As Nebraska's 2018 season faded to black and the countdown clocks started ticking away toward the Cornhuskers’ meeting with South Alabama, fans are feeling something different for the first time in several years. It’s hard to argue that the Big Red’s passion has seemingly — and in 2017, rather obviously — tapered off as the years have winded down as of late. Now, the players are resolute to right the glaring wrongs. The hope of improvement that fans have been clutching to their chests with a death grip has been replaced by extreme anticipation to see the team’s evolution.
In the depths of the Ndamukong Suh Strength and Conditioning Center, at the training table, and in scattered film rooms, the Nebraska football team retires to begin producing a far better product come next fall. With Stanley Morgan Jr., Jerald Foster, Mick Stoltenberg, and Luke Gifford having seen their last snaps, new leadership must step forward. These five Huskers have what it takes to not only get the most out of all teammates between now and next fall but contend for a future captainship.
Adrian Martinez, QB
With the departure of a record-setting receiver in Stanley Morgan Jr., Martinez stands out as the strangely mature leader of Scott Frost’s offense. Quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco recalled a moment during the Ohio State game when his protege's calmness was so apparent, it was concerning. “When we were talking on the headsets, he was so relaxed I thought maybe there was something wrong with him,” Verduzco said. “I’m serious. I’m like, ‘Adrian, you all right?’ He goes, ‘Coach, I’m fine.’”
Frost went with all seniors for his first batch of captains, but Martinez — a true sophomore — is Exhibit A if he chooses to follow his “best player starts” mantra and opens the voting to anyone and everyone on the roster. Regardless of which offensive early enrolees turn in their National Letters of Intent during the upcoming signing period, they’ll no doubt quickly be pointed in Martinez’s direction after dropping off their luggage.
Boe Wilson, OG
The only returning starter from Nebraska’s interior offensive line, the unapologetically ruthless junior-to-be provides the perfect attitude to assist Greg Austin’s future men in the middle. There’s reportedly been plenty of chatter between coaches about sophomore Trent Hixson’s potential and who will snap to Martinez is up in the air right now. That’s a question that may not get answered until spring practice, if then.
Wilson has the opportunity to spread his no-nonsense attitude around, take the newbies under his wing, and help Nebraska get a few steps closer to producing a true pipeline in front of its skill players.
Mohamed Barry, LB
There’s an argument to be made that Barry isn’t just a near-lock to be a defensive captain in 2019. It’s quite possible he’s one of the team’s best examples of attitude and effort. He hasn’t been shy about his personal grudge regarding Nebraska’s 4-8 record as it seems to almost taunt him.
With Barry’s senior season already set up as one of vindication for both the defense and Nebraska as a whole, expect to see the interior linebacker leading the charge both on and off the field.
Lamar Jackson, CB
Jackson’s fall from grace and subsequent rise back to prominence is an excellent example for everyone on the roster. With the graduation of Tre Neal, Antonio Reed and Aaron Williams, the secondary needs someone to fill their shoes in terms of guidance. Considering Jackson has NFL aspirations, it’s a necessity that his senior season is one where he shines both athletically and from the standpoint of being able to rally his team.
Damien Jackson, DL
The 26-year-old sophomore already had the credentials of a leader walking through the door as a former Navy SEAL. He also has all of the measurables to turn into a force on the defensive side of the ball within the next couple of seasons. Regardless of when his playing time increases, it’s hard to deny that he can be pointed to as someone who will go the extra mile to accomplish any goal without a fuss, but rather with gusto. As an emotional leader, Jackson already has the chops and that can only make the entire team better in the long run while he works his way towards more snaps on game day.
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces). To contact him with tips, story ideas or for interview purposes, click here.