Away from the hype, walk-ons dream big
By Ryan Mueksch, NewsNetNebraska
Twenty six student-athletes got all the attention. Some come with hope, some with flash, but for all, success is no guarantee.
But for fifteen players, all but two who are Nebraska products, these athletes will pay their way to play football at Nebraska. A dream for many Nebraska natives, they will gladly take seeing their name at the bottom of the press release if it means a shot to strap the pads on and play in front of 91,000-plus at Memorial Stadium.
“I never felt like we weren’t getting enough attention,” said Waverly standout and Nebraska signee Erik Evans. “I love the walk-on program at Nebraska, the walk-ons get treated the same as every player.”
The Huskers secured commitments this month from 15 players who plan to join the program as a walk-on for the 2013 season. Per NCAA rules, Nebraska was able to announce only 13 of those players who signed their letter of intent on February 6th.
Waverly Brothers Reunite at Nebraska
“It was a no brainer for me to walk on at Nebraska,” said Evans, brother of Nebraska junior WR Tyler Evans. “Playing for Nebraska means I’m going to be a part of something great.”
Evans is a 6-foot-3-inch, 220-pound tight end who also played quarterback, linebacker, and safety in high school. Evans racked up 180 tackles in his career and says his aggressiveness should benefit him on the offensive side of the ball.
Nebraska coaches anticipate Evans starting out at TE, a position that has been a strength for the Huskers the past few years.
“I’ve picked up blocking pretty well, it’s just a matter of getting the technique down,” Evans said. “I like to think I can do just a little bit of everything.”
While Evans says it’s a dream come true to play at Nebraska alongside his brother, he says if they’re both on the field with the game on the line, the ball is going to him.
“We’ve always had a really good relationship so this is just another bonus to play with him again.”
Schumacher Aims to Continue Success of Walk-On Kickers at NU
One position that may get overlooked the most in college football has given Nebraska tremendous success from former walk-ons.
Nebraska is turning into Kicker U, thanks to the booming performances from former walk-ons Alex Henery and Brett Maher the past five years.
Henery earned his place in the history book as he set the NCAA record with an 89.5 percent career accuracy mark on field goals, connecting on 68 of 76 field goals in three years at Nebraska. Henery also broke the NCAA record for combined accuracy with extra points and field goals, totaling 96.7 percent for his career.
Once Henery graduated, another little-known walk-on strolled into Lincoln as a big question mark and left the program as a captain and key contributor. Brett Maher had big shoes to fill in 2011. Maher was named a first team All-American kicker by Yahoo in 2011 and a first team All-Big Ten kicker in 2012, making 39 of 50 field goals in his career.
Now that Maher has graduated, the kicker and punter position is wide open for the Huskers in 2013, giving walk-on Grant Schumacher an excellent opportunity to continue the success of walk-on kickers at Nebraska.
“Grant has a strong leg but has developed an attitude that if he missed the last kick he can put that behind and move to the last one,” said Lincoln Pius X Head Coach Tim Aylward. “He’s someone who always gives his best effort, he’s the guy who will dive for the loose ball on the basketball floor and likes facing challenges.”
Schumacher is following another Pius X product in Greg Zuerlein.
Zuerlein graduated from Piux X in 2006 and played for UNO for three years until the program was dropped in 2011. Zuerlein then transferred to Missouri Western for his final year of eligibility where he set an NCAA Division II record by making 21 consecutive field goals, including nine of those being over 50 yards.
Zuerlein’s big leg drew the attention of NFL scouts, earning himself a 6th round draft pick in the 2012 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams.
Schumacher has had the opportunity to work on his kicking skills with Zuerlein, an experience that Aylward said benefited the younger player tremendously.
When asked if Schumacher had the potential to turn into ‘Legatron,’ Aylward said, “With a lot of hard work there is always the same opportunity. With a little luck involved you never know.”
SE Knights Continue Pipeline to Nebraska
Lincoln Southeast now has six players on the Huskers roster with the addition of walk-ons Jordan Ackerman and Landon Kubicek. Nearly half of the tight ends on Nebraska’s roster are former Knights, with the position having a big opening for 2013.
Seniors Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton have graduated, leaving Jake Long as the only tight end to see significant playing time at Nebraska.
Ackerman has the size to play tight end at 6’3” and 245 pounds and learned the position well playing behind current Huskers Sam Cotton and Trey Foster.
“Jordan is a great blocker and has great hands, he really developed the past year after not receiving a lot of playing time at tight end his junior season,” Knights coach Ryan Gottula said. “He understood at what level to play at to be a very successful player watching Sam and Trey in practice.”
One of Nebraska’s most highly touted players returning in 2013 is offensive guard Spencer Long, a former walk-on who earned First Team All-Big Ten honors last season. Long has set the precedent for players like Kubicek, a 6’4″ 310 lb. guard, proving you don’t have to be a scholarship athlete to be one of the most dominant players on the field.
In fact three of the five offensive linemen who often started for Nebraska last season were walk-ons, something rarely seen among top schools.
“I’ve always been really fond of the walk-on program at Nebraska,” Kubickek said. “All the great teams at Nebraska have had local guys walk-on, especially on the offensive line.”
While making the team at Nebraska is something Kubicek said he’s very proud of, his ultimate goal is to become a starter and earn a scholarship.
“You always want to prove that you can play with some of the top guys in the country and I feel like I have the potential to earn that scholarship. Being from Nebraska, going to play for Nebraska, that’s something to be very proud of. I’m going to give it my all.”