LINCOLN — Nebraska’s patchwork quilt of a football team for the Music City Bowl needs even more mending after coach Mike Riley’s Thursday announcement that senior captain and safety Nate Gerry was suspended for the game because the university ruled him ineligible.
In a message posted on Twitter, Gerry wrote: “I did not fulfill my academic responsibilities this semester and I want to apologize to my teammates and to Husker Nation.
“I am very grateful for the experience I have had at Nebraska and am extremely disappointed that my Husker football career has ended in this manner.”
A three-year, full-time starter who finished his career with 273 tackles and 13 interceptions, Gerry was the defensive quarterback and top playmaker for the Blackshirts. He was first-team All-Big Ten and third-team All-America according to the Associated Press, and should have a good chance of being picked in the NFL draft.
Gerry is serving his second suspension of the season. He sat out the opener against Fresno State; at the time, Gerry said he “slipped up, caught me at the last second.”
This suspension will keep him from facing a much better opponent in Tennessee.
Rumors about the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native being out for the bowl game started percolating last weekend. Riley knew early this week Gerry might be suspended, so he started giving sophomore Antonio Reed, Gerry’s apparent replacement, more snaps at safety. Riley said Gerry’s status was “final, final” on Wednesday.
Another Husker, reserve cornerback Boaz Joseph, was also ruled ineligible for the bowl. Riley didn’t know Joseph’s standing with the team going forward.
Gerry and Joseph didn’t violate a team rule, Riley said, and their suspension wasn’t related to behavior.
“You can figure it out from here, OK?” Riley said. “I can’t say specifically what it is, but the main fact is Nate and Boaz are not eligible for the game.”
Academic privacy rules generally prevent a coach from commenting on the schoolwork of student-athletes.
Riley said Reed has good awareness as a playmaker and he’s in the best physical shape of the season after battling injuries earlier this year. With Gerry’s absence, each of the Husker starters in the secondary will be returning next season.
“I’m excited to see this group play together,” Riley said.
Still, Riley said he’s disappointed in a captain being suspended for a second time in one year.
“Are we disappointed? Sure,” Riley said. “It affects a lot of people — most directly, right for the moment, this 2016 team that he’s a captain of. That is for sure the immediate. The same with Boaz.”
Gerry and Joseph, Riley said, have to grow and learn from this mistake.
“The best thing for anybody to do in a situation like this — if it’s behavioral or if it has something to do with academics — then I think you have to own it, find a way to improve it in order to get better from it,” Riley said. “Taking responsibility and basically being able to remedy the situation in the future, those are all the teachable moments I’ve had in my whole career for tons of guys over many years.
“There are consequences to negative actions that affect your future. If you don’t straighten them out, then you don’t have much of a future.”
Gerry’s suspension exacerbates depth issues Nebraska will have in the bowl game because of injuries.
» Quarterback Tommy Armstrong (hamstring) hasn’t practiced yet — he’s run a little — and remains doubtful for the bowl game. Backup Ryker Fyfe has taken all the No. 1 practice snaps and has performed well, Riley said, throwing accurately and making confident decisions. Trainers aren’t sure, Riley said, if Armstrong can be 100 percent for the bowl.
Fyfe is now taking snaps under center, Riley said, and has been for a couple practices. Fyfe suffered a broken left (non-throwing) wrist in the Maryland game, had surgery right after, and is wearing a protective, flexible cast on the left hand.
“By the time we get to the game, I don’t think it’ll be a factor at all,” Riley said.
» Senior wideout Jordan Westerkamp will miss the game with a knee injury. Another senior, Brandon Reilly, will move into the slot to replace Westerkamp, while sophomore Stanley Morgan and junior De’Mornay Pierson-El play on the outside. Senior Alonzo Moore (ankle injury) is questionable for the game.
» Starting running back Terrell Newby (knee) has been upgraded to probable while backup Tre Bryant (hamstring) has been downgraded to doubtful. Riley said coaches would know more at the bowl site about Bryant’s status.
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Tommy Armstrong was one of the nation's top dual-threat quarterbacks coming out of Steele High School in Cibolo, Texas.
As a senior, Tommy Armstrong helped lead Cibolo (Texas) Steele to the state championship game.
Tommy Armstrong would go on to lead his share of tunnel walks in college too.
After replacing Taylor Martinez midway through his freshman season, Tommy Armstrong accounted for 3,400 yards of total offense as a sophomore in 2014.
The highlight for Tommy Armstrong in an up-and-down junior season was his performance against UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl, earning him Offensive MVP honors.
Tommy Armstrong will close his Husker career as the school-record holder in passing yards, touchdown passes, total touchdowns, total offensive yardage, completions and starts by a quarterback.
Josh Banderas was a two-way standout at Lincoln Southwest, playing both running back and linebacker.
Josh Banderas signed with the Huskers as one of the state's top recruits in the 2013 class.
Josh Banderas played in every game as a true freshman in 2013, finishing with 28 tackles and two sacks.
Josh Banderas missed a chunk of his junior year battling a groin injury but still finished as one of the Huskers' top tacklers.
Josh Banderas has enjoyed his most productive season as a senior, starting every game for the Huskers and leading the team in tackles heading into Senior Day.
After a strong senior season at Archbishop Rummel, Cethan Carter landed an offer from the Huskers and committed a few weeks before national signing day.
Cethan Carter helped lead Archbishop Rummel to a Louisiana state championship in 2012.
Cethan Carter made an impact as a true freshman in 2013, finishing the year with 127 receiving yards.
Cethan Carter got his first career touchdown as a sophomore in 2014.
Injuries affected Cethan Carter in each of his final three seasons at Nebraska, but as a junior in 2015, he enjoyed his best season, finishing with 329 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Cethan Carter has again missed time this season as a result of injury, but he has 15 catches and a touchdown in the seven games in which he's played.
Ross Dzuris represented Plattsmouth at the 2012 Shrine Bowl. He then walked on at Nebraska instead of accepting scholarship offers to North Dakota and South Dakota.
After spending his first three seasons at Nebraska as a reserve defensive end, Ross Dzuris made an impact as a junior in 2015, playing in every game and starting four. He led the Huskers that season with nine tackles for loss.
For all of his accomplishments on and off the field, it's this magnificent mustache that made Ross Dzuris famous to those that don't follow Husker football.
Entering his final home game, Ross Dzuris leads the defensive line with 31 total tackles this season and also has a team-best eight tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
Nate Gerry went 48-3 and won three state championships during his four years at Sioux Falls (S.D.) Washington.
Nate Gerry's famous biceps were already taking shape as a high school senior.
Nate Gerry made an immediate impact at Nebraska, playing in every game as a true freshman in 2013 and starting three.
Nate Gerry was a full-time starter by his sophomore season, and that year he finished second in the Big Ten with five interceptions.
There are those Nate Gerry biceps again.
Nate Gerry will finish his career as one of the Huskers' best defensive backs. He enters senior day one shy of the school record for career interceptions.
Kevin Maurice was an All-State selection at Orlando (Fla.) Freedom. The Huskers signed him as a three-star prospect in the 2013 class.
Kevin Maurice spent his first three seasons at Nebraska as a backup defensive lineman, making 21 tackles and one sack during that span.
Kevin Maurice has enjoyed his best season as a senior, stepping into the starting lineup after the Huskers lost four defensive tackles from the previous year. He has 28 tackles and three sacks entering the Maryland game.
Before Brandon Reilly was a Husker wideout, he was a curly-haired hockey player.
In addition to a stellar football career at Lincoln Southwest, Brandon Reilly was also a standout high school basketball player.
Brandon Reilly joined the Huskers as a walk-on before eventually earning a scholarship.
Perhaps the highlight of his Husker career, Brandon Reilly had the game-winning touchdown in 2015 to upset No. 6 Michigan State.
Injuries and a suspension have kept Brandon Reilly out of two games this season, but he still ranks fourth on the team with 249 receiving yards entering the Maryland game.
In addition to helping lead Papillion-La Vista to a semifinals appearance in football, Dylan Utter also finished second in the shot put at the state meet.
There's still time to get the ball in Dylan Utter's hands before his Husker career ends.
Dylan Utter was even voted Papillion-La Vista's Homecoming prince in 2011.
Dylan Utter started all 13 games as a junior in 2015 as the Huskers' left guard.
Dylan Utter moved to center for his senior year and was named one of the team captains before the start of the season.
Coming out of Montini Catholic High School in Illinois, Jordan Westerkamp was the state’s all-time leader in receptions (235), receiving yards (4,618) and receiving touchdowns (68).
Jordan Westerkamp won three state championships in high school, then signed with the Huskers in the 2012 class.
Jordan Westerkamp had one of the more memorable catches in recent Nebraska history on a 49-yard game-winning Hail Mary against Northwestern in 2013.
Jordan Westerkamp's 918 receiving yards as a junior in 2015 were 24 shy of the Nebraska single-season record, and his 65 catches were the most by a Husker receiver. He also had four 100-yard receiving games, which tied a school mark.
Though he's missed two games with injuries this season, Jordan Westerkamp still leads the team with 391 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
The family of the late Sam Foltz will be included in Nebraska's senior day celebration. Before college, Foltz was a standout football player and sprinter at Grand Island.
Sam Foltz represented Grand Island at the 2012 Shrine Bowl then joined the Huskers program a couple months later in what might be Nebraska's greatest class of walk-ons.
By his sophomore season at Nebraska, Sam Foltz had already joined the ranks of the Big Ten's best punters. He'd be named the conference's punter of the year as a junior in 2015.
Sure, Sam Foltz was one of the nation's best punters, but he could sling the ball around too.
Sam Foltz tragically died in a car accident this past summer, weeks before the start of his senior season. The outpouring of support for the Foltz family and Huskers has been an emotional theme to this season.