LINCOLN — Sam Foltz became an All-Big Ten punter at Nebraska, but he arrived at the school as a versatile walk-on athlete who could have played any number of positions. He ran a blazing 40-yard dash time at NU’s summer camp and starred at receiver and defensive back at Grand Island Senior High.
Once then-Nebraska walk-on coordinator Jeff Jamrog saw Foltz punt more, though, the coaching staff knew what role he’d have.
“We saw the ball coming off his foot, and we were like, ‘Man, I think he’s a punter,’ ” said Jamrog after a camp at Midland University, where he’s now head coach.
Foltz was also a part of a 2012 walk-on class that ranks among the most prolific — if not the best — in school history.
From that group, eight in-state players — Foltz, Ross Dzuris, Trey Foster, Ryker Fyfe, Andy Janovich, Graham Nabity, Brandon Reilly and Dylan Utter — all earned scholarships. A ninth, Iowan Lane Hovey, joined the team before the 2012 season and earned a scholarship in 2015 before transferring to Montana for his senior season.
Coaches and Jamrog used to show highlights of recent signees at recruiting dinners that came right after signing day in February. Jamrog said he’s turned on film of walk-ons first to illustrate to fans their importance to Nebraska’s program.
“I remember showing film that year, talking about this class and saying they turned down some to full-ride scholarships to walk on and it would be interesting to see what they’d make out of life,’ Jamrog said. “It just goes to show — you can throw all those stars out the window.”
Foltz was one of the walk-ons who turned down big scholarships for a shot at Nebraska. On a weekend each January, Jamrog would invite the top walk-on prospects to Memorial Stadium and try to win them over. He’d give them the same pitch former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne once gave him: If it’s going to bother you that you could have played at Nebraska and you ask yourself, later in life, if you could have played at Nebraska — then you ought to walk on at Nebraska.
“Sam was the type where he knew, in his heart, Nebraska was the place,” Jamrog said.
Others weren’t so easily swayed. Janovich, now with the NFL’s Broncos, was one. He never attended NU’s camps. Husker coaches knew little about him. He was set to play at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, had it not been for Jamrog pushing coach Bo Pelini to agree, before Janovich ever walked on, that the fullback would be guaranteed a scholarship after two seasons.
Jamrog felt that strongly about Janovich, whom he noticed watching one of his son’s football games.
“Andy came up the steps at halftime and walked right by me, and I thought, ‘Holy cow, he’s like a man,’ ” Jamrog said.
Janovich didn’t have to wait two years for his scholarship. He earned it after one season.
“I think it’s pretty cool, ” Janovich said in August 2015 of his walk-on class. “I can’t think of any other class that’s had that kind of success or that many walk-ons get turned into scholarship players.”
Foltz’s scholarship came later. Jamrog typically was the guy to tell walk-ons they were going on scholarship, and he remembered the conversation he had with Foltz, who was “about to cry.”
“Sam gave me a hug,” Jamrog said. “He was so appreciative.”
But perhaps most memorable was the phone call Jamrog got after that — from Gerald Foltz, Sam’s dad.
“You don’t have to go very far to see where Sam got it,” Jamrog said. “His parents did an outstanding job of raising him.”