Published Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 9:25 pm / Updated at 1:01 am
FOOTBALL
Shatel: Banderas following dad's path, which now leads to Memorial Stadium

If only the helmet could talk.

Tom Banderas' old white Nebraska football helmet sat on a table at Lincoln Southwest like a museum piece. There were scratches on the top, maybe from getting his head slapped by Leslie O'Neal. There was a dark bruise on the side, possibly from the time it collided with Brian Bosworth's crimson Oklahoma helmet.

On the back, there was the logo “Our House.” Yep. This helmet participated in the 1987 Oklahoma game in Lincoln, the “Game of the Century II,” when Broderick Thomas and the Huskers relinquished the keys to their house.

This is the helmet Tom wore in the family photo next to his young son Josh, who was pretending to be a football player like his dad.

“My dad was in his helmet and I was wearing a (potato) chip bowl,” Josh Banderas said. “That's when I first knew I wanted to play football.”

The helmet was there for another historical mile marker in the Banderas family: the day Josh signed to play for the Huskers.

Just like his dad.

Christmas in February arrived on schedule Wednesday. It's a day to celebrate hope, celebrate the beginning of the journey. Around the country, hundreds of kids, from football to cross country, were signing up for the future. It's a cool day for all.

But the scene that was unfolding in the Lincoln Southwest student area was enough to make an old Papa Bear's knees buckle.

I can't imagine watching one of my daughters writing a column on deadline at the Orange Bowl. I certainly can't imagine what was going through Tom Banderas' mind and heart Wednesday morning.

Thirty years ago this week, Tom sat in the cafeteria at Oak Grove High School, a half-hour east of downtown Kansas City. His family, coaches, teachers and a handful of students watched him sign a letter of intent to play at Nebraska.

The TV stations in K.C. didn't cover it. There weren't recruiting websites streaming live video. The kid didn't even have any stars behind his name — nobody did.

“You didn't have the media circus you do now,” Tom said. “There weren't ratings. They had a Blue Chippers magazine, and I was in that, along with Brian Bosworth. The year before, I was in there with Marcus Dupree.

“There was one story about me that ran in the Kansas City Star. It showed Notre Dame's recruiting board, and I was the No. 1 name on the board.”

TOM SHATEL ON FACEBOOK
Join the daily conversation on the Tom Shatel Facebook page.

You bet Gerry Faust wanted the big-blocking, sure-handed tight end from small-town Missouri. So did everybody else. Banderas visited Nebraska, Texas, USC, Colorado, Notre Dame and Oklahoma. NU's fans, game experience, tradition all won out. So did the head coach.

“When Tom Osborne sat in your living room, it made quite an impression,” Tom said. “In 1983, Tom Osborne walking into your house would be like Nick Saban walking in today.”

Banderas had a good, solid career. He played on the freshman team in 1983, redshirted in 1984, and started his final three years on teams that were ranked in the top five, including No. 1 on Nov. 21, 1987. He played in two Fiesta Bowls and a Sugar Bowl. He caught three touchdown passes against Missouri as a senior.

After a brief stint in the Washington Redskins' training camp in 1988, Banderas came back to Oak Grove, looking for his future. That's when the seeds for Wednesday's scene were planted by Tom's father.

“He told me to use my head, not my back,” Tom said. “He worked for a demolition company his whole life. He wanted me to use my education.”

Tom did just that. With the help of Nebraska alumni, he found a job with Farm Bureau Insurance in Lincoln, where he's been for 23 years. Moving back to Lincoln seemed natural.

It may have been the move that paved his son's path to Memorial Stadium, following his dad's footsteps.

For as long as Josh can remember, he was playing catch with his dad, watching Husker games on TV, hanging out with his dad on the Nebraska sideline, meeting old teammates like Neil Smith and Thomas.

“Always,” Josh said. “I remember my first Husker game. I saw a guy get his tooth knocked out. I talked about it for two weeks.”

Tom coached his son in midget football (“He was a hell of a Midget player, running back and nose tackle”). He gave his son options. He never pushed him into football. He didn't have to.

“The first hit I had was probably the most awesome thing ever,” Josh said. “I knew I was going to do it for a long, long time.”

Turns out demolition is still the family business. But with Tom and Josh, it involved wearing a helmet and pads.

“I've seen his old games, old films,” Josh said. “He's on YouTube, the 'Game of the Century II.' He always talks about how he was a blocking machine. I like to get on him about that.”

Tom said “no question, it was our dream to have him in a helmet with the 'N' on it.” The dream, but not necessarily the plan. Josh grew into the dream. He's a special athlete, like his dad, with a similar build. In 1983, Tom was 6-foot-3, 235 pounds. Josh is 6-2, 220.

BIG RED TODAY ON FACEBOOK
Join the conversation on the Big Red Today Facebook page.

That frame was good enough to play tight end 30 years ago. But not now. Josh is a linebacker, a bone-rattler who likes to emulate Jack Lambert, though he hopes to play the weakside spot at NU.

He was talented enough to get attention from schools like Oregon and USC. But Tom said USC and Oregon begged off the heavy recruiting because they assumed Josh was a lock for Lincoln.

They were right. In fact, Josh became an extra recruiter for the Huskers, using Twitter to help persuade other recruits to follow his lead. And there's another difference between father and son.

“I still don't know what Twitter is,” Tom said. “I don't want my thoughts to go out into the world.”

You didn't need more than 140 characters to see how special this day was, for father and son and legacy.

For Josh, the magic carpet ride of being around Nebraska football his entire life just got wilder. His dad introduced him to Osborne, who told Josh, “I sure hope you're better than your dad was.”

Since his commitment to NU, Josh has hung around Memorial Stadium, champing at the bit. He had Bo Pelini to the house for a home visit last weekend. What was there to talk about? Movies. They exchanged reviews of “Zero Dark Thirty.”

For the father, it's been a little surreal, going through the recruiting process again. Then watching his son put pen to paper. Like watching your life flash before you.

“It's an unbelievable experience,” Tom said. “I'm just really looking forward to it. I think he's going to be a solid player for Nebraska and have a good career. He understands the purpose, and he has a solid goal in mind.

“But this, this is just awesome. I can't even describe it. It's 10 times more special than when I did it.”

They had something else in common Wednesday. The look of pride splashed over their faces.

“It's just kind of implied,” Josh said. “It's almost like an aura — I get to do what he did. It's not something we talk about.”

No need. That helmet on the table said it all.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1025, tom.shatel@owh.com, twitter.com/tomshatelOWH

* * *

>> Video: Josh Banderas signs his Letter of Intent with Nebraska:

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

Read more related stories
PHOTO GALLERY AND VIDEO »

 

< >
SPOTLIGHT »
2013 college football preview
View our 2013 college football preview, a 26-page, three-part section filled with coverage of the Huskers, Big Ten conference and more.
Big Red Bowl Retrospective
See complete historical results, game recaps and photo coverage from the Nebraska Cornhuskers college football bowl game appearances, from the 1941 Rose Bowl up to today.
Big Ten football recruits
The World-Herald's Big Ten recruiting database contains every football recruit that signed with a Big Ten school from 2002 to 2011, complete with color-coded interactive map representations, player information, high-concentrations recruiting clusters and more.
Devaney Center timeline
Check out a World-Herald timeline to see the evolution of memorable moments at the Devaney Center, complete with photos, videos, memorable quotes and more.
Follow OWHbigred on Twitter
Looking for the latest Husker sports news from The Omaha World-Herald and Omaha.com? Follow us on Twitter!
Husker scholarship distribution chart
Want to see how many scholarships NU has invested at each position? Wondering how the Huskers have appropriated their offers by class? Check out our handy chart to look further into how Bo Pelini has built his team.
Husker Signing Day 2013
The World-Herald's top-notch coverage of the Nebraska football's class of 2013, complete with videos, photos, articles, live recruit interviews, interactive components and more.
Husker turnovers: A slippery slope
Bo Pelini has coached 68 games at Nebraska. When NUís turnover margin is positive or even, the Huskers are 35-2. When they lose the turnover battle, theyíre 13-18. Why hasnít Nebraska joined the nationís elite? More than anything, itís turnovers.
Interactive: Bo Pelini's contract
View an interactive PDF of Pelini's revised contract signed by the NU football coach, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Darin Erstad's contract (2012)
View an interactive PDF of NU baseball coach Darin Erstad's contract released in August 2012, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Tim Miles' contract
View an interactive PDF of Tim Miles' contract signed by the Nebraska men's basketball coach on May 4, 2012, complete with brief legal explanations, comparisons to other Big Ten coaches and more.
Omaha.com's Big Ten coverage
Delivering the best news coverage and analysis of the Big Ten Conference, from Omaha.com and other top news outlets from around country.
Husker Recruiting: Changes shrink NU's sphere of influence
For decades, the Great Plains represented fertile recruiting ground for Tom Osborne's football program. Restoring that lost tradition won't be easy.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
7M Grill
Half Off Delicious Comfort Fusion Food & Drinks!
Buy Now
BRT ON TWITTER »
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT »
< >