LINCOLN — As far as Dicaprio Bootle is concerned, this is no offseason.
The intense workouts, early-morning lifts and long hours with teammates suggest something else to the veteran Nebraska defensive back — that next fall’s football team is getting better right now.
“Every day we come in, we come in with killer intent,” Bootle said recently in a “Sports Nightly” radio interview. “And we just trying to make it happen.”
All has mostly appeared quiet of late outside the football facility. The recruiting dead period will endure through February with the 2020 class complete. Spring football practices are still a month away. A few Nebraska-sponsored video tweets of workouts in the Hawks Center and weight room have been among the few glimpses of the Huskers in action since the day after Thanksgiving.
Bootle, a senior-to-be, said motivation hasn’t been a factor. Players recall the finale against Iowa — a 27-24 loss in the final seconds — to encourage one another if they need an extra spark to last through strength coach Zach Duval’s infamous metabolic training sessions known simply as “El Circuito” among those who face them.
“It’s been very high energy lately,” Bootle said. “A whole lot of energy every day, turning the music all the way up and just trying to make the weights bang louder than the music does. A lot of guys go in there just pumped and ready to go, whether it’s 7 in the morning or 10 or even the developmental lifts later on in the day at 4:40. They’re going hard in there, too.”
NU coach Scott Frost has noticed the attitude as well. In a recent appearance on his “Husker Football Show,” he said the camaraderie and leadership among players as they condition is finally what the third-year staff wants.
“Maybe for the first time since I’ve been at Nebraska, the culture’s about there,” Frost said. “Watching the guys work out, we still have a long way to go, we’ve got to get bigger, stronger, faster, better, we’ve still got to execute. But I love the attitude in there.”
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How close are the Huskers to busting through after three straight bowl-less seasons? All Bootle can say is that the group wants to be “better versions of ourselves than we were previously.” If everyone arrives daily and improves mentally and physically, the Huskers will be in good shape when they open the 2020 season Sept. 5 inside Memorial Stadium against Purdue.
Bootle, a defender from Miami who has started 25 games and appeared in 36, said it’s been fun mentoring younger players. Nebraska signed seven prep players from his home state of Florida in the 2020 class, including early enrollees and defensive backs Henry Gray and Jaiden Francois. He joked that he has already warned both not to stay out in cold weather too long.
Meanwhile, with an offseason to reflect, Bootle said he sees more clearly the process the program is going through to “build it from the ground up” under Frost. He is one of just 20 scholarship players left on the roster who were in Lincoln before Frost was hired in December 2017.
Whatever happens seven months down the road is growing roots now, Bootle said. And to borrow a phrase from his coach, he sees the Huskers moving in the right direction.
“We’re definitely finding ourselves right now,” Bootle said. “We’re going through the days, learning more about us as a team, learning more about our stamp — what we’re going to be known for as a team. I can tell you right now we’ve got a lot of tough guys.”