the best shape possible.
"With as fast as we go in practice with our new offense, we have to be in great shape," junior tight end Ben Cotton said. "I think we did a really good job of improving our conditioning as a team and getting ready for the season. We're in as good of shape as we've ever been."
- Robin Washut
Offensive line moves
There were a couple of offensive line moves of note to pass along from Friday. Senior center Mike Caputo said that redshirt freshman Jake Cotton has moved to right guard and sophomore Brent Qvale will now play tackle.
This comes somewhat as a surprise because Qvale was originally penciled in to start at guard and Cotton just recently moved to the offensive line from defensive tackle.
Caputo also said that true freshmen Ryne Reeves and Ryan Klachko are both starting out at the center position.
Warfield joins NU staff
HuskerOnline.com learned Friday that former Nebraska defensive back Eric Warfield has joined the Huskers' coaching staff as an undergraduate volunteer assistant coach.
Warfield played at NU from 1995-97 and brings eight years of NFL experience to the Huskers' staff, as he was a fixture in the secondary for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1998-2005. He had previously worked with the Lincoln Lighthouse program, a community-based after school program that provides mentors for underprivileged youth in Lincoln.
A three-year letter winner at strong safety, Warfield, 35, was a member of the 1995 and '97 national championship teams and was a third-team All-Big 12 selection as a senior. During his career at Nebraska, the Huskers lost just two games, both of which coming in 1996 to Texas and Arizona State.
His best individual season came as a senior in '97, where he racked up 52 tackles (23 solos) with two interceptions and a pair tackles for loss. Overall, Warfield finished his NU career with 107 tackles (48 solo), to go along with five interceptions for 27 yards, one forced fumble, nine pass breakups and three blocked punts.
Turner gets even more praise
After stealing the show during the spring and especially in the Red-White game, freshman receiver Jamal Turner was once again one of the hot topics on Friday.
Part of the reason was the fact that Compton, who was the first Husker to speak to reporters, singled Turner out as a player who had one of the best offseasons out of anyone.
"The freshman that impressed I'm sure everybody was Jamal Turner," Compton said. "That's the one that stands out to me right now
He's just versatile. He can do pretty much anything."
Turner's biggest praise came from Kinnie, though. Kinnie, who made it a point to work with Turner and the rest of Nebraska's young receivers all summer, said it wasn't hard to see why Turner could be one of the Huskers' most explosive weapons this season.
"Y'all saw it in the Spring Game," Kinnie said. "The guy is fast and he can catch. I've never seen a guy like that who came from another position and catch the ball like he did. You get quarterbacks that change positions, and I was like 'He won't be catching the ball like that.'
"Well he was literally catching the ball like he'd been playing the position as long as I have. I was like, 'Wow, this dude is going to be something special.'"
What really separates Turner from most highly touted true freshmen, Kinnie said, was his eagerness to learn as much as possible from Kinnie and the rest of Nebraska's veteran players.
"He listens," Kinnie said. "Especially for a guy just coming out of high school, a lot of those guys think they know everything, because I was like that. But he's a very humble kid. He just wants to get better, and he does that."
- Robin Washut
***Compton had some pretty good things to say about his initial impression of junior college transfer defensive end Joseph Carter.
"Hopefully he plays half as good as he looks, because he looks the part," Compton said.
***Compton said that over the summer Nebraska's linebackers watched at least 25 plays a day from last season and also all of the reps from spring practice. He said the mental gains the unit made over the offseason were just as big as the physical.
***Aside from the top three linebackers - Compton, Lavonte David and Sean Fisher - Compton said redshirt freshman Trevor Roach made some of the biggest strides this summer.
"He's at my position, so I've helped him a lot one on one," Compton said. "He's just a hard worker. He's always ready to learn and he's always looking to learn. He's always doing things to try and get better."
***Sophomore tackle Jeremiah Sirles said the competition on the offensive line this fall would be as intense as ever, as every starting position but center is up for grabs.
"I think fall camp is going to be a blast on the offensive line," Sirles said. "Everything is going to be a huge competition, and that's only going to make everyone better. Competition makes the guy ahead want to keep the rest of the guys behind him and people behind him wants to catch the guy in front of them. It's just an ongoing thing that pushes everyone to get to that elite level."
***Senior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard said sophomore Ciante Evans is more than ready to compete for the other starting corner spot this fall.
"He had a very good summer," Dennard said. "Like after 7-on-7's, me and Ciante would stay and go workout afterwards to try and get better. He works hard. He's a very hard worker, and I can't wait to see him play this fall."
***After hearing the news that schools like South Carolina and Kansas had banned players from using Twitter, Kinnie said he hoped Nebraska wouldn't have to take that step because the Huskers were smarter about what they Tweet.
"I don't know what those guys were Tweeting," Kinnie said. "Maybe they were Tweeting some crazy stuff? I don't know. I would think that we're pretty good on Twitter. We're not as bad as some other schools. I've seen what some of those other schools put on there. I don't Bo would (ban Twitter), but it's a privilege, not a right. If we're going out there and putting (dumb) stuff, then maybe it should be, but I don't think we're doing stuff like that. It's fun for us. It's fun to interact with fans and stuff like that."
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