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November 12, 2012
In 2008 Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini brought in a class of 25 scholarship and 33 walk-on players.
It was one of the bigger freshman classes I could ever remember in the modern 85 scholarship era, particularly when you add in those 33 walk-on players.
What made 2008 even more unique was of those 58 players Pelini redshirted 55 of them. The only scholarship freshmen that saw action that season were defensive backs Alfonzo Dennard and Mason Wald (special teams), along with walk-on linebacker Matt Holt.
There probably isn't a record of this kept anywhere, but I'd venture to guess 55 redshirts in one-year has to be some sort of NCAA record in the 85 scholarship era. It wasn't easy for Pelini to keep the shirts on a lot of those players, but he saw the big picture.
Pelini fought the urge to play freshmen like Will Compton, Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed thinking of what value they could bring him in 2012 as fifth-year seniors.
The gamble paid off, and that group of 58 players is now down to 24, but the impact the fifth-year players have made on the program is priceless.
"I think it will make us stronger in the future because of it," Pelini told me back in November 2008 when talking about redshirting 55 players. "We like the group. It's a good group of guys, there's some talent in that group. Having them play against our older guys day in and day out makes them battle tested. It develops them and that's what we want to do with our program.
"I'm not saying we are going to redshirt 23 out of 25 (scholarship players) every year, but at the same time you have to build a foundation and that class is really a foundation for the future."
2008 was also the year Pelini did his best to build the walk-on program back to what it was under Tom Osborne and Frank Solich. Former head coach Bill Callahan brought walk-on players in, but he never had the luxury of having an Osborne or Jeff Jamrog on his side to truly educate him on what it means to Nebraska.
Pelini even admitted on Monday it took him several years to fully understand it, and that's why I feel you can't blame Callahan for the walk-on program slipping a little in his time, because it's not something you can fully understand until you live it for four or five years.
"The longer you are around it you become a lot more appreciative of the necessity of it here and the uniqueness of it," Pelini said of the walk-on program. "I'll be honest with you when I was coming in I didn't quite understand how it all worked over time and how to make the best use of it. You kind of learn and grow over time and realize how important it is to your program.
"To me I've come to understand how important it is to the people of this state and the fans. I think it gives you a big time edge and an edge that we need to use. I don't know if somebody from another state could copy this formula and make it work in another state. It's different here. It's hard to explain, but it just is."
What Compton remembers about that redshirt year in 2008 was just how close he became with the other guys in the class.
That 2008 redshirt group worked the scout team every day in practice for a team that eventually finished 9-4 after starting the year 3-3 with consecutive losses to Virginia Tech, Missouri and Texas Tech.
"We had a bunch of guys and we became close pretty fast," Compton said. "We had a bunch of different cultures and we all became friends quick. That year we were the first class that came in with Coach (Pelini) and we talked about it back then in four or five years what it would be like when we are seniors."
Now that group will be making their final Tunnel Walk on Saturday with a chance to have a perfect 7-0 record at home, which has happened since the 2001 season.
Some interesting numbers
To put Nebraska's numbers into perspective this season through 10 games the 482.4 yards of total offense is on pace to be the most the Huskers have averaged since their 1997 national championship team put up 513.7 yards per game.
Both this year's team and the 1997 team averaged 6.6 yards per play, which in today's no-huddle era of college football is an important stat to look at, since teams are running an average of 20 or more plays per game.
Another amazing stat to pass along is the 269.3 rushing yards per game is the highest the Huskers have averaged since 2001, when NU averaged 314.7 yards per game with Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch under center.
The 37.4 points per game also ties the most Nebraska has averaged since that 2001 season when NU played Miami in the Rose Bowl for the national championship.
Sometimes with all the turnovers and mistakes we've seen the offense make this year, it's hard to put into perspective just how good these numbers are through 10 games. It also puts it into perspective just how much better this team could be if they eliminate their turnovers and mistakes.
A milestone Saturday for Osborne
Credit Nebraska Media Relations staff member Matt Smith for drawing up this stat as the Huskers get ready for Minnesota on Saturday.
Smith was able to figure out that Saturday's game with the Gophers will be Athletic Director and former head coach Tom Osborne's 500th game in an official role with the Huskers football program.
Osborne was an assistant coach from 1962 to 1972, head coach from 1973 to 1997 and he's been NU's Athletic Director since October of 2007.
That's quite a run for Osborne and it's only fitting that his final game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday will fall on such a milestone number, considering all the different milestones and accomplishments he's brought to Nebraska.
Around the state
***Nebraska assistant coach Vince Marrow was at the Omaha North vs. Creighton Prep playoff game on Friday night to specifically watch tight end/athlete Casey Sayles, but he got a bonus scouting report on 2015 Viking running back Calvin Strong.
Both players seem to be high on NU's radar right now. With Sayles, I think if NU offers him it will be as an athlete. Yes he could play tight end, but he could also grow into a guard or defensive tackle. The possibilities are endless, that why I think the Huskers end up offering Sayles.
As for Strong, he's the best young running back we've seen in the state in a long time. The most important thing he needs to do is make sure he continues to stay motivated and also take care of business in the classroom.
***One of the better storylines for next week's state championship football games is we could potentially have three father-son head coach/quarterback combinations in the finals.
In Class A Omaha North head coach Larry Martin's son Zach is the quarterback for the Vikings, in Class B Omaha Gross head coach Tim Johnk's son Zach is the signal caller for the Cougars, while in Class C-1 Norfolk Catholic head coach Jeff Bellar's son Jordan is the starting quarterback for the two-time defending state champion Knights.
I don't have any children yet, but I honestly can't think of a more thrilling moment than coaching your son in a state championship football game in Memorial Stadium.
Three and out
***It was good to see newly named Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst on the sidelines for Saturday's pregame festivities against Penn State. What I liked about it was Eichorst wasn't surrounded by an entourage of people. Instead he was standing in a corner visiting with stadium staff workers and Husker fans that came up and introduced themselves to him. The more I see and hear about Eichorst, the more I like this hire. Eichorst will be a guest this week on Big Red Wrap-Up Tuesday night at 7 pm on NET.
***The fact that senior running back Rex Burkhead talked up front and addressed the media on Monday tells me there's a good chance we'll see him play on Saturday. Hopefully they bring him back slow and limit his workload. I'd really like to see a Burkhead senior day touchdown.
***The last six games Nebraska has played the six best teams in the Big Ten in Wisconsin, Ohio State, Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State. You could make a case they'll face the seventh best team in Minnesota this week. NU may not have faced any top 5 teams this year, but you could argue top to bottom this is as tough of a conference slate the Huskers have ever faced. There hasn't been one conference game this year where the Huskers have been overwhelming favorites to win.
Sean Callahan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.