LINCOLN — Coach Bo Pelini doesn't think he's changed much during his Nebraska career, but the players here have. And he's trying to do whatever he can to get the best out of them.
So that's why on Wednesday he handed out seven Blackshirts to the defense's leaders.
It's the earliest in Pelini's six years that players have received those coveted practice jerseys — and the first time he's allowed defenders to wear the black tops in practice before the season.
Sporting the new black jerseys as they walked off the field Wednesday were senior defensive end Jason Ankrah, senior defensive tackle Thad Randle, sophomore linebacker David Santos, senior cornerback Ciante Evans, senior cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, junior cornerback Josh Mitchell and junior safety Corey Cooper.
“I thought it was the right thing for the football team, Pelini said during an interview on “Sports Nightly” on the Husker Radio Network. “The guys that have earned it up to this point.”
The Blackshirts had been traditionally handed out to first-team Nebraska defenders on the Monday of the first game week. Pelini's altered that approach while at NU, choosing since 2008 to hold the jerseys until he felt the players had earned them.
The earliest that Husker defenders had received the black jerseys under Pelini was in 2010, when they were wearing them after three games.
His decision Wednesday received plenty of attention during his evening call-in show. Pelini also was asked about the other notable reversal from his previous approach: the appointing of four permanent team captains (Taylor Martinez, Quincy Enunwa, Spencer Long and Ciante Evans) before the season. Captains used to be named on a weekly basis.
Is Pelini changing?
He doesn't think so. Giving out Blackshirts early and naming permanent captains are tweaks more reflective of his team's needs than his own personal preferences, he said.
“You've got to have a pulse of your team,” he said, “and figure out what you have to do to get the most out of them.”
He said he's been pleased with the seven Blackshirts up to this point.
The NU coaches have indicated to the rest of the defenders that more Blackshirts could be awarded as the year progresses. Several new faces will make their debuts during Saturday's season opener against Wyoming.
All of those young players have been tutored quite well by their teammates, according to defensive coordinator John Papuchis. And now those role models, dressed in black, will stand out even more in practice.
“We decided that some of the veteran guys, some of the leadership, have done a tremendous job helping the younger guys on our defense come along,” Papuchis said. “If part of being a Blackshirt is being defined by your work ethic, your attention to detail and the leadership you bring to the team — the guys we awarded them to are certainly all of those things.”
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