The more the University of Nebraska football program’s woes continue and indeed only get worse, the more capital I believe my semi-mock diagnosis of the program’s mental imbalance has actual traction. But I’ll let you be the judge.
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE HUSKER FOOTBALL PROGRAM-
MY OLD FRIEND, YOU ARE BADLY IN NEED OF A 12-STEP INTERVENTION RECOVERY PROGRAM
Offered in the spirit of satire or don’t take any of this too seriously.
Dear Nebraska Football Program:
It is with great concern and compassion that I appeal to your better angels and ask you to accept a therapeutic regimen that can address your chronic mental illness. Please consider letting those who have your best interests at heart intercede on your behalf so that you can get the help that you need in order to return to health, which is to say sanity, sobriety and serenity.
Let us not mince words but rather state the obvious – you are sick. There is no use in denying it. You have all the symptoms. Low self-esteem. Depression. Performance anxiety. Paranoia. Anger issues. Irrational, inconsistent decisions and behaviors. Inability to develop trusting relationships. Doing the same thing over and over again and failing at it and yet expecting a different result, which as any rational person knows is a classic marker for insanity.
But, my troubled friend, you are so deeply lost in your illness that you cannot see these things for yourself.
The first step to getting better is to admit that you have a problem. Simply going about business as usual and acting as if everything is normalt is a self-deluding proposition that will only keep you right where you are at – in the depths of your addiction.
I can hear you protesting already – I’m no addict…what addiction? Your addiction my friend is to self-inflicted pain. Since 2004 and even before then, you have struggled to find your way as one by one the caring, supporting, guiding figures in your life left you and the infrastructures that once made you strong began falling away. You have had trouble adjusting and transitioning to the succession of leaders who have followed because of your profound abandonment and identity issues.
The near constant scrutiny and criticism directed at you have weighed on you and frayed your nerves and impaired your decision-making.
So much has changed in your environment from those days when you were well and robust and the envy of so many others. As that landscape has become increasingly competitive and pressure-filled and as you have lost what few supports you had around you, you have more and more come to interpret the world as a cruel, harsh place. Negative thoughts have replaced positive thoughts. You live in fear and doubt that the next shoe will drop or that the current regime will let you down just as surely as the previous ones did.
When you get in close games, you freeze up or, well let’s just say, have difficulty doing the right thing.
You have endless rationalizations for why these things happen, but that is only deflecting the problem from the true source: yourself.
Just when you need stability, one leadership team is replaced by another and you have to learn new ways of dong things before you even mastered the old ways.
All of this feeds your insecurity. Little problems get inflated into big problems. Your sense of isolation is increased. You revert to unhealthy old habits and patterns that become ever more entrenched the more you act on them. You have trouble investing in the present or the future because your sense of being all-in is not there. Hope is dim.
When all those around you share the same mindset and tendencies, well, then bad attitudes and behaviors only get reinforced.
In short, your confidence is shattered and your ability to make sound decisions compromised. The more you act out, the more hard wired that becomes, thus making it even harder to enact positive changes.
Making matters worse, many of the decision-makers behind Husker Football and many of your fans, friends and family members are enablers. Out of good intentions they actually fuel your mistaken belief that you are whole and well, when in fact you are broken and sick.
A sure sign of disturbance is when your relationships suffer as a result of your acting out and there are untold examples of how as a program you have alienated, embarrassed, insulted the very fan, alumni and media base that helped give you life and that sustains you. What’s worse, you don’t seem to care that you have caused injury and estrangement. And yes I know that elements of that same base have said and done hurtful things to you, but this is where balance and forgiveness must prevail. Making amends.
Another sign of illness is, of course, impaired job performance. Here, the record of shortcomings speaks for itself.
Furthermore, you have continually resisted, ignored or criticized genuine efforts to offer you advice and counsel. You must acknowledge that your affliction is unmanageable and that you cannot handle it alone. Your only recourse is surrendering to a Higher Power. But you get highly agitated and defensive when remedies and assitance are broached.
There is also a decided tendency to overreact to things. In the name of progress, you have recklessly trampled on and discarded tried and true traditions that gave the program an identity for new systems and styles that have repeatedly proven a poor fit. You keep trying to be something you are not and were never intended to be and that disconnect only causes you more internal confusion and cognitive dissonance. The more separated you become from your true self and the resources available to you, the less resilient you become to change or challenge.
The longer this crisis has gone on the more you have become used to conflict, chaos, failure, despair and even hopelessness. Oh, you put on a good face, but it is clear that you no longer believe in yourself or in what you’re doing.
Things have come to the point where an intervention is called for. Since the board of regents, university administration and athletic department leadership have effectively failed to act responsibly, which is to say without due diligence in making the three most recent head coach hiring decisions, I am proposing that legislation be enacted to take the football program out of their hands and be given to an executive committee comprised of rank and file fans as well as past and present players, coaches and university officials. The majority members would be fans. In so doing, the voices of Nebraskans who are both close to the situation and who have the perspective of outsiders looking in would not only be heard but would have a definite say in things.
Our money, after all, is funding the entire athletics apparatus as taxpayers, season ticket subscribers and boosters. The program would not be what it is without the fans. They should be a part of determining whatever direction the program takes and whatever hires and fires it makes.
Radical? Unrealistic? Never happen? Probably. Then again, Nebraska Football is a unique phenomenon in this state for the disproportionate impact it has on the collective psyche. There is nothing else in the state to unite its disparate, geographically isolated populations the way the program does. The program’s crisis and failure, if left unchecked and unmitigated, is likely to get worse before it gets better, that is if it ever does get better. It is the considered opinion of myself and others that the program is actually heading for rock bottom right now. Rather than let another scenario play out whereby the current coaching staff manages to give the program a fix to prop the program back on its feet only to see it fall back into relapse again, I propose a more dramatic and thorough treatment plan that undoes the current model and gives fans a real say in what happens now and moving forward.
Call it crazy if you will, but I prefer to call it recovery.
Then again, it is only football.
A Fan in Search of Solutions and with Clearly Too Much Time on My Hands
Here is the complete Hail Varsity (http://hailvarsity.com/) cover story I did on Husker football brothers. As the 2015 team struggles to find its way under a new coaching staff, this is a look back at sets of brothers who played during some of the glory years in the program, though a couple of these brothers also weathered the ups and downs of coaching transitions themselves. The story doesn’t so much focus on how the teams they played on fared as it does on the bonds that made these dudes so fiercely loyal to family and to Nebraska. As the headline puts it, these studs were firmly rooted in each other and in Big Red and nothing could shake them loose.
Firmly Rooted: The Story of Husker Brothers
Husker football sometimes truly becomes a band of brothers
©by Leo Adam Biga
Now appearing in Hail Varsity Magazine (http://hailvarsity.com/)
Nebraska recruits football players where it finds them. sometimes even in the same family. Several brother combos have played for NU. Once in a while they’re part of the same recruiting class but usually they arrive a few years apart.
Once in a great while a set of twins plays for the Huskers, including Josh and Daniel Bullocks (2001-2004). The 2015 recruit class includes another pair in Khalil and Carlos Davis, whose uncle is former Husker Lorenzo Hicks. The two freshmen are redshirting this year.
More than a few uncles, nephews and cousins have shared a familial Nebraska football lineage. There’ve been some father-son sets as well as father-son-grandson combos.
Some Husker brother duos have achieved fame on different sides of the ball (Grant and Tracey Wistrom) but most left their mark on the same side of the field, usually defense. Clete and Jim Pillen, Toby and Jimmy Williams, Christian and Jason Pete were all defensive stalwarts as were the Craver, Shanle and Booker brothers. In most cases, brother sets have been solid contributors rather than stars. That’s true of the Cottons, only that clan added a generational element. The patriarch, Barney, played at NU and sons Jake, Ben and now Sam have suited up for the Big Red. He coached two of them.
Waves of brothers come and go. The 1998 through 2003 classes saw a bumper crop. There was a dry spell until Jake and Spencer Long and the Cotton boys came long. More than a decade passed between Kris Brown and his much younger brother Drew playing for NU.
Saturday’s gridiron warriors are the subject of intense scrutiny at a Nebraska. When siblings wear the scarlet and cream, one’s success creates expectations for the other. It doesn’t always happen but more often than not success does carry over.
Four sets of siblings emblematic of this family heritage tradition are the Craigs (Curtis and Roger), the Makovickas (Jeff and Joel), the Ruuds (Barrett and Bo) and the Kelsays (Chad and Chris) Standout players, all. The Craigs and Makovickas did their thing on offense, while the Ruuds and Kelsays did theirs on defense. In each case, a younger brother followed an older brother’s lead. Their stories reveal genetics play a role, as do shared traits and values. Having a brother precede you or be there helps, but you still have to earn it yourself.
Curtis Craig was a Big Deal at Davenport (Iowa) Central High in the early 1970s. The all-everything back selected NU over other powerhouse programs. Bothered by a nagging high ankle sprain suffered at the end of his prep career, he never played I-back in Lincoln but found his niche at wingback.
By his senior year, his little brother Roger was making hay back in Davenport playing for the same coaches, Jim Fox and Jack Leabo, who mentored him. Separated by almost five years, Curtis was conscious of being a model for those behind him.
“I’m the oldest of seven kids,” he says. “The younger ones were watching me because they looked up to me, so I felt I had to step up and set the example. All I was doing was giving back what was given to me. That’s kind of how the tradition is. Whatever you learn in your time you look to give back to those trying to follow your footsteps.”
Roger took careful note of his big brother.
“I always followed him. He was kind of like my hero as a kid growing up. He was a great role model for me. He did all the right things. Without him I wouldn’t be where I am today,” says Roger, who starred at I-back and fullback at NU before a Hall of Fame-worthy NFL career.
Roger credits hanging around and playing pickup games with Curtis and his buddies for helping mature him beyond his years.
“I watched how he trained and practiced and I got in there and did things with him.”
Curtis says he was motivated to earn a college scholarship because his folks couldn’t afford to pay for school. His experience exposed Roger to NU coaches and provided an inside look at the program.
“I told him this is what’s going to happen, this is what you need to do.”
Curtis didn’t have that luxury when he arrived at NU.
“I didn’t have anybody to tell me what to do when I got there. I had to just kind of figure it out and then go from there.”
When Curtis was a senior he was still putting Roger through his paces
“He worked with me. He was like a coach,” Roger says.
Big brother touted his little brother to Husker coaches.
Curtis recalls, “I knew he was going to have the possibility to do more than what I did. I said to the staff, ‘ You need to go look at my brother, he’s going to be a good one,’ They did and the rest is history. When you come from a family that has a scholarship athlete the coaches always go back to try and recruit your siblings who are good athletes, too.”
As a tribute to Curtis, whose No. 33 was retired at Davenport Central, Roger wore that number with the San Francisco 49rs.
“I carried Curt with me in the NFL,” Roger says. “I have a lot of respect for my brother.”
Jeff and Joel Makovicka
A duo who took the walk-on route to Husker glory, Jeff and Joel Makovicka, may be the only brother ball carrier combo in Husker history. Reared on a Brainard, Neb. farm, these siblings separated by four years learned values about doing your best that carried them through 8-man football, careers at NU and all the way to the NFL.
Big brother Jeff says with kid brother Joel watching him, “it increased the importance that I did the right thing.”
The pair always saw themselves playing at NU, they just weren’t sure they’d ever get the chance.
Joel says seeing Jeff make, fueled his own fire.
“When Jeff got there and he succeeded I knew it became not just a goal that was a dream, it was more an attainable and achievable goal and so it made me work that much harder.”
Once Joel joined him on campus, Jeff showed him the ropes. “I knew i had to carry on what we were taught at home. We were in Lincoln, but I told Joel, ‘That doesn’t mean you leave the farm – the farm’s still in you and dad’s still around in your head.'”
Joel relied on Jeff to get him through his first year.
“I remember talking to him not knowing if this was going to be right for me and him saying, ‘Hang in there, everybody goes through this.’
There’s a lot of times I had to lean on him to get to where I wanted to be and he was there for me. It was an adjustment, especially from where we came from, playing 8-man football.”
Joel appreciates that Jeff’s road was tougher than his.
“It was lot harder for him to go to Nebraska because he was the first one to go. He kind of paved the way. He got his foot in the door and then widened the door for me to get there.”
Another advantage of Jeff being there ahead of him was Joel meeting the coaching staff, watching practice and “knowing what to expect.”
Jeff says it wasn’t all him helping Joel but Joel helping him as well.
“It provided a great amount of benefit to me having a younger brother there, especially when I was a senior. We roomed together on the road. For the pre-game routine we made a point to be out there stretching together. We’d often discuss points of the game. During the game, when I’d come off the field, I’d say to him, ‘Hey, did you see that set. Did you see that tendency?’ Did i get the cut block?’ And you’d get such a brutally honest assessment because it was your brother.”
Jeff recognizes the long odds he and Joel overcame to become fullbacks for national title teams (Jeff in 1994 and 1995 and Joel in 1997). Joel was Jeff’s backup in ’95.
“It’s really special. I knew he was going to be this great one because I’d seen him playing with guys three-four years older than him,” Jeff says.
In the ’95 season finale versus Oklahoma NU was driving late when Jeff came out and Joel went in and broke off a memorable scoring run marked by broken tackles, grit and determination.
“That kind of run in that game against that team solidified in my mind he was going to be OK and represented everything we’re about,” says Jeff about that passing-the-torch moment.
The Makovickas are proud of setting the physical tone for NU then.
“Theres no question,” Joel says. “We also take pride in carrying the banner for the walk-ons and kind of having that chip on our shoulder that, you know what, maybe you didn’t think we were good enough coming out of high school to earn a scholarship but you’re damn well going to give us one when we get there.”
Joel went onto a fine NFL career but injuries never allowed Jeff to stay healthy long enough to secure a spot.
The family pipeline continued with younger brothers Justin and Jordan, who grew up around the NU program, until they opted to leave.
Speaking of pipelines, the Ruuds are a three-generation Husker clan. Clarence Swanson was an early 20th century stud. His great-grandson Tom Ruud was a force at linebacker six decades later. Other relatives and close family friends also played for the Huskers.
Tom’s two boys, Barrett and Bo, followed his example to become linebackers. They developed under the tutelage of youth coaches and Lincoln Southeast coach Chuck Mizerski and alongside future Division I athletes. it was like growing up in the “family business.”
“It was never like a pipe-dream to be successful at football,” Barrett says. “We saw a lot guys up close and personal live that out, so we knew it was attainable. The one thing our dad would point out to us is it takes a lot of work to get there and that the guys that work the hardest tend to have the most success. We weren’t pushed into any sports but once we decided that’s what we wanted to do we had a lot of resources as far as what it took to be successful. A lot of kids have no idea when they first start playing sports. The more serious we got we could ask questions about what did it take to reach the next level.”
Only a year-and-a-half apart, the Ruud boys grew up doing pretty much everything together, so whatever Barrett got into first, Bo followed suit.
Bo says, “We grew up playing against each other from day one. It was always great competition. We both loved it. We both loved playing football and basketball and golf and whatever we could do to play and compete at.”
When he first got to Nebraska, Barrett had to make his own way. When Bo arrived, his big brother had his back.
“I went in there as a freshman learning on the fly,” Barrett says, “as opposed to Bo coming in and having me already there. He had a little more of a comfort zone. He already knew the work he was getting into for the most part. That’s probably the biggest difference to having a brother in the program.”
Bo agrees, saying, “I think there’s a big advantage being the younger brother. You get to see how it’s done a little bit before you get there.
Plus, having your brother is another friend you’ve got on the team.”
Bo says playing together for a dynasty high school program and the storied Nebraska program they grew up idolizing is “a pretty neat deal.” “It just happened the way it happened without planning it. We both had a desire to make it to the next level and we obviously grew up in a Husker family. It’s just something we always wanted to do.” The brothers were with each on their respective NFL draft days. While Barrett’s long NFL career with Tampa Bay is well-documented, it’s not widely known that Bo’s final three weeks in The League were spent with Barrett in the Buccaneers’ preseason camp before being cut.
Always close, the brothers drew even closer when their mother, who was their biggest fan, died suddenly of a heart attack.
“You naturally lean on each other and your whole family when something like that happens,” Barrett says.
The brothers enjoy fly fishing together.
Before Chad and Chris Kelsay came along, their hometown of Auburn, Neb. hadn’t produced a scholarship Husker football player in decades. Chad, the eldest by two years, was a Big Red fan but wasn’t sure he was D-I material until attending an NU camp.
“I tested out real well and that kind of put me on the radar of Nebraska.”
With Chris wrecking havoc the next year for Auburn, he became a hot recruiting target, too.
Chad says, “Chris got to know the coaching staff real well and as Chris was coming up through high school it was obvious he was going to have an opportunity to play football at the collegiate level he knew the coaching staff and they started recruiting him.”
“Having two brothers from a community the size of Auburn play at Nebraska was exciting for the town,” Chad says.
Two years apart in age, the brothers were there years apart in school.
Chad’s exploits at rush end naturally inspired Chris, who says his transition to college life and football was helped by having Chad there..
“Ever since we were little kids growing up I always looked up to him both in the classroom and on the football field in how he went about his business. So it was definitely a benefit I tried to take advantage of and I think in the long run it kind of put me ahead of the cart compared to a lot of guys coming in there.”
Neither brother was the most athletically gifted player, but they made up for it with a work ethic they ascribe to their rural growing up.
“If you don’t have it in you and its not how you’ve been brought up, it’s harder to just flip a switch and all of a sudden be a guy that’s going to work harder than everybody else,” Chad says.
Once again defying the odds, both made it to the NFL, though Chad’s stint there ended before Chris joined the league.
“That’s pretty special. Not too many people can say that. We’re blessed to have had the opportunity to do what we’ve done,” Chris says.
Long retired from the game, the Kelsays are together again, this time as sales representatives at Truck Center Companies in Omaha.
Soccer is still no where near as popular in America as football, basketball and baseball but it’s undeniably growing year by year in having a hold on people’s interest and imagination. The emergence of soccer as a prime sport at Omaha South High School gives insight into the demographics at work that will likely one day see the sport challenge the big three team sports and perhaps even overtake them, not just in Omaha or greater Neb., but around the nation. South High is a microcosm for how South Omaha has changed from its largely Eastern European population base from the late 19th century through the 1970s to a largely Hispanic, African and Asian base in recent years. Then and now many of the immigrant and refugee families drawn there have found work in the meatpacking industry, and thus the school’s nickname, Packers. This demographic transformation has had many effects, including a student population that is increasingly soccer-centric. Boys soccer head coach Joe Maass has been there since 2000, when the change was near full flower. Since then he’s taken a moribound program that couldn’t win and nobody wanted to coach and turned it into a budding dynasty. He’s done it with players of Mexican and Latin American heritage and more recently of African heritage who have played soccer practically from the time they could walk and run. These experienced, skilled and passionate players, wave after wave and class after class of them, have made South a perennial contender for metro, district and state titles. Just a few years ago it would have been unthinkable for a a high school soccer game to outdraw a football or basektball game, but that’s often what South high soccer manages to do. When the program first emerged as a force to be reckoned with a few years ago and the team made it to their first state finals, record crowds turned out and most of the fans were rooting for South. The majority of fans were Hispanic. It was a hugh love fest for the team, the school and the South Omaha community. Maass is the mastermind who’s embraced this flood of talent and passion and let it flourish. My El Perico story about Maass and the evolution of South High Soccer was published just as this year’s team has found itself and climbed to No. 1 in the rankings. With the way the Packers are playing, they will be the odds-on favorite to win their second state title in three years.
Masterful: Joe Maass leads Omaha South High soccer evolution
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in El Perico
Omaha South High soccer coach Joe Maass enjoys being part of a transformation that’s seen his soccer program blossom from awful to brilliant and his school rise from woebegone to thriving.
He was 26 when he got the job in 2000. That’s unusually young for a big school head coach but it wasn’t like candidates were busting down the doors. Slowly but surely though Maass turned that no-win situation around. He now has South soccer a perennial contender and a point of pride for the school and community it represents.
South has built a near dynasty on the strength of mostly Latino players who’ve become the new face of the more than century-old school. Michael Jaime became the first Gatorade Nebraska Boys Soccer Player of the Year (2013-2014) from South, one of several all-state players with Spanish surnames the school’s produced. In 2010 Manny Lira was the captain of the all-state team. Those players and several others went on to earn college scholarships.
For the ninth consecutive season South’s regarded as a major threat. The No. 1-ranked Packers opened the season with 10 straight wins. Since their first and only defeat of the year, 1-0 to Papiliion LaVista-South on April 13 in the Metro Conference championship game, they’ve beaten traditional rivals Omaha Westside and Omaha Creighton Prep, and on April 20 they avenged their lone loss to Papio LaVista-South. They’ve come together as a team despite injury and suspension.
Maass says the prospects for his 2015 team are promising.
“As a unit we’re really good. I have a lot of pretty good players but there’s not like one or two players miles ahead of everybody else in the state, so this is definitely going to be a team year where a lot of different kids contribute. I think making state would be a fair goal and then maybe when we get there…”
Anything can happen. Only a few years after being a losing team, South made its first state final in 2010, the game infamous for the “green card” incident when opposing fans threw mock green cards on the field to insinuate South players were illegal immigrants. It was the most public in a long line of racial insults directed at South.
Maass says he was proud of “the way his team handled it,” adding, “The kids didn’t retaliate – they stood up for the team and school and for what was right and wrong.”
South then put together arguably the greatest season ever by a Neb. Class A boys soccer team in 2013, going 23-0 en route to the state title, setting many records in the process. Elite Soccer Report named South the top team among states where soccer’s a spring sport.
“We won the whole thing and we did it the right way,” Maass says.
None of it seemed possible 16 years ago.
“Everything that’s been accomplished I would never have imagined. I have a huge sense of pride in that and in knowing that if I stopped coaching tomorrow South High soccer’s still going to be pretty good because we’ve built a strong program.”
Not bad considering what Maass started with.
“The guy who was the head coach before me saw I had some energy and passion, so he stepped down and recommended me to replace him. The truth is nobody else applied, so they just gave it to me because essentially nobody wanted that job. There was nothing desirable about it. It was not very forgiving.
“The program was pretty bad back then. The school really didn’t fund the program. The uniforms were really old. The sport of soccer didn’t get much attention or respect, especially down here.”
Besides low interest and expectations – South won eight games his first four years – it was hard getting kids to play and fans to follow.
“I had somewhere around 11 or 12 players. The first practice there were 15 kids on the field and four of them were off the streets, they weren’t even students. I only had one senior. The next year it was maybe 13 to 15 players. Then 18. Each year it just grew a little bit.”
He scoured South O parks and fields for promising talent and before long gifted players, even some elite club players, filled his rosters.
The facilities were subpar until Collin Stadium opened in 2009, giving the by-then vastly improved program a distinct home advantage with its full-sized soccer field.
The one constant, Maass says, is that “the kids were great kids.” “But,”
he adds, “I don’t think anybody saw South going from being the worst team in the state to what it is now. We’re pretty much a projected top 10 team every year and that’s where we want to be – a top 10 team that everybody has to kind of somewhat fear.”
These days the program gets 100-plus students trying out and carries 80 to 90 players across its varsity, junior varsity and freshman squads. Grads are getting scholarships to play at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Bellevue University and other schools. Several are coaching for South, including Leo Enriquez and Cesar Lira, and several others are coaching for club teams or competing schools.
Where South soccer used to be an after-thought, it’s now a conversation starter. Cara Riggs was South’s principal when Maass engineered the turnaround. More than all the wins, she appreciated the way Maass cared.
“Joe sometimes comes off as tough, maybe even gruff. Underneath that exterior is a very soft-hearted, compassionate man who cares very deeply about the kids he works with. He has high expectations of your hard work and he’s willing to go above and beyond for you and your success. His loyalty to South High, its students and South Omaha is as strong as a Mack truck.”
Tobias Maertzke, a German exchange student who played at South a few years ago, lived with Maass and his wife while going to school there. “He’s like a family member almost,” Maass says.
Maass acknowledges he’s softened and matured since becoming a father. He and his wife have two children.
“I’ve mellowed quite a bit. I’m still fiery but not overly fiery like I used to be. The first couple years i was probably a little bit rough actually. I had a great understanding for the game but maybe not an understanding for all the kids, whereas now I feel I understand the kids, the game, how the referees work. I feel the refs respect me, so they’re not as quick to give me a yellow card if I step out of line.”
Riggs says South soccer made a positive impact far beyond the field.
“The success of Joe’s soccer program has been a definite booster for school pride and community respect. The success helped put South back on the map and recognized again in the Omaha community.”
Maass, whose roots are in that neighborhood, says, “The sense of community that came back to South Omaha is just amazing to me.”
Having built South to be an elite program and kept it there, Maass is not sure which feat is more difficult.
“It was really hard to get there but it’s hard to stay on top though because more kids are playing the sport now and other schools are starting to mirror the things we’ve done.”
Of all the achievements South’s attained, including district and metro crowns and records for most goals scored and most shutouts recorded in a single season, the 2013 state title stands out.
“Winning a championship at South after they hadn’t won one in years was big. It felt great to feel our program was on top of the world.”
Championships and records are nice, he says, “but at the end of the day” it’s the relationships he forges with “the kids” and following their life pursuits that matter most to him.
“I see them out in the community. It’s interesting to see where they end up. I hope in some way I’ve impacted these kids. That by far outweighs everything else.”
Just like the team’s Twitter page tag line reads, “We are a family, friends and a team with one big heart.. Packers.”
Omaha conquering hero Terence Crawford adds second boxing title to his legend; Going to Africa with The Champ; B & B Boxing Academy builds champions inside and outside the ring
Omaha conquering hero Terence Crawford adds second boxing title to his legend
Going to Africa with The Champ
B&B Boxing Academy builds champions inside and outside the ring
©by Leo Adam Biga
All hail Terence Crawford of Omaha for claiming his second world boxing title with his 6th round technical knockout of Thomas Dulorme on April 18 in Arlington, Texas.
Crawford vaulted to world prominence with his three signature wins last year in the WBO lightweight diviion, beginning with his unaminous decision over then-lightweight champion Ricky Burns in Glasgow, Scotland and followed by Crawford twice successfully defending his title in his hometown before huge crowds at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha. Those three wins earned him consensus boxer of the year recognition, including the coveted Fighter of the Year nod from the Boxing Writers Association of America. It was long anticipated that his dominance of the rather weak lightweight division would see Crawford move up a weight division or two in time. With the junior welterwight title vacant, it only made sense he would test himself there, though doing it this soon after reaching the top may have been a bit of a surprise. Then again, Crawford, who had trouble making the lightweight limit, has the frame that allows him to naturally carry the junior welterweight limit of 140 pounds with ease and with his performance against Dulorme it’s obvious he can carry his power up to that weight class, and probably well beyond it, too. It’s a good bet that within a few years he’ll move up another weight class or two, certainly to welterweight and perhaps all the way up to middleweight. When all is said and done he stands a good chance of fighting for and perhaps winning another world title or two or three. Should he do that, perhaps adding another Fighter of the Year award for good measure, on top of what’s already, he will be mentioned with maybe a dozen or so all-time boxing legends. That’s where he’s come to already at age 27.
No single Nebraska-born athlete has dominated his sport in this way or to this extent since Bob Gibson went on his 10-year pitching tear for the St. Louis Cardinals from the early 1960s through the early 1970s. Gibson led the Cardinals to two World Series titles and very nearly to a third. His combined Series numbers of 7 wins and 2 losses and 1.89 ERA give you an idea of how brilliant he was in the post-season. He was twice the Series MVP. His regular season numbers and awards were equally impressive. He posted a 1.12 ERA and 13 shutouts in 1968, when he won both the Cy Young Award and the MVP. He won a second Cy Young another year. His dominance contributed to Major League Baseball lowering the mound. Terence Crawford’s string of four wins in a year-and-half over world-class fighters, two of those wins earning him world titles, and each victory more impressive than the last, is just about equal to where Gibson was at his peak in his sport. Just as Gibson was acclaimed by many to be the best pitcher, not to mention the best athlete, player and competitor in baseball, Crawford is nearing that kind of accilmation as the best fighter in the ring today. Once Floyd Mayweather retires, Crawford may be the guy everyone talks about in that vein. Just as Gibson still had a few good years left after 1968, Crawford has at least another three to five prime years left. Anything after that will be gravy.
As Crawford’s career blossoms, it’s rapidly becoming obvious that Bob Arum, the man behind Top Rank, the fight organization the fighter is contracturally signed to, is not alone in procaliming this warrior as the next big thing in boxing. When he looks at Crawford’s considerable talent and prodigious work ethic Arum sees a dependable and bankable star that he and Top Rank and HBO can ride for a decade or more, barring injury or other things that could interrupt this meal ticket. Having covered Crawford the last year or two, I see what Arum and others see in him – a dedicated, mature young man with a good heart who is also well-grounded about who he is and what’s he’s doing and how he wants to help his family, his friends and his community. Like all great fighters and athletes regardless of the sport, he views what he does in the ring as a job, and he views all the work that goes into preparing him for his fights as part of the job. It happens to be a profession that he’s passionate about and respects and thus he never cuts corners. That attitude and practice will keep him sharp and help him avoid the pitfalls many top-flight boxers suffer once mega fame and fortune come their way.
On this same blog you can find my various stories about Terence, who also goes by Bud. I have links to those stories below. I recently did some new writing about him for a project drawing attention to his B&B Boxing Academy in North Omaha and I’m sharing that here for the first time. Bud and comanager Brian McIntyre are founding partners of the academy and they have a beautiful dream to make it a full-fledged resource center for underserved youth. What follows is a kind of prospectus for what the gym is about and who it serves.
To learn more about Bud and his boxing journey, here are inks to my stories about him:
Look for more from me about Bud and his ever expanding story as I preview the trip to Rwanda and Uganda, Africa that he and BoMac will be making.
I am going on this adventure as the 2015 recipient of The Andy Award, a grant for international reporting presented by UNO’s International Studies and Programs to a news entity, reporting team or individual journalist whose reporting raises the global awareness of Nebraskans.
Going to Africa with The Champ
Every year Nebraskans make humanitarian mission trips to Africa, often through medical, educational or religious institutions and other non-governmental organizations.
In June a small group of Nebraskans will travel to Rwanda and Uganda, Africa with the goal of raising awareness about challenges facing people there and ongoing efforts to find solutions. Headlining the trip will be two-time world boxing champion Terence Crawford from Omaha and Pipeline Worldwide co-founder Jamie Nollette, who was the fighter’s fourth grade teacher at Skinner Magnet School in North Omaha. Nollette’s nonprofit works with partners doing sustainable water and agricultural projects in Rwanda and Uganda that aim to improve living standards and encourage self-sufficient practices.
Last August Crawford traveled there with Nollette. What he witnessed profoundly impacted him. He saw a scale of human need he’d never experienced before. He saw people trying to move on from a traumatic past. If progress can be made there, he thought, then perhaps problems facing his northeast Omaha community, where his B & B Boxing Academy serves at-risk youth, can be surmounted.
Joining the fighter this time will be Crawford’s co-manager and B & B partner Brian McIntyre and myself. I’ve closely followed Crawford’s rise to boxing stardom in a number of articles I’ve written.
The reporting I do in Africa will be featured in a future Omaha Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com) issue as part of its long-running Journeys series. I will also write about the experience for The Reader (http://www.thereader.com) and the Omaha Star (http://theomahastar.com) and possibly other publications.
On our journey we will glimpse various aspects of Rwandan and Ugandan life that reflect on these nations’ troubled recent history. Tribal-sectional tensions and harsh government policies have led to coups, revolutions, civil wars, reprisals and atrocities. In Rwanda, feuding ultimately resulted in a genocide whose repercussions are still felt today as reconciliation efforts continue. In Uganda, a succession of dictators and instability has given way to the iron clad rule of president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, whose reign has been marred by human rights violations and the invasion of Congo.
Picking up the pieces is not the only narrative with currency in Rwanda and Uganda. But recovery is a primary theme there. So is the need for these poor, developing nations to build infrastructure, stimulate work, maximize resources and achieve enduring, empowering solutions to fresh water and arable land shortages, among other problems.
My chronicles for various Omaha publications will cover my and my travel companions experiences with:
•meeting perpetrators and survivors of genocide
•visiting a genocide memorial and the Hotel Rwanda
•visiting projects building fresh water wells and growing food
•meeting aid workers
We will meet meet people who have been internationally recognized for their humanitarian work, including the famous Sister Rosemary.
We will go on a safari, do gorilla trekking and see all manner of natural wonders.
We will also attend an African boxing convention where we will meet athletes and coaches from across the continent.
The trip is just one way Heartland residents engage with Africa and other developing regions. Opportunities to serve and learn about places in need are as far away as Africa and as near as North Omaha. Everyone who goes on these journeys comes away changed, their world vision broadened, their humanity deepened. My reporting will cover this transformation and lessons learned, too.
Look for more on this in the weeks to come.
Here’s a look at the B&B Boxing Academy that is so close to Crawford’s heart.
The B&B Boxing Academy
B & B Boxing Academy is a community-based athletic center that builds body, mind and character. Expert, caring coaches help members reach goals inside and outside the ring. Positive, structured activities teach confidence, discipline and healthy habits for a lifetime. Learn the winning edge at B & B, the home gym of two-time world champion Terence “Bud” Crawford.
Boxing brothers Terence “Bud” Crawford and Brian “BoMac” McIntyre have shared the same dream for years. Coming up through North Omaha’s hard knock streets, they were determined to make it in the sport they love in order to give back to their community.
After a solid amateur ring career BoMac turned pro but found his real calling as coach and manager. His prize pupil, Bud, fulfilled the early promise he showed as a youngster. Under the tutelage of BoMac and Midge Minor, Bud became one of America’s best amateur fighters and now has carried his hard work and talent all the way to a world professional championship.
Omaha has entered the spotlight of the sport after his two rousing WBO lightweight title defenses in front of packed CenturyLink Center crowds and loads of HBO viewers. Those victories, combined with his winning the title at the start of 2014 in Scotland, earned him Fighter of the Year recognition. He recently added to his lustre by winning the WBO light welterweight title with a TKO over Thomas Dulhorme on April 19 in Arlington, Texas.
But reaching the top was never the end of Bud and BoMac’s quest. Their vision has always included a gym serving youth located in the very neighborhood they grew up and got their own boxing start in.
The pair’s B & B Boxing Academy, opened in October, 2013, is a nonprofit dedicated to building the body, mind and character of young people, including at-risk youth in need of positive, structured activities. Team Crawford has expended blood, sweat and tears turning the former garage and storage space into a working gym that gets lots of use. Since the doors first opened it has been a magnet for young people. Some are there for competitive boxing, others just to get fit. Many kids who come reside in the neighborhood. They walk or ride their bikes there. Gang violence is a real threat on what can be mean streets. It reminds Bud and BoMac of when they were young and flocked to the neighborhood CW Boxing Club. It was their refuge from the lures and dangers of those same inner city streets. They want the Academy to serve the same sanctuary role for today’s youth.
“It’s not just all about boxing,” Bud says. “We’re trying to teach the kids how to be young women and young men. We’re teaching them to have respect and dignity. We’re teaching life skills. You’ve got to be able to control yourself in the ring as well as outside the ring and boxing is a great way for kids to learn discipline.”
Team Crawford’s coaches and trainers are mentors who care. They teach lessons for life. Having a caring adult to provide direction means the world to young people who may not have that support at home or even if they do still need another guiding hand.
“If they feel like nobody cares than they’re not gong to care, but if they feel one person cares than they tend to listen to that person,” says Bud, who had parents, teachers and coaches steer him straight.
Bud knows from personal experience the difference a gym can make for a young person working out anger issues.
“It’s a good place to come and get away, release some stress, release some steam if you’re having problems at home or school and you just need to let it out. What better way to let it out than on a bag, rather than going somewhere else and letting it out the wrong way. I look at it as an outlet for the kids that are just hardcore and mad at the world because of their circumstances. They come to this gym and they feel loved and they feel a part of something. For some kids, feeling a part of something changes them around.”
Kids who compete under the B & B banner train as a team, vying for titles and trophies against fighters from other gyms. But you do not have to fight to be a B & B member. Every member receives instruction and mentoring from top-flight coaches and trainers with decades of experience. Every member is exposed to winners and champions.
BoMac says the Academy, located at 3034 Sprague Street, offers “the remedy” for young people at-risk of falling prey to negative behaviors. All that he and his fellow coaches need is to get youth through the door and then, he says, they can “shape and mold” them to develop healthy habits that last a lifetime.
As B & B expands it will offer tutoring and academic support programs through community and corporate partnerships. A commercial kitchen serving fresh, hot meals for members of the gym and the community is envisioned. The renovated-expanded gym will add showers, a dedicated fitness-weight training room, meeting spaces, a second ring, more punching bags and new workout equipment.
Even as Bud’s career grows ever larger, he pledges to make B & B an ongoing part of his unfolding legacy.
“This is my community, B & B is my gym, so I am in it for the long haul. I’m not in it for the fame or anything like that. I could be anywhere but my heart is with Omaha. We just want to help as many kids as we can. Everything is for the kids.”
His fondest wish is that some young people training at B & B now or in the future will one day take over the Academy. Then they, too, will pay forward what they received to help a new generation of young people. Each one, to teach one…
The young people coming to the B & B Boxing Academy all have different reasons for being there but all share in common a desire to improve themselves with the help of coaches who care.
Small for her age, 14-year-old high school freshman Haley Roberts struggled with self-esteem issues until working out at the gym.
“I was self-conscious about how small I was and everything. I felt different from everyone else because everyone had a sport they were good in but i was never good at sports. Then when I found boxing I realized I had more strength and power than I thought, and I put it to good use,” she says.
“I enjoy coming. I just enjoy the sport. It helps my confidence, it helps me feel better about myself all around.”
She likes the communal approach used at the gym.
“I enjoy the different people who train me. Certain days we’ll work on certain things, like our footwork or straight punches. We just work on different things as a group. It’s really a team environment.”
Having a world champion on hand in the person of Terence “Bud” Crawford is an extra benefit of training there.
“When Terence is in town to train everyone comes in and wants to train with him. It’s really cool seeing the Crawford entourage coming in.
It’s amazing actually just watching his fights and realizing, ‘Oh, I train with him.’ It’s really cool, too, that he kind of helps everyone (with pointers).”
With Bud and Co. behind her, Haley is excited about her potential in and out of the ring. She looks forward to traveling to tournaments next summer to prove herself in competition.
“I’d like to show everyone that girls can do what guys can do. I’d like to go as far as I possibly can in the sport.”
Away from boxing, her new-found confidence has her intent on studying forensic science in college. Her goal is to become a crime scene investigator.
Alan and Ary Panduro Angulo
Siblings Alan and Ary Panduro Angulo hail from a boxing family. Their uncle Alfredo Angula is a highly regarded Mexican prizefighter who once held the WBO light middleweight title. The boys, ages 10 and 13, respectively, were trained by their father at home before they tried out some gyms. After meeting Bud they fell in with him and his B & B Boxing Academy and they have not looked anywhere else since.
Training there Alan’s learned the value of putting his all into the sport.
“It’s like really hard work – hitting the pads, hitting the bag, doing pushups, doing jumping jacks, it’s just a lot of hard work. It pays off in fights, you know,” says Alan, who was among the first fighters to compete for B & B.
The brothers say the work ethic that boxing demands carries over to their schoolwork and chores.
Alan says it doesn’t hurt either being surrounded by champions who exemplify what it takes to be successful. “It gives me motivation,” he says. Getting advice from a world champion, he adds is, “really awesome.”
Ary also appreciates having Bud in his corner. “He’s very gracious. He motivates everyone in the gym. Whenever I’m tired and I sit down he’s like. ‘Go hit the bag and exercise more.’ He’s like always there. He’s great, he’s really a nice guy to be around. He’s very cool and funny. I like him a lot.”
He says the coaches look out for him and his brother: “They’ve always got our back.”
Ary. who’s battled obesity, appreciates the health benefits he sees from getting in good shape and staying fit. “It’s helped me lose weight and it’s gotten me in good condition.” That’s given him a better self-image.
At other gyms the brothers were sometimes the only kids present. At B & B they often work side by side with kids their own age trying to get in shape and learning the ropes of the Sweet Science just like them.
Alan says, “You’re not like the only kid around here, you’re surrounded by kids that want to do this sport. too.”
The brothers have become good friends with Haley Roberts.
While Alan has been fighting in competitions and winning trophies for the gym, Ary has yet to enter a tournament, but he feels boxing has already given him much.
“A lot of kids go through bullying at school and I think it’s good for those kids to go in the sport because it gives you confidence. I know because I was bullied when I was smaller. If kids want to mess with you, you know how to defend yourself.”
The confidence that comes with being able to handle oneself is important to Alan, too.
Both brothers also enjoy traveling to different cities and states for tournaments for the education and experience it gives them.
Promising amateur lightweight Treven Coleman-Avant, 24, an Omaha Burke High School graduate, wants to be the next champion produced by the gym. In addition to Bud, there is top U.S. ranked amateur light heavyweight and Olympic prospect Steven Nelson. Treven, who trains with both in Omaha and in Colorado Springs, has shown well at regional and national competitions and so he sees no reason why he cannot follow their footsteps.
He uses their dedication to the craft and what they accomplish inside the ring as inspiration and benchmark for himself.
“It all comes with work ethic – hard work and heart. I feed off those guys’ energy and I add it onto mine. Omaha isn’t done producing champions, I’ll tell you that right now.”
Just like his role models, he wants to be a champion outside the ring, too. He senses the same is true for all the people who train there.
“There’s been a flood of new people coming in wanting to get their life changed and that’s the goal of the gym being down in this environment – to pull people off the streets and change their lives.”
Treven says the mentoring he’s received there inspires him to mentor others by “giving advice, showing the right steps to take that you didn’t take.” At B & B, he says, “you learn great leadership,” adding. “It’s built me up as a person. Boxing takes a lot of discipline and dedication and I take that attitude to the other things I do in life – to my work, to being a father. You’ve got to give it your all or you’ll come up short.”
Treven, who has been around boxing his whole life, has developed a special bond with Bud that’s made him a member of Team Crawford.
“To be part of his team and to see where he’s come from to now is a tremendous thing. He’s been like a brother to me.”
In the spirit of giving back to the community, Treven conducts fitness classes at the gym most weeknights and weekends to help young men and women sharpen their minds and bodies.
“We’re busting at the seams.”
That assessment from B & B Boxing Academy co-founder Brian “BoMac” McIntyre sums up why the popular North Omaha gym must grow in order to meet the surging demand for its services.
Located at 3034 Sprague Street in a former garage and storage facility, B & B is home to WBO world lightweight champion Terence “Bud” Crawford, who trains there under BoMac. Together, they opened the gym to provide their underserved community a safe, clean environment to box and get fit in.
With the Academy attracting more participants, the gym has reached physical capacity. On warm summer nights the place over-brims with youth and young adults going through their paces – running, working the bags, shadow boxing, sparring. To accommodate the overflow, the doors and fences are opened and the parking lot emptied of vehicles to create a makeshift outdoor training site. If the numbers keep growing as expected members will need to train in shifts.
A much larger connected space, three times the size of the existing one, is available. The vision is to acquire that warehouse and convert it into a spacious, state-of-the-art gym and to repurpose the current space into new uses that provide academic and community support.
B & B Boxing Academy is a nonprofit, community-based athletic center developing young people to reach their potential. The youth and young adults who train there share the same aspirations and dreams of wishing to improve themselves and realizing their potential.
BoMac, Bud and their Team Crawford family of coaches are dedicated to touching as many lives as possible. B & B is their vehicle for producing winners in the ring and in life.
Don’t look now, but UNO hockey may be on the verge of making the kind of noise and capturing the kind of attention traditionally reserved for Nebraska football and Creighton basketball. My Reader (www.thereader.com) story charts some of the reasons why this already has beenand continues being a special season for the program. For the first time this late in the season UNO’s nationally ranked and in a contending position for accomplishing big things in their conference and perhaps in the NCAA tournament. The Mavs play their last regular season home series this weekend, March 6-7, at the CenturyLink and it’s an important opportunity to keep momentum and maintain a solid spot heading into the post-season.
UNO Hockey Staking its Claim
©by Leo Adam Biga
Now appearing in The Reader (www.thereader.com)
Since launching hockey in 1997 to subsidize its non-revenue generating sports UNO’s netted a nice return on investment. Maverick hockey crowds rank among the best nationally, with annual ticket revenues of $2 million. When the school dropped football and wrestling in 2011, it added pressure on hockey to be the signature sport.
The University of Nebraska at Omaha has enriched the city’s hockey legacy. The minor league professional Omaha Knights (1939 to 1975) began the love affair. The amateur Omaha Lancers (1986 through today) continued it. UNO found its niche as Neb.’s only collegiate hockey team. Despite gritty performances and many upsets its first 18 seasons. UNO didn’t emerge as a title threat. Until perhaps now.
Coach Dean Blais, tasked with making Mav hockey nationally relevant when hired in 2009, has guided UNO through conference changes, player suspensions, stars leaving for the NHL and solid if not stellar play. Now, for the first time this late in the season, he has UNO contending. His team’s defeated several highly ranked clubs, splitting four games, three in overtime, with perennial power North Dakota, where Blais won two national titles.
His best offensive player, sophomore forward All-America candidate Austin Ortega, recently tied the NCAA single-season record with his nation-leading 10th game-winning goal.
UNO, 17-10-3 at press time, climbed to No. 4 in the Division I ratings. It’s led the powerful National Collegiate Hockey Conference most of the year. Entering the final regular season home series versus Colorado College at CenturyLink Center, UNO hopes for momentum that carries into the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and the NCAA tournament.
As UNO hockey enters the local sports conversation reserved for Husker football and Bluejay basketball, it may establish itself as a must-see attraction and traditional power. The timing’s apt since it gets its own facility next year when the UNO sports arena opens on the Ak-Sar-Ben campus, where the Knights played. Touted underclassmen helping drive this special season were recruited to the new venue.
Sophomore center Jake Guentzel is enjoying the ride, “We’re more on the map, more fans are coming, so it’s pretty special.” He’s not surprised by the success. “I thought we had the players to do it, I just didn’t know if we had the experience. We’re bottom-heavy with freshmen and sophomores but we’ve adapted pretty well. We’ve been fortunate we’ve had the opportunity to play and we’ve taken advantage of it.”
He says preseason predictions of UNO finishing sixth in the league provided motivation. He credits an early road trip to Western Michigan, where UNO got a sweep. as a confidence-booster and bonding experience. The right mix of leadership has team chemistry just right.
Senior goalie Ryan Massa has waited four years for UNO to break out. “It’s nice to finally see all the hard work pay off for the guys.” He feels a humbling exhibition loss to Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in October was a necessary rude awakening. “It kind of opened the new guys’ eyes to understand the level we’re playing at and helped them grow and mature a little bit faster than maybe anticipated.”
Senior forward Dominic Zombo likes this team’s make-up. “I do see a component I haven’t seen in the past. We’ve got a really tight-knit group. We don’t have any passengers here, nobody’s just going through the motions, everybody’s here to get better, to win games. Every single guy’s committed to their job. That’s what makes us so competitive as a team.”
Blais doesn’t know if UNO’s truly arrived but he’s confident it soon will.
“I would think so but you never know from year to year. This is a special group of guys and for them I hope we win a league championship, get to the Target Center (home to the Frozen Faceoff), advance to the national tournament. Those are benchmarks for a program and our seniors know they’re paving the way for the underclassmen. Hopefully getting to the tournament isn’t a big accomplishment, it’s an expected accomplishment every year.
“We have a new arena coming that’s going to take the program to another level.”
UNO athletic director Trev Alberts says the arena signifies that Mav hockey matters.
“You can tell people hockey is very important to your school but if you don’t even have a place you can call home and practice in, it’s difficult to get the kind of talent in here you ultimately need.”
He says the arena will put the program on near equal footing with its stiffest competitors.
“When I hired Dean I really wanted to have somebody who’d been there, done that, who knew what it took to win at the highest levels.
There’s built-in disadvantages to being in Omaha, so far from hockey hotbeds. I just feel good we’re finally able to give he and his staff some tools necessary to assemble the kind of talent we hope to have here.”
Having its own intimate space will benefit UNO, which shares the huge CenturyLink with Creighton. The average hockey crowd of 8,000 downtown still leaves the venue half-empty. That same crowd fills the new arena. It should spike demand from fans and corporate sponsors.
Die-hard hockey fan Ernie May, who’s never missed a UNO home game, says, “I can’t wait to get into our own building. I think that’s going to be fantastic and make the interest grow.”
“Clearly this will be the best opportunity we’ve ever had to have a branded-out facility of excellence our student athletes can compete in,” says Alberts.
Omaha hockey historian and former UNO sports information director Gary Anderson says, “They’re going to go into an arena exactly the right size they need for the fan base they’ve created.” He says there was never any doubt Omaha could sustain college hockey. “When the program was born you still did have a lot of old-time hockey fans and the Lancers were around the peak of their success, so consequently UNO built a really good fan base right from the start.”
That loyal base bodes good times ahead.
“I’ve been absolutely amazed and humbled by the support UNO hockey fans give to this team, even in some pretty poor years,” Alberts says. “Our fans are hungry and we’re hungry to give them what they want, which is a consistent winner on the ice.”
May enjoys that the Mavs are meshing to put themselves in position to make history: “For me this year almost has as much excitement as the first years we had hockey.”
Coach Blais is trying to ensure his team attends to all the details heading into the intense post-season, where little things become magnified and championship teams find ways to win. UNO getting swept on the road at St. Cloud State (Feb. 20-21) resembled the late season swoons it’s suffered in past years.
“I don’t know if we have any more than we’ve given already,” he says. “How many times can you go to the well? My teams at North Dakota could operate at 70 percent and still win. We’re not there yet. Our margin for error’s slim. We’ve got to be all engines going, we can’t have one engine not running. We’re darn close. It starts with recruiting and we’ve been lucky enough to land some dandies.”
Even if UNO should reach the top, he says, “it’s one thing to get there, it’s another thing to stay there.” First things, first.
Massa says, “Every single one of us believes in our potential. None of us doubts we can be playing at the Boston Garden (site of the Frozen Four) competing for a national championship this year. We’ve played against the best all year and we’ve done well against the best.”
Zombo can’t imagine what a UNO hockey title would mean.
“I wouldn’t be able to explain. I’ve never been a part of anything like that that’s a dream.”
UNO’s dream ride continues at home Friday, March 6 and Saturday, March 7. Listen on 1180 The Zone 2.
Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.
As much as I enjoy writing about the arts and artists, I equally enjoy writing about athletics and athletes. I finally caught up with a former football great from Nebraska, Joe Arenas, who has never really gotten his full due. If the name isn’t familiar, it’s because his professional and college exploits happened about 60 years ago. And though he was a very fine player – so good that he is still among the NFL’s all-time leaders in career kick return average – his jack of all trades verstality as a returner, running back, receiver, and defensive back made it hard for him to really stand out except as a returner. When you come right down to it, how many returners other than maybe Gale Sayers, Travis Williams, Brian Mitchell, Eric Metcalf, and Devin Hester really made a dent in the national consciousness? Sayers was of course a great running back in addition to being a great returner. The other thing working against Arenas was that he had two future NFL Hall of Fame teammates, in Joe Perry and Hugh McElhenny, who got most of the offensive touches out of the backfield. Before playing pro ball Arenas starred in the single-wing at then-Omaha University, where again he did a little of everything. In the single-wing Joe played a half-back spot in that offense but he did everything a quarterback does. Before he ever played college ball Joe served as a U.S. Marine in World War II. He was wounded at Iwo Jima. My story about Joe for El Perico newspaper refers to the fact that Arenas was among a small number of Hispanic football players who made a mark in the game. I also reference how Omaha U., which today is the University of Nebraska at Omaha, is where another athlete of color, Marlin Briscoe, played quarterback in an era when that was very rare at a predominantly white university. What I didn’t mention in the article is that a third athlete of color with local ties, Wilburn Hollis, played quarterback at two mostly white institutions, first at Boys Town and then at the University of Iowa. I was delighted to find Joe a still vital man in his late 80s.
Homegrown Joe Arenas made his mark in college and the NFL
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in El Perico
The longer out it is from the University of Nebraska at Omaha dropping football in 2011, the more its gridiron greats recede into obscurity.No one should forget (Guadalupe) Joe Arenas.This son of Mexican immigrants was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and grew up in Lincoln, Neb. during the Depression. Small but determined, Little Joe didn’t play organized football until college yet he still made the National Football League. The high school basketball standout made the varsity hoops squad at the University of Nebraska before transferring to then-Omaha University, where he played both sports, becoming one of America’s most accomplished Hispanic athletes.
He won All-American football honors as UNO’s do-everything offensive cog (1947-1950), averaging 200-plus yards total offense as a junior and finishing sixth in the nation in total offense as a senior. As the go-to back in the single-wing, a precursor to the spread formation, he received snaps from center, called plays, ran, handed-off, passed, caught and punted the ball. He returned kicks and played defense, too.
Two decades later another athlete of color, Marlin Briscoe, became the first black starting quarterback at UNO and in the NFL.
San Francisco made Arenas UNO’s first NFL draftee as an 8th round pick. He enjoyed seven productive years (1951-1957) at halfback, returner and defensive back. He once led the league in kickoff returns and retired as the all-time returns leader. He still ranks ninth in league history in career kickoff return average (27.3).
“If I got one or two blocks, that’s all I needed,” Arenas says. “Just get me started and I’d try to maneuver around and shake ’em off. Just shifty, that’s all. I used to get out early to see teams practice. I’d study their punter and kicker – where they hit it, how far they hit it, getting to know their habits, so I’d know where to stand and what to do.”
After fielding the ball, he let his smarts, instincts and athletic ability take over, netting career marks of 3,798 kickoff return yards and 774 punt return yards. He brought back both a punt and a kickoff for scores. From scrimmage he compiled 987 rushing and 675 receiving yards and scored 16 touchdowns. He also threw a touchdown.
Upon leaving the 49ers he laid off two years to mend injuries before trying out with the Boston Patriots of the new AFL. He soon retired for good. En route home to San Francisco his back flared up and he recuperated in Houston, falling in love with his physical therapist. He stayed, they married and the couple raised two daughters.
He remained in Texas coaching football, working with receivers for College Football Hall of Famer Bill Yeoman at the University of Houston. In the 1980 Cotton Bowl the Cougars upset Nebraska 17-14 when an Arenas receiver made the game-winning grab in the end zone with 19 seconds left. Arenas sent several proteges to the NFL.
Long before any of that, he put athletics on hold and his life on the line serving in the U.S. Marines. He took part in the amphibious landing on the Japanese-fortified volcanic island of Iwo Jima, where he and his fellow “no guts-no glory” grunts staged the bloodiest assault of the Pacific theater. American troops storming the beach were pinned down under heavy fire. Arenas dug in and prayed.
“I got hit the very next day. It was a shrapnel wound and they carried me down the beach, where I got evacuated, and I’m glad I did because that was quite some campaign there. Oh man, I’ll tell you, I was probably fortunate to get hit and get the hell out of there. All my buddies got shot up.
“That was the worst place anybody could have been. The Marine Corps lost more on that island than they ever lost anywhere. The Japanese had the advantage. They were up on two highlands and we were down in a valley. They could see everything going on right down below them. All they had to do was look down their scopes. They were picking us off like clay pigeons. But we had enough force and enough people and material and guts (to prevail).”
He didn’t let his back wound slow his athletic career. He competed with the best, including three 49ers teammates who made the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Joe Perry, Hugh McElhenny and Y.A. Tittle.
Playing in an era before collective bargaining and free agency, he never made more than $10,000. Like other players then Arenas worked a regular off-season job to make ends meet. He was a salesman for spice giant McCormick and Company.
He “never thought” himself or the few other Hispanic players active then, like Tom Fears or Eddie Saenz, as groundbreakers. He’s proud Hispanics have since shined: Joe Kapp, Tom Flores, Jim Plunkett, Jeff Garcia. At 49er gatherings he’s met franchise legends John Brodie, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice. But there, like at UNO alumni events, few teammates are around. “There’s not too many left,” says Arenas, who at 89 is now a widower living in a Webster, Texas retirement center.
Coming back to Neb. gets harder. Besides, there’s no more football at UNO. “I’m really saddened by UNO not playing football anymore.”
He still enjoys watching the game on television, the coach in him critiquing players’ techniques and lack of hustle. He still signs bubble gum cards with his likeness on them that fans and collectors send him.
Gone, but not forgotten.