The dreary start to Nebraska football’s latest chapter has resulted in several side effects and believe it or not, there are some positive ones. One of these is that head coach Scott Frost and his staff are discovering which players are truly on board to ride or die with their culture and vision for the future. That’s extremely important for the long-term benefit of the program.
Players can practice well and coaches can report that they’re doing what’s necessary in their day-to-day lives, but what ultimately matters is what happens on game day and the results don’t lie: the roster as a whole is struggling. However, there is one way this can be addressed and that is by identifying appropriate guys that should sit at the head of the table for the rest to emulate.
Before this season began, players voted on captains to represent them and take charge of the team. Offensive guard Jerald Foster, wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr., nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg and linebacker Luke Gifford were chosen, all seniors. Through four games, this group doesn’t appear to be the best bunch for Nebraska’s coaching staff to point to as examples to follow on the field where they’re needed most. It doesn’t help that Stoltenberg is out of action for an unknown period of time.
Frost gave us a clear idea of what his program needs the most from its captains following last Saturday’s loss. “In order to have a disciplined team, you have to have guys that really care, and guys that are accountable and you have to have an environment where they’re held accountable,” he said. “It’s all of the little things that they do, on and off the field. It all comes down to caring enough to do it right. It comes down to caring enough to do it right on Monday, on Tuesday, when you’re supposed to be in study hall, when you’re supposed to be at class, the way you treat the people that serve you food in the lunch line. People that do all those things the right way are winners, and they win.”
This does, indeed, translate to on-the-field performance for at least a handful of Huskers. In keeping with the number of players named captain prior to the season – a limit of two on offense and another two on defense – the following distribution of captain status seems most appropriate moving forward:
Devine Ozigbo, Sr., RB
Many felt Ozigbo would play a lesser role in Frost’s offense, but as fall camp continued, he was making a clear case to get snaps in every contest. Four games in, he’s the Huskers’ leading rusher with 260 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. While Nebraska fell 42-28 to Purdue, Ozigbo still had a career day with 17 carries for 170 yards and two scores.
He has found another gear in addition to his battering ram-style, as he's averaging 6.65 yards per carry, making him an extremely dangerous weapon if he can get blocks up front and downfield.
Stanley Morgan Jr., Sr., WR
The only original captain that clearly has the passion to put the team on his shoulders when it’s time to play, choosing Morgan was actually a very difficult call to make despite him being completely deserving. Sophomore JD Spielman has shown just how versatile he is (watch the Purdue tape alone to see this) and he has a clear future as one of Nebraska’s leaders. However, Morgan still can haul in 50-50 throws with the best of them and leads the team in receiving yards despite recording six fewer catches than Spielman.
If the rules were bent, Spielman would easily be the fifth man, but for the sake of fairness, Morgan rightfully holds the mantle in his final year as a Cornhusker.
Mohamed Barry, Jr., LB
When comparing Barry to any other linebacker that wears a Blackshirt, there are none that match his athleticism, nose for the ball or ferocity and that includes current captain Luke Gifford. Does that mean Gifford wants to win any less? Absolutely not, but again, we’re underscoring the players that have put it all together and give their team the best chance to win when it comes time to earn their scholarships.
Fans have been wondering how long it’d be until Barry broke through and the wait has most certainly been worth it. While he may only carry this unofficial title, he’s making a strong case to his team that he can represent them all with style in 2019.
Dicaprio Bootle, So., CB
The Mike Riley-recruited Miami native is the only member of the Nebraska secondary to wear a Blackshirt in practice and appropriately is the least advisable defensive back for offenses to challenge. Bootle relayed a notice appropriate for a captain following the Purdue game.
“The message in the locker room is we’re going to keep fighting. If you don’t want to fight no more, that’s okay. You can get gone. If you’re gonna fight, then let’s ride."
This collection of players may not represent the Big Red when it’s time for the pregame coin toss, but be sure to watch them moving forward and see if you can disagree that they appear to be doing everything Frost demands before putting on the pads.
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces) plus keep up with the Quick N Dirty podcasts and stat-filled features on his Patreon page.