LINCOLN — When measuring the depth of Trent Bray’s football knowledge and experience, don’t let the number 32 deceive you.
Nebraska’s new linebacker coach is a young man at 32. In football years, Bray has much more wisdom than that number would suggest.
Start with some of the bigger names Bray lists as coaching influences — Mike Riley, Dennis Erickson, Mike Price and Bill Doba are on that list.
There’s another one who will always be first on Bray’s list: his father, Craig.
Craig Bray was a defensive assistant, and at some stops a defensive coordinator, at 10 schools including Wyoming, Washington State, Oregon State, Colorado and Arizona State.
“He’s been great because I can always call him and bounce things off him,” Bray said. “Certain things that he did, maybe when a player was struggling to learn something, how did you deal with it. There’s 30 years of experience and knowledge that he’s always been able to help me with.”
Craig Bray has coached against Nebraska three times. The first was with Washington State when the Cougars traveled to Lincoln in 1995 to play the defending national champion Huskers.
That turned out to be Nebraska’s closest game of the year, a 35-21 victory that was part of a 13-0 national championship season.
The last two were in 2004 and 2005 when Craig Bray was Colorado’s secondary coach. The first game was a 26-20 win over the Huskers in Lincoln in Bill Callahan’s first season — the first since 1961 that didn’t end with a bowl game. Nebraska won 30-3 in Boulder the next season.
It was dad who gave son a sage piece of advice early last month on the day Riley decided to end his second tour of duty coaching Oregon State and become Nebraska’s new head football coach.
“He called me and asked me what I was going to do,” Bray said. “Before I could even answer he said, ‘You’re going to Nebraska if he asks you,’ and I said OK.”
Bray knew that was the answer he was going to give regardless of dad’s advice. When that call came, while he was on a recruiting trip in New Orleans for the Beavers, Bray didn’t hesitate when asked by Riley if he would join him in Lincoln.
“It took about a second for me to say yes,” Bray said.
When the dead period for recruiting expired Thursday, Bray was back in New Orleans representing the Huskers.
Bray said he has recruited in California, Colorado, Texas and Louisiana. When asked what area he would prefer to recruit, Bray didn’t hesitate.
“I hope I stay in Texas,” Bray said. “I like the way they play. They’re well-coached, they’re coached hard down there.
“A lot of those guys in Texas, those programs down there are so much like college programs that there’s not a big transition for them.”
Bray enjoys the recruiting element almost as much as he does the time coaching and teaching his charges. He ended a recent press event at Memorial Stadium when a recruit called for a chat.
He also knows that his age appeals to recruits because he isn’t far removed from his college playing days as a linebacker for Riley at Oregon State.
“I think the best thing I do is just create relationships with kids,” Bray said. “I can relate to them — my age helps me there — then just being honest with them and using my experience as a college athlete to help them go through some of the things that you go through being recruited and the stress that goes on.”
Bray has not only played and coached for Riley, but he’s also coached against him as a graduate assistant for Erickson at Arizona State. That, too, was a learning experience.
“(I learned) how good of an offensive coach he is,” Bray said. “They were always hard to prepare for, hard to play against. His teams have always been maybe not the most talented because of the place he was at, but always you knew you were going to get the best out of him.”
Having been around the game almost his entire life, Bray appreciates and understands better than most coaches his age how important it is to make sure players recruited not only are talented, but also solid citizens.
“Character has always been important for us,” Bray said. “Bad character people will let you down in big games. I think that’s why we won a lot of games at Oregon State against teams that we shouldn’t have, because we had good character guys that you could rely on to be in the right spots.”
Having to earn every opportunity he has been given in the sport — both as a player and a coach — has made that philosophy even more important to Bray now that he’s at the biggest stop of his budding career. Especially when he was part of the first four assistants Riley brought with him to Lincoln.
“Everywhere I’ve gone I’ve had to work myself into a job, that’s what I did at Oregon State,” Bray said. “I think (Riley) has seen the job I’ve done, and is appreciative of it.”
That drive is reflected in Bray’s philosophy and approach to teaching and coaching.
“We want to be the most disciplined, hardest-working team,” Bray said. “When we watch film, we always talk about, when the frame ends, you should be in it, and that’s your goal. You may not be making the play, but you better be around the ball.”
Bray said that approach is embraced by the entire staff.
“We’re only going to coach and do as much as they do. We don’t want to do too little, but we don’t want to do too much. That’s all kind of that line you have to ride ... to put them in a position to be successful.”
Bray plans to be on the sidelines on game days. That’s where he’s been since arriving in Corvallis.
He said his intensity and passion for the game will be evident once the game starts. Whether Bray has a vertical jump that can match that of another recent young linebackers coach at Nebraska — Mike Ekeler — remains to be seen.
All of that energy is designed to make Nebraska’s linebackers maximize their talents.
“You can make a mistake, but if you’re going 100 miles an hour, you can make up for it,” Bray said. “Playing fast is something you will hear me say a lot. That’s what we are on defense. We allow our guys to play fast.”
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