Published Wednesday, January 8, 2014 at 12:00 am / Updated at 1:39 pm
With seniors gone, new Huskers lining up for starting roles
Drawing the line for 2014

Top of the line: Zach Sterup, jr.
Next in line: Matt Finnin, sr.; David Knevel, rfr.; Givens Price, jr.
Down the line: Dwayne Johnson, rfr.


Top of the line: Jake Cotton, sr. (11 starts); Mike Moudy, sr. (3)
Next in line: Ryne Reeves, jr.; Price; Chongo Kondolo, jr.
Down the line: Corey Whitaker, soph.; Johnson; Zach Hannon, rfr.; D.J. Foster, fr. (commit); Tanner Farmer, fr. (commit)


Top of the line: Mark Pelini, sr. (2)
Next in line: Reeves; Paul Thurston, soph.; Kondolo

LINCOLN — After the Gator Bowl, Brent Qvale was heading for the Nebraska team bus one last time, lagging a few minutes behind some younger Husker offensive linemen who weren't sidetracked by interview requests or simply didn't play in the 24-19 win over Georgia.

That torch is about to be passed to those non-seniors, and Qvale and the veterans seemed at peace with the inevitable.

“All those guys, it's their turn now,” Qvale said. “That's what happens in college football. People leave and then it's time for new people to step up.”

No position group will be hit harder by graduation than the NU offensive line, which started the season with five seniors among its top eight and squeezed as much mileage out of them as it could under the limitations of injury.

But the tight-knit group of Jeremiah Sirles, Spencer Long, Andrew Rodriguez, Cole Pensick and Qvale believes it has left behind a good blueprint for the non-seniors to follow as it heads out the door.

“I think what we showed them is that, as a unit, we have the most guys on the field at any time and we can lead this team,” Pensick said. “And to do it, it's just come to practice and come to games with the same tenacity and the same attitude that — no matter what happens, what gets thrown our way — we just keep working.”

Five years ago, Nebraska might not have been able to withstand such a thinning of the ranks. The five checking out played a combined 215 games, including 127 starts. Long was a second-team All-American in 2012 and Sirles a four-year starter.

But the cupboard has slowly been restocked during the Bo Pelini era, and a handful of backups got unexpected calls as the 2013 injuries started piling up once the Big Ten season started.

“Some guys stepped up who at the beginning of the year weren't really expected to play much, like (Zach) Sterup and (Ryne) Reeves, and did a great job when we needed them,” Qvale said. “So that set the stage. Mark Pelini stepped in and did a nice job this year. Jake Cotton has a year under his belt now of being the full-time guy.

Join the conversation on the Big Red Today Facebook page.

“Now we just need younger guys to step up, guys like Matt Finnin, David Knevel, Chongo (Kondolo) ... people like that.”

Cotton was the only non-senior starting when the season began. He rotated at left guard with fellow junior Mike Moudy. Moudy then replaced Long at right guard before following with an injury of his own.

Pelini became more important at center when Pensick was banged up or was needed at guard. Reeves saw time at guard as Cotton joined Moudy and Long with injuries. Sterup took some key snaps at tackle when Sirles and Qvale were hobbled.

“We have tremendous depth, and I think it showed this year with the injuries we did have,” Pensick said. “It just showed that all these young guys were ready to get out there and play, and they weren't going to just sit back and use these seniors as a comfort level.”

Then there are those who didn't play much or at all.

Losing three tackles will create opportunities for Finnin, Knevel and maybe Givens Price. Paul Thurston or Kondolo will need to emerge as a No. 2 at center. Price and Kondolo also could help at guard.

Cotton and Pelini will be looked at as the potential leaders.

“We're going to have a little less experience in the offensive line next year, but I feel like being in the rotation for some games this year that these guys are ready,” NU quarterback Tommy Armstrong said. “It's going to be great, because we've got so many guys returning.”

It also is worth watching the status of former Colorado starting tackle Alex Lewis, who was enrolled at NU last fall but not part of the team as he dealt with legal issues. Lewis is the son of former Husker and NFL lineman Bill Lewis.

The seniors are through playing, but Qvale and Pensick said they hope they have left their mark as far as being consistent and hard-working.

“I think this group over the last five years has really stepped into their own, and really set the standard for what it takes to play offensive line for Nebraska,” Qvale said.

Contact the writer: Rich Kaipust    |   402-444-1042    |  

Rich Kaipust is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and some general assignment tasks, including the College World Series and U.S. Olympic Swim Trials.



< >
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 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.'s Big Ten coverage
Delivering the best news coverage and analysis of the Big Ten Conference, from 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
Meridian Med Spa
50% Off Botox®, Botox® Bridal Party, Fillers and Peels
Buy Now
< >