Big Ten teleconference: Riley talks Rose-Ivey, Gates and Westerkamp ... and Michigan-Wisconsin

The Michael Rose-Ivey story trickled into Tuesday on the Big Ten teleconference as Nebraska head coach Mike Riley was asked about Rose-Ivey and two teammates deciding to kneel during the national anthem at Northwestern.

Some thoughts from Riley on some Husker and Big Ten topics:

>> Of the Rose-Ivey statement and responses to other questions Monday, Riley said: “I thought he did an awesome job. Mike is a very, very thoughtful person. I think he’s a very aware person. These thoughts obviously didn’t come overnight, nor did the actions that he used on Saturday.”

>> On fan reaction to Rose-Ivey, DaiShon Neal and Mohamed Barry, some of which was negative: “I think that everybody should be reminded that there’s lots of differences in people. I’ve got 140 kids on the football team and they’re all different in their own beautiful way. I think everybody should be reminded that this is America and we have an opportunity and a right to be able to basically say what we feel, and how we’re feeling and why we’re feeling that way. I think Mike did a great job of that, and he should be respected for that.”

>> Riley said NU left tackle Nick Gates “has played really consistently and solidly in our first four ballgames. He’s a good player. He’s a very good, big athlete. He’s still relatively young, and is a hard worker, and I believe he’ll continue to get better.”

>> Riley followed Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst on the Big Ten call, prior to the Wolverines and Badgers playing Saturday. Riley, Chryst and Harbaugh were all together in San Diego when Riley was the Chargers’ head coach.

“We had fun together,” Riley said. “I really appreciated getting the opportunity to coach on a team that Jim played for, and I loved working with Paul all those years. They’re very special people to me, and those are great memories to me. We did have some fun together.”

>> Asked about NU senior receiver Jordan Westerkamp, Riley said he felt “very fortunate to get to come in here and get to coach Jordan for two years.”

“He’s really a good player, he’s a wonderful young man. He is, I think, a heart-and-soul guy for this team. He’s the same guy every day, loves to play football and loves to be with his team.”

>> Illinois coach Lovie Smith, during his segment, said that he is comfortable with his players speaking out or taking a stand on social issues.

“That’s just a general belief that I’ve always had,” he said. “If there is something that someone feels strongly about, I think as much as anything, we have an environment where they feel comfortable coming forward with it, hopefully to me first and to whoever else needs to be involved after that. We just don’t live in a locker room. Our guys interact with people on the outside, so you need to be able to do that.”

>> Illinois is coming off a bye week as it prepares for Saturday’s game at Nebraska. It will be the first meeting with the Huskers for Smith, the former NFL head coach.

“We’re disappointed in our 1-2 record, but when you get a chance to start Big Ten play, of course, that brings a lot more excitement to what you’re doing,” Smith said. “We have a history that we’re developing with the University of Nebraska from playing them the last few years. Big win for us last year, so our guys do remember that.”

>> Earlier Tuesday morning, Riley put out a brief statement on the Monday death of former NU offensive line coach Milt Tenopir, who visited the Huskers as recently as last Thursday’s practice: "Milt Tenopir was a great man and it was a blessing for our staff to get to know him over the past couple years. He will be truly missed but the impact he left will always be remembered. Milt will forever be a Husker."

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