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FOOTBALL

Finding Midlanders connections to Super Bowl LIII for Todd Gurley, Rob Gronkowski and more

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Midlanders connections to Super Bowl LIII

Todd Gurley, while at Georgia, played in two bowl games against Nebraska. He ran for 125 yards and a touchdown in the Bulldogs’ victory over the Huskers in the 2013 Capital One Bowl and went for 86 yards in NU’s win in the 2014 Gator Bowl.

When it comes to the Super Bowl participants’ Midlands ties, there might be things you might have forgotten. The World-Herald's Zach Tegler compiled 40 midlands connections to the big game.

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1. Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh

Suh left Nebraska as one of the best defensive players in school history. As a senior in 2009, he finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting and won the Outland Trophy, Lombardi Award, Nagurski Trophy and Bednarik Award in addition to being named the AP national player of the year. He finished his Husker career with 215 total tackles, 57 tackles for loss, 24 sacks, 15 pass breakups, six blocked kicks and four interceptions.

2. Patriots running back Rex Burkhead

Burkhead played at Nebraska from 2009-12, leaving as the Huskers’ No. 5 career rusher with 3,329 yards. Burkhead is now No. 6 on Nebraska’s all-time chart and holds the school record for carries in a game with 38 against Iowa in 2011. In his Husker career, he ran for 30 touchdowns, caught five and threw for three.

3. Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein

Zuerlein, who made a 57-yard field goal in overtime to lift the Rams past the New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship game, went to Lincoln Pius X then played the first three seasons of his college career at UNO. He transferred to Missouri Western after UNO dropped its football program.

4. Patriots defensive end Adrian Clayborn

Clayborn played at Iowa from 2007-10, finishing his career with 192 tackles, 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles.

5. Rams linebacker Matt Longacre

Longacre, who played at Millard West, was All-Nebraska as a senior in 2009 before playing college football at Northwest Missouri State. He helped the Wildcats to a Class A state title in 2008 and a runner-up finish in ’09.

6. Patriots offensive lineman James Ferentz

Ferentz played for his dad, Kirk, at Iowa from 2008-12.

7. Rams linebacker Trevon Young

Young played one season at Iowa Western, tallying 44 tackles, 22 tackles for loss and 13½ sacks in 2013 before transferring to Louisville. He is the first former Reiver to make it to the Super Bowl.

8. Patriots defensive end Derek Rivers

Rivers played at Youngstown State from 2013-16; his last two seasons there came under former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. He was a two-time All-American and ranks in the top five in FCS history with 41 career sacks.

9. Rams offensive lineman Austin Blythe

Blythe played at Iowa from 2012-15, starting all 14 games as a senior as the Hawkeyes went undefeated in the regular season and played in the Rose Bowl.

10. Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor

Taylor, Nebraska’s starting quarterback in 2005 and 2006, left the school as its all-time leading passer with 5,850 yards and 45 touchdowns. A 2017 Nebraska Football Hall of Fame inductee, Taylor was the 2006 Big 12 offensive player of the year.

11. Patriots coach Bill Belichick

Belichick’s dad, Steve Belichick, played one season in the NFL, at fullback for the Detroit Lions in 1941. Ahead of the elder Belichick on the depth chart was Harry Hopp, a rookie out of Nebraska and a Hastings native. That Lions backfield included another Nebraska product, second-year back Bill Callihan — not to be confused with Bill Callahan, a former Nebraska coach and the offensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders team that Bill Belichick’s 2001 Patriots beat on the way to their first Super Bowl title.

12. Rams coach Sean McVay

McVay’s grandfather John McVay is a former San Francisco 49ers executive who helped build the Niners’ dynasty in the 1980s and presided over five Super Bowl-winning seasons. Among the key draft picks made by McVay’s front office were former Nebraska running back Roger Craig in 1983 and former Husker fullback Tom Rathman in 1986. Craig won three championships with the team, was the first player to score three touchdowns in a Super Bowl (in Super Bowl 19) and was the 1988 NFL offensive player of the year. Rathman won two titles and scored two touchdowns in Super Bowl 24. Both are 49ers hall of famers.

13. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels

McDaniels was head coach of the Denver Broncos in 2009 and 2010. In his debut in 2009, a 12-7 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, the Broncos’ leading rusher was former Nebraska running back Correll Buckhalter, who ran for a career-high 642 yards that season.

14. Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips

Phillips got his start in coaching as a graduate assistant at the University of Houston in 1969. Also on the Cougars’ staff that year, as wide receivers coach, was UNO football great Joe Arenas. Arenas was an All-America back for Omaha University in 1949 and became the first player from the school to enter the NFL in 1951. Arenas, who still ranks eighth in NFL history with a kick-return average of 27.3 yards, was a longtime Houston assistant.

15. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady

Brady was a sophomore backup quarterback on the 1997 Michigan team that shared a national championship with Nebraska.

16. Rams quarterback Jared Goff

Goff has guided the Los Angeles Rams to their first Super Bowl since 1979. The last time the Rams played in the Super Bowl as an L.A.-based franchise, their quarterback was former Husker Vince Ferragamo, a 1976 All-American at Nebraska. Ferragamo was the first QB to start a Super Bowl in the same season as his first career NFL start.

17. Patriots running back Sony Michel

Michel played in the 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, as did receiver Allen Lazard, who went on to break Iowa State’s career records for receptions (241) and receiving yards (3,360).

18. Rams running back Todd Gurley

While at Georgia, Gurley played in two bowl games against Nebraska. He ran for 125 yards and a touchdown in the Bulldogs’ victory over the Huskers in the 2013 Capital One Bowl and went for 86 yards in Nebraska’s win in the 2014 Gator Bowl.

19. Patriots running back James White

White helped Wisconsin torch Nebraska in the 2012 Big Ten championship game, running for four touchdowns and throwing for one. He finished with 109 yards on 15 carries in the Badgers’ 70-31 victory. In two other appearances against the Huskers, he had a combined 21 yards on 12 carries.

20. Rams receiver Robert Woods

Woods made his NFL debut as a rookie with the Buffalo Bills in 2013. In the Bills’ season opener against the Patriots, Woods was targeted for the first time midway through the first quarter. But the pass was incomplete, broken up by Pats cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who was in his second season out of Nebraska.

21. Patriots receiver Julian Edelman

Edelman began his college career in the juco ranks at the College of San Mateo in California in 2005. As the starting quarterback, Edelman led San Mateo to a second-place finish in the NorCal Conference behind City College of San Francisco, which was led by future Nebraska receiver Maurice Purify. Edelman and Purify both garnered All-California first-team honors that season, and Purify went on to catch 91 passes for 1,444 yards and 16 touchdowns with the Huskers.

22. Rams receiver Brandin Cooks

Cooks played for former Nebraska coach Mike Riley at Oregon State, winning the Biletnikoff Award as a junior in 2013. Cooks was taken by the New Orleans Saints with the 20th pick of the 2014 NFL draft. With their next pick, at No. 58, the Saints selected Stanley Jean-Baptiste, a cornerback out of Nebraska.

23. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski

Gronkowski was on the 2009 Arizona team that lost to Nebraska 33-0 in the Holiday Bowl, but he missed the entire season because of a back injury and did not play against the Huskers.

24. Rams running back C.J. Anderson

Anderson, who played the first five seasons of his career with the Denver Broncos, scored his first NFL touchdown in the Broncos’ 2014 road victory over the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders’ leading tackler in that game, with 10 stops, was former Nebraska defensive back Larry Asante.

25. Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy

Van Noy was selected by the Detroit Lions in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft. A year later, the Lions spent their second-round pick on Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah.

26. Rams linebacker Cory Littleton

Littleton had a vertical jump of 29.5 inches at the 2016 NFL combine, a mark that tied him with two former Huskers at the event, defensive lineman Maliek Collins and offensive lineman Alex Lewis.

27. Patriots defensive back Patrick Chung

Chung has scored one touchdown in his NFL career, an interception return in the Patriots’ Week 4 victory over the Miami Dolphins in 2010. In the same game, Pats running back Danny Woodhead scored his first career receiving touchdown. Woodhead, a North Platte native and Chadron State graduate, had his first rushing touchdown the previous week.

28. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald

Donald won the Outland Trophy, Lombardi Award, Nagurski Trophy and Bednarik Award as a senior at Pittsburgh in 2013. He’s one of two players ever to win all four awards in the same season. The other is his Rams defensive linemate Suh, who did so at Nebraska in 2009.

29. Patriots defensive back Duron Harmon

Harmon, from Rutgers, played in the 2013 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. One of his defensive teammates in that game was Nebraska linebacker Will Compton. Harmon and Compton helped the National team shut out the American team 34-0.

30. Rams defensive back John Johnson

Johnson, a safety from Boston College, played alongside Nebraska safety Nate Gerry for the North team in the 2017 Senior Bowl.

31. Patriots defensive back Stephon Gilmore

Gilmore played a key role in South Carolina’s victory over Nebraska in the 2012 Capital One Bowl. After Nebraska struck first with a touchdown three minutes into the game, the Gamecocks blocked the extra point, and Gilmore returned it 98 yards for two points. Gilmore also had an interception in the game.

32. Rams defensive back Marcus Peters

Peters went to McClymonds High School in Oakland, California — that school also produced Creighton basketball great Paul Silas. Silas, who played for the Bluejays from 1961-64 before a long career as an NBA player and coach, holds the CU record for career rebounds (1,751) and ranks No. 9 on the school’s all-time scoring chart with 1,661 points.

33. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski

Gostkowski was drafted in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL draft out of Memphis. The next kicker selected that early was Nebraska’s Alex Henery, taken in the fourth round by Philadelphia in 2011.

34. Rams defensive back Aqib Talib

Talib, a three-year starter at Kansas from 2005-07, racked up nine tackles, two tackles for loss, six pass breakups and one fumble recovery in three games against Nebraska. Talib went 2-1 against the Huskers.

35. Patriots kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson

Patterson’s career average of 30 yards per kickoff return ranks second in NFL history. Patterson trails only Omaha Central graduate Gale Sayers, who holds the record at 30.6 yards per return.

36. Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth

Whitworth played at LSU from 2002-05. As a third-year starter in 2004, he led the Tigers by playing 799 snaps, and the team finished the season with a loss to Iowa in the Capital One Bowl. The Hawkeyes won when Drew Tate hit Warren Holloway for a 56-yard touchdown on the final play of the game.

37. Patriots receiver Matthew Slater

Slater, a seven-time Pro Bowler as a special teams player, was drafted by New England with the 153rd pick in the 2008 NFL draft. With their next selection, at No. 197, the Pats took Bo Ruud, a linebacker from Nebraska and a Lincoln Southeast graduate.

38. Rams offensive lineman John Sullivan

Sullivan played in the 2003 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, as did former Nebraska linebacker Corey McKeon.

39. Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower

Hightower, who played at Alabama from 2008-11, was a finalist for the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker, in 2011. Another finalist that year was Nebraska’s Lavonte David.

40. Rams linebacker Dante Fowler

Fowler was a high school teammate of twins Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin at Lakewood High in Florida. The Griffins, both of whom play for the Seattle Seahawks, played at Central Florida under current Nebraska coach Scott Frost.

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