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Nebraska defensive coordinator Mark Banker on Monday restored the Huskers' tradition of handing out Blackshirts to the top defensive players before the season starts. The tradition had taken a major hiatus during the seven-year tenure of former coach Bo Pelini, who only handed out Blackshirts before the season once, in 2013.
Pelini thought players had to earn them with play during the season; Banker, like several defensive coordinators before Pelini, felt like players earned them in training camp. Banker said he talked to former NU defensive coordinator Charlie McBride in making the decision. Nebraska coaches used to award Blackshirts in the Monday practice before the first game; that's what happened on Monday.
The 11 awardees: Defensive tackle Maliek Collins, safety Nate Gerry, defensive linemen Vincent Valentine, Jack Gangwish and Greg McMullen, linebackers Josh Banderas and Dedrick Young, and defensive backs Daniel Davie, Josh Kalu and Byerson Cockrell.
Players were thrilled to get them before the season, and saw it as a motivating factor.
"Last year, we didn't get them until — I want to say, midway through the season, I think?" Cockrell said. "So it kind of surprised me that we got them so early. But since we've got them, I think it's something that's going to keep us working hard. We just didn't get it and think, we're not going to improve. You're going to have to keep the Blackshirt."
Young is one of the rare true freshmen to get a Blackshirt before they played a game.
"Hard work paying off, just studying and being consistent in what I do," Young said as to why he received a Blackshirt. "I thought I kept getting better and better every day, and I let this process play out. I was excited. To get a Blackshirt? That's an honor."
Banker said he wasn't in the locker room as the players saw the shirts. That was by design.
"We wanted them just to be together," Banker said. "It wasn't a big hoopla type of thing. It's meaningful, but it's not necessarily ceremonious because, day in, day out, it's kind of like our game: It's result-based. Now it's time to represent in everything you do."
There were two starters on the listed depth chart who didn't get Blackshirts: Linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey and cornerback Jonathan Rose.
Banker was directly asked about Rose-Ivey, who has worked with the top defense throughout camp. Rose has not.
"He along with 60-some odd defensive guys were not given a Blackshirt," Banker said. "At the same time, he's put in the work. At this point in time, that's where we are with it. Doing everything you need to do, and it's not just on the field."