LINCOLN — The mustache was turned down Monday morning.
Ross Dzuris, a little bleary-eyed as the first Nebraska football player to chat with reporters on Labor Day, hadn’t waxed up those brown whiskers above his lip into the long, twirled gem that’s been making the rounds on Twitter. The junior from Plattsmouth may have the best mustache — and the best player photo — in college football. He even waxed up the mustache a bit before the Huskers’ season opener against BYU.
The mustache lost its shape not long after kickoff. That’s a good thing, because it was the result of his first playing time as a Husker.
After waiting three years, toiling as a walk-on buried on the depth chart, Dzuris entered at defensive end on NU’s first series and played close to half the game because of the Huskers’ frequent substitution along the line.
“It all happened so fast,” he said.
Ross’ dad, Bob, agreed — even added a “dadgum fast” to it. And, as head coach at Plattsmouth High School, Bob added his seal of approval.
NU’s quick and consistent rotation, he said, is “a great way to develop players.”
The elder Dzuris coached the defensive line at UNO from 1997 to 1999 and was head coach at Midland University from 2000 to 2006. He coached a few players at UNO who later logged time in the NFL. So he watched Saturday’s game — a 33-28 loss to BYU — as a coach, and he paid attention to how Ross managed his assignments from play to play. He did well there, Bob said.
“Eventually you need to make plays,” Bob said. “That’s all part of getting in there and playing more.”
Bob couldn’t help getting a “little emotional” before kickoff, when Ross was part of NU’s pregame Tunnel Walk. Parents of walk-ons never know if that moment will come, when their kids get in a game. It’s often a long wait, and sometimes it never happens at all.
For Ross, who turned down opportunities at FCS schools to take a shot at Nebraska, the journey was similar to the one traveled by friend and mentor Jack Gangwish, who himself waited three years to play in a game. Dzuris and Gangwish played together on the scout team for several years, banging heads with former Husker offensive linemen Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Qvale, earning their respect over time.
Dzuris was earning the respect of coaches, too, in part because he stuck with it when so many scholarship defensive ends either left early, were thrown out of the program for various transgressions or, in the case of one, got homesick a few days after arriving in the state.
“It’s kind of been a carousel of guys going in and out,” Dzuris said.
New defensive line coach Hank Hughes said Dzuris started making his mark in spring practice. He caught the eye of defensive coordinator Mark Banker, too. Hughes told Dzuris after the spring game he’d put himself in position to play.
“It’s not like he’s just a try-hard guy who’s unathletic,” Hughes said. “He’s got decent measurables. Running, jumping, those kinds of things. He’s a good athlete. He’s also a smart player. Hard worker. He’s a one-time learner. Learns quick.”
Bob saw that trait in Ross, too. He also saw an inner drive. When Ross was in middle school, the family was watching a bowl game, and Ross turned to his dad and said, “Someday I’m going to play in a bowl game.”
At Plattsmouth — where Bob initially served as defensive coordinator until he took over as head coach in 2012 — Ross quickly became a standout, although Bob didn’t want to play him too much as a freshman. In Ross’ junior year, he had 52 tackles and four sacks. As a senior, he had 103 tackles. Plattsmouth made the Class B playoffs in Ross’ junior and senior years. He chose to walk on in the 2012 Husker class — which featured seven walk-ons now on scholarship — and soon grew close to Gangwish, who had joined the Huskers in 2011.
“We always had each other’s backs,” Dzuris said. “We were always pushing each other, trying to make each other better.”
Gangwish was good for Ross, Bob said. Ross “was always a great technician and a real smart kid,” his father said. “But what he took from Jack was a little orneriness.”
That grittiness is perhaps a bit at odds with Ross’ photo in the Nebraska media guide. He’s wearing a natty red bow tie and has the mustache perfectly coiffed. Ross started growing it last year. Teammates approved, so he kept growing it. It took his girlfriend awhile to appreciate it, though.
“She likes it now,” Ross said. He buys the wax online.
Bob joked that Ross “aced the marketing class” in getting his name and picture out there. But given Gangwish’s injury and Nebraska’s need for Dzuris to produce in games, he’ll be known now for more than facial hair. He’s a key cog in the Huskers’ defensive line, and he’s won over his dad, the coach.
“I just told him after the game I was proud of him,” Bob said.
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