LINCOLN — Jovan Dewitt is looking for a reliable kicker and a good steakhouse.
In that order.
Dewitt is in charge of Nebraska’s special teams, which means he’s one of those coaches who would rather be invisible. If you’re talking to him, that means something is wrong.
On Tuesday, Dewitt was surrounded by reporters and asked if anything changed with the kicking game. No, he said. Still the same.
That’s not good.
Nebraska’s top two kickers have been injured all season. The team is working out a club soccer player in practice. He might kick this week against Northwestern. Or he might not be ready.
So the Huskers can’t kick a field goal — NU is 2 of 7 — and might have to go for 2 after touchdowns. Meanwhile, their kickoff return defense is ranked 75th nationally.
These are big problems for a special teams coach. Then Dewitt reminds you that they’re really not.
That’s when he reaches back to his shoulder, pulls out a blue tube, and sucks on it.
“That’s my water,” Dewitt said. “I don’t make saliva anymore.”
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The shots of water Dewitt must take are a harsh reminder. Last January, he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He had to watch spring practice from the sideline as he underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He lost 102 pounds.
He was cleared to return to the football field in August, but there were concerns about his stamina, his ability to hold up in a hectic, high-pressure job.
Dewitt has been fine. Well, except for the part about the kickers. What problem?
“Are they really (problems)?” Dewitt said with a smile. “At least I’m able to deal with them, without watching from my couch at home.
“It’s just part of being a coach. Even though some of those things are bad, I’m still really happy to be out here.”
He’s the happiest, most frustrated coach in college football. The lack of a kicker has sent a negative vibe throughout all the special teams.
“You can’t have good special teams without good specialists,” Dewitt said. “It’s really difficult.”
The injuries to Barret Pickering and Dylan Jorgensen are unknown — the staff won’t disclose them. Perhaps the biggest mystery is how this could happen to two kickers. That’s a weird kind of luck.
“It’s really frustrating,” Dewitt said. “Injuries are the nature of college football, so it is what it is. It’s rare that it happens to a kicker like this. I don’t think anyone plans to go three or four deep at the kicking spot.”
Most programs, Dewitt said, have a scholarship kicker, punter and a long snapper. You’re able to recruit them and build depth over time.
“What we inherited was not laid out like that,” he said. “You’re trying to work through building a roster, and you can’t take two or three specialists in a class. That’s not good roster management.”
The good news is, Dewitt said he thinks Pickering will kick this season. When?
Dewitt said it’s “day to day.”
“When you have one of those lower extremity things going on, it’s such a violent action,” Dewitt said. “You could potentially make it worse if you try to grind through it.”
Then there’s Matt Waldoch, the club soccer player who reportedly has been turning heads with long booming kicks in practice. Dewitt said Waldoch almost got his shot last week, but the staff decided Ohio State on national TV was not the time for his debut.
Field goals weren’t necessary against the Buckeyes, either, but kick returns were. There were groans in the crowd every time freshman Wan’Dale Robinson signaled for a fair catch. Why not use the kid’s speed and moves to pop a big play?
Robinson made those calls, but he was also following orders. Because of Ohio State’s speed and angles on kickoffs, Dewitt told Robinson to count off seconds in his head when the ball was kicked.
“Their kicks have a four-second hang time,” Dewitt said. “We gave the returners a running clock in their head. If it gets to this point and you haven’t returned it yet, fair catch it. Otherwise, they’re going to be able to cover the field and you’re going to get pinned inside the 20.”
What would happen if Robinson decided to take a chance?
“He might, but I’m going to scream at him if he does,” Dewitt said. “Unless he scores. Then we’re good.”
That Dewitt is able to scream again is a victory in itself. His voice was still raspy Tuesday — from lack of sleep the past two weeks of night games, he said.
His last two scans have come back clean. Dewitt has another scheduled for October. He says he’s gained about 25 pounds back, thanks to a 6,000-calorie per day diet that is mostly through special drinks.
“There are some foods I don’t eat — they taste funny to me now,” Dewitt said. “Like red meat.”
No red meat?
“I have no desire to have that and I love steak. A nice bloody T-bone or prime rib is like my favorite thing and I just can’t do it. I have a hard time swallowing it and then I don’t feel good after it.”
But Dewitt hopes he will be back on the red meat train soon.
“I’m looking for a real good steakhouse,” he said.
If he ever finds a kicker, maybe he can go celebrate.