Nebraska coach Scott Frost already knows there are massive changes going on inside his program.
He can tell by looking through the windows of his office overlooking the weight room.
“Last year we had guys who couldn’t even get through workouts that had no idea how hard we wanted them to work, and weren’t motivated to do it,” Frost said.
There’s no trace of that this year. Frost loves what he sees in workouts and the new look of his players' bodies.
“Love even more the attitude I’m seeing down there,” Frost said. “That’s where you can transform your team, make it bigger, faster, stronger, make it tougher and more close-knit.”
The work inside the weight room also spills out into the hallways of Memorial Stadium. The guys are around the offices more, Frost said. They’re smiling and joking. Everyone seems excited for spring ball in five weeks.
“That’s a far cry from where we were,” Frost said. “When I walked into the first team meeting room you could have heard a pin drop in there. That’s not the team I wanna coach.
"I want a team when I walk into the team meeting room they’re having fun and chatting it up and loving being around each other, and then they can dial it in and get to work. The attitudes I see and the camaraderie that I see isn’t even on the same level. Not even close to where it was a year ago.”
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Huskers get healthier
Nebraska is adding more than 25 scholarship players to its roster, but that doesn't even include a handful of redshirt freshmen returning from injuries.
Frost said defensive lineman Tate Wildeman is looking great after dealing with a knee injury last fall. Safety Cam’ron Jones is back after shoulder surgery. Defensive end Casey Rogers has also recovered from his shoulder injury, and he's putting on weight, too.
Junior receiver JD Spielman, who missed the Iowa game with a high ankle sprain, is also back, Frost said.
The only player not back yet is safety CJ Smith, who was hurt during his only appearance in a game against Northwestern. His return may take a little longer, Frost said.
Frost nicknamed all those injured freshman the “Black Sweatshirt Posse.”
“They all sat in the same place on the wall during practice wearing the same hooded sweatshirt. Usually the same one I had on, so I went over and joined them from time to time,” Frost said. “Those are some talented kids, and I get a little upset looking over how much talent we had sitting on the wall. And it’s been an unfortunate set of circumstances with those kids.”
With all of them back, Frost said, it is almost like six more recruits joining the team.
“Anxious to put all those pieces together,” Frost said. “Those guys are going to make a difference in our team if they approach this the right way.”
Frost said he often talked with former Husker Zac Taylor when he was at Nebraska from 2005-06. Taylor was named this week as the next coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.
“There’s kind of a Nebraska quarterback brotherhood that exists with most of us,” Frost said.
Frost wished Taylor good luck with his new job, calling Taylor “a football guy.”
“He’ll give me a reason to try to root for him and Cincinnati a little bit,” Frost said. “We wish him nothing but the best.”
No more Christmases at home
Thanks to a 4-8 record, Nebraska missed bowl season for the second straight year, the first time that's happened since the 1960s.
It didn’t sit well with Frost, who took Central Florida to bowls in both years there and was a regular in New Year’s Six Bowls with Oregon.
“I’m not used to having Christmas off,” Frost said. “It was nice being with family, I don’t ever want it to happen again.”
Frost said he was encouraged with the Big Ten’s showing during bowl season. Especially when he considers Nebraska took a lot of those teams to the brink.
“There’s some really good performances with Big Ten teams that we battled with and played well with, and in some cases had a chance to win or won the games,” Frost said. “It lets me know that even though the program wasn’t anywhere near where I want it yet at the end of last season, that maybe we’re not that far away. And I think that can be a beacon for hope for all of us as we’re working hard this offseason.”
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Bo Pelini and the Huskers fended off Auburn to get Ameer Abdullah to Lincoln. “I loved the connection to Nebraska,” Abdullah said. “What set them apart from other teams, they came to me on a personal level. They wanted to know about me and my family instead of me as a football player.” He said he visited campuses at LSU and Tennessee but that Nebraska “takes the cake.” “The fan base,” he said, “they really treat you like family.”
"It really came down between (Nebraska) and Fresno State," Prince Amukamara said. "And when I took that trip to Nebraska with the other guys from Phoenix, we all knew that was the place we wanted to be." Amukamara visited with Eric Hagg and Jaivorio Burkes, all Phoenix natives who committed to the Huskers. Amukamara was a first-team All-American who was selected with the 19th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft by the New York Giants.
The Huskers, who edged both Minnesota and Texas Tech to land Kenny Bell, weren't sure where the Colorado native would play when they recruited him as both a cornerback and receiver. “We’re really just going to figure it out as we go,’’ Bell said. “I’m going to work both sides of the ball at first and see what works out best. I just want to play football and am excited to get a chance to play at the level I’m going to play at.’’ Of course, Bell became an all-time great receiver for NU, totaling 181 receptions for 2,689 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Rex Burkhead reached "fabled status" around Dallas during his prep days. The unanimous selection for team captain, nicknamed "Superman," finished his high school career with 6,373 all-purpose yards, then racked up 635 attempts for 3,329 yards and 30 touchdowns in college, including 15 scores his junior year. He was a sixth-round selection in the 2013 NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Adam Carriker, host of the "Carriker Chronicles," committed to the Huskers just a week after receiving an offer. Carriker, who was born in Nebraska before playing high school football at Kennewick, Washington, grew up watching the Huskers. "He is so excited," said Warren Hull, Carriker's high school coach. "It's been a dream come true. He would have been a great recruit for some of the Northwest schools, but Adam is just loving this. He has grown up cheering for Nebraska football." Carriker finished his college career with 134 tackles, including 41 for loss and 20.5 sacks. He was a first-round selection by the St. Louis Rams in the 2007 NFL draft.
Playing time was a big draw for Maliek Collins when coming to Nebraska. “They don’t have a lot of depth at the defensive tackle position,” Collins said. “I feel like I’d have to be a dummy to pass that up.” Collins played in 12 games as a freshman and started 25 of 26 during his last two seasons with the Huskers. He finished his career with 86 tackles, including 23 for loss and eight sacks.
Despite offers from teams such as Ohio State and Notre Dame, there was little doubt Millard North product Eric Crouch would commit to NU. "They said that they plan on showing my athletic abilities with both the run and pass," Crouch said. They weren't kidding. The eventual Heisman winner finished his career with 3,434 yards and 59 touchdowns on the ground, along with 4,481 yards and 29 TDs through the air. He was selected in the third round of the 2002 NFL draft by the St. Louis Rams.
Early playing time intrigued Quincy Enunwa when visiting the Huskers. “I want to be able to get there and be a part of the team," he said. But that wasn't all. “I just liked Nebraska,” he said. “I liked the surroundings, the fans, the facilities. (The coaches) gave me a warm welcome. They were straight up with me. They didn’t beat around the bush.” Enunwa finished his career with 115 catches for 1,526 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was a sixth round selection in the 2014 NFL draft by the New York Jets.
Alex Henery earned All-Nebraska first-team honors after averaging over 41 yards per punt at Omaha Burke. He turned down a soccer scholarship at Creighton to be a Husker football walk-on. "Nebraska has more of what I wanted to do," he said. The move paid off as Henery was a four-year starter at kicker and a two-year starter at punter. He was selected in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Omaha North product Niles Paul was getting plenty of national attention. "Niles has a lot of his mail sent to school, and he's being recruited by every major college," Paul's high school coach Larry Martin said. "My mailbox is full of stuff for him. It's nice and rewarding for him to get all that mail, but enough was enough." Paul never had a doubt where he'd end up. "I've pretty much known what school I was going to go to since I was a little kid," he said. Paul finished his career with 103 catches for 1,532 yards and five touchdowns for NU. He was a fifth-round NFL draft pick in 2011 by Washington.
The Huskers received commitments from both defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and wide receiver Chris Brooks on the same day. "It will have to go down as one of the biggest days in recent Nebraska recruiting history," said Jeremy Crabtree, an analyst for Rivals. While Books totaled just 17 catches in his career, Suh was an all-time great. He finished his career with 215 tackles, including 57 for loss and 24 sacks. He was a Heisman finalist his senior season.