LINCOLN — Now the fun begins.
Tonight, head-bobbing Huskers will emerge from their locker room to run the red carpet past adoring fans reaching for high-fives, as the rest of the stadium pulsates to the Tunnel Walk pump-up song.
The players will reach the gate, oozing with adrenaline. They've been waiting, working, dreaming about this.
The 2013 Nebraska football team will be unveiled in style against Wyoming, under the lights, on national television.
But this time things are a little different. Even more work than usual has been done to get to this point.
Memorial Stadium is bigger. Suites — 38 total — and a steep set of bleachers now rest atop the east grandstand, rising in uniformity with the six-story press box on the west side. Attendance, since capacity now exceeds 90,000, will be the largest in school history.
There's new turf, too, cooler with a cork layer instead of rubber — good timing with the heat index expected to be high — with a freshly painted “N” stamped at midfield and Tom Osborne's name along the sidelines.
Players know that a $63.5 million renovation will add to the energy and change the stadium's feel. Why else would coach Bo Pelini hold an impromptu scrimmage a couple of weeks ago inside their remodeled home?
“We're big-time now, I guess you could say,” receiver Jamal Turner said.
Well, bigger-time, anyway.
Asked about the Memorial Stadium addition, defensive end Jason Ankrah started bringing up other places he's been — Ohio State, Texas A&M, Michigan.
“Wow. (Our) stadium before was big, but now it looks like other big-time stadiums,” Ankrah said. “It's going to be fun.”
Truthfully, they say, you can't help but stare toward the intimidating east structure, wondering how opponents might feel to see fans hanging over the highest deck, screaming, flailing, celebrating. At the very least, the addition is supposed to trap in noise to make the environment even more raucous.
Pelini is not sure what to expect, but he'll be reminding his players not to get lost in the sights and sounds.
“Obviously the adrenaline's gonna be going, the emotion's gonna be going. But at the same time, you have to keep it under control,” Pelini said. “Part of the process for these kids is to understand: Don't make more of it than it is. Just go out there and execute your football.”
Easier said than done. Especially for guys who have never been in the spotlight before.
Not only will the stadium have a new feel, but the team has a lot of new players.
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Nebraska's depth chart Friday listed 26 players (true freshmen, redshirt freshmen and transfers) who will likely make their Memorial Stadium debuts.
That includes a new punter and long snapper, and maybe a transfer kicker. The defensive line could have two newcomers on its first team. The linebackers are full of youth. The second-team offense has plenty of it, too, most notably reserve quarterback Tommy Armstrong (a candidate to replace Taylor Martinez next year).
There will be some nervousness. That's a guarantee.
“I'm sure everybody's going to be excited, especially the young guys that haven't experienced it,” junior safety Corey Cooper said. “It's pretty much just tell them to calm their nerves and focus on what we practice. Everything will take care of itself.”
About that focus part ...
Turner said he forgot plays on a few occasions each game as a freshman. Wrong route. Wrong formation. “A lot of times I would be running a whole different play than everyone else — and that's what we do not want,” Turner said.
It's the biggest concern for an offense that moves at warp speed, according to Martinez.
But sometimes guys get distracted. It's OK to look into the stands every now and then, but Ankrah tells his teammates not to spend too much time taking in the scene.
“You see people calling out your name and everything. You want to look back and try to look pretty and everything,” Ankrah said. “Don't worry about all that. You've got to play football.”
Some players don't have a problem with that. Instead, they're the ones worrying too much about making a mistake — which, not surprisingly, leads to them messing up.
That was Zaire Anderson's problem. The transfer linebacker was clinging to veteran Will Compton on the sideline last year, constantly asking for tips.
“He's like, 'Just calm down,' ” Anderson said. “After my first couple plays, I got the jitters out.”
Adjusting comes more naturally to some. It took junior Kenny Bell some time, too, though he eventually realized the key.
“It is the same game you've played since however long you've played. That's the No. 1 thing I try and get across,” Bell said. “We're playing a game. It's supposed to be fun.
“You've got to remember to have fun, or you're not going to play very well.”
Pelini's Nebraska teams have found a way to do that. The Huskers' season openers have tended to contain more of a festival feel than a heated battle for four quarters. They've been far from perfect, but relatively stress-free and highlight-filled.
NU won those five season debuts by an average of 34 points, with the offense scoring 40 or more every time. Nebraska holds a nation-leading 27-game winning streak in season openers.
Turner can't wait to see how this one unfolds.
“I'm excited to see how the freshmen are going to take that, with it being even louder than when I first came,” he said. “We have some guys that have to play, and we're going to have to throw them in there. Hopefully they stay in their playbook and they're ready to go.”