Archive for September 29, 2015

Firmly Rooted, the Story of Husker Brothers

September 29, 2015 Leave a comment

Yes, I am the guy who writes about art, film, theater, literature, journalism, culture, African-American Omaha, a hundred and one other subjects, and, oh yeah, sports, too. Here is the promo for my new Hail Varsity cover story about brothers who have excelled in football at Nebraska. That’s followed by an excerpt from the piece. To read the whole thing now, you’ll need to be a subscriber of the magazine or purchase this issue at a newsstand. I will be posting the entire story be the end of the weekend.

Brotherly Bond Highlights New Issue of Hail Varsity

on September 28, 2015 at 10:22 am

The bond between teammates is strong. The bond between brothers is even stronger and the Huskers have had a number of them wear the scarlet and cream over the years.

Writer Leo Adam Biga shares some of those brothers’ stories in the cover story from Volume 4 Issue 10 of Hail Varsity. The cover features a cut-paper illustration by our design director, Quentin Lueninghoener. The latest issue of Hail Varsity ships this week.


Other highlights from the issue:

>>In a new feature that will appear in each issue during volleyball season, Nebraska defensive specialist Sydney Townsend gives us an inside look at the Huskers’ volleyball season with her first player journal.

>>He’s a punter now, but if everything goes according to plan Sam Foltz will get his pilot’s license and be a crop duster some day. He explains why in our Q&A.

>>Which former Husker quarterback had to run a timed 40-yard dash through the hallway of his high school to impress the Nebraska coaches? That player is the subject of our latest Legends of the Fall.

>>Columnist Chuck Sinclair tells the story of returning a Nebraska jersey — the jersey Sinclair got as a walk-on in 1969 — to its rightful owner.

>>Editor Mike Babcock provides some context for the one-game resurgence (so far) of the the fullback at Nebraska.

The latest issue of Hail Varsity will be arriving on newsstands and in mailboxes soon. Not a subscriber? You can remedy that here.


Firmly Rooted, the Story of Husker Brothers


When Husker Football Sometimes Truly Becomes a Band of Brothers

©by Leo Adam Biga

Now appearing in Hail Varsity Magazine.
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.”

NOTE The other brothers profiled in the piece are Chris and Chad Kelsay and Jeff and Joel Makovicka.

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