clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Nebraska Gameweek Press Conference Notes

No, he did not announce a starting quarterback.

@NUFBFamily on Twitter.

This week, the media spoke to head coach Pat Fitzgerald and three of his newly announced captains — running backs Evan Hull and Andrew Clair and linebacker Bryce Gallagher. These are the most important highlights of each of their brief sessions.

Pat Fitzgerald

Opening statement: “Happy football season, great to be with everybody, and welcome to the 2022 Wildcat season. Starting off I want to give great credit to our captains who got elected. This group is something that I think is really special. I’ll start with Adetomiwa Adebawore — just as you watch his growth every year in our program, he really took the team over this January. His relentless work ethic, his attitude, have just been outstanding. Same thing on offense with Evan Hull. We have some of our leadership council members speak during camp, and Evan gave one of the best we’ve ever had about what it means to be a great teammate and what he’s learned since he’s been here. And then Andrew Clair, to transfer into the program now and to see the respect level that our guys have for him, it’s incredible. I don’t know how else to describe it. And that’s where he’s been since the day that he got here. Then the two underclassmen with Peter Skoronski and Bryce Gallagher, both guys are outstanding representations of the team. We had many other guys get votes, but these five guys were the highest vote-getters, so I’m proud of them. Ray Niro III receiving the honor to be named the Wildcat jersey number one, coming in as a former walk-on earning a scholarship — the way he’s gone about, getting himself into this role has been incredible.

“We’ll have one more practice here in Evanston [Tuesday] morning, then we’ll head out to O’hare and go wheels up to get to Dublin Wednesday morning with an opportunity to get back to the hotel, check-in, have a nice breakfast, head over to Aviva Stadium and get a chance to run through and stretch our legs a little bit. And then, after that we’re on our typical Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Saturday routine. We really wanted to make this something special. The overwhelming majority of our team has never left the country, let alone been to Ireland. So with the Big 10 giving us a bye the week after, we’re going to stay in the country on Sunday and give our guys an opportunity to spend some time to soak in as much of the culture and as much of the country as we possibly can, then fly back here on Monday. Everybody at the Aer Lingus College Football Classic has been incredible to deal with, logistics are set, and now we just got to finish up our prep against a very talented Nebraska football team.”

It wasn’t the first question he answered, but on the starting quarterback: “I’m not going to tell you anything about that.”

On defensive players leaving an impact in camp: “I’ve been so impressed by Tomi. That jumps out to me, I mean, there’s no doubt that he’s you separated himself from a leadership standpoint across the entire team and we’ve got outstanding leadership, so that says something special about him. That whole group up front, we’ve added a few new pieces, and that group came in right away with a great attitude. Gallagher I think really stood out, and I think it’s appropriate that he was named captain. On the back end, Cam Mitchell and AJ [Hampton Jr.] had been really really good along with Coco [Azema]. That group is way more experienced through what they went through last year. I can list more but I feel really solid about that side of the ball from a leadership standpoint.”

On the difficulties of preparing for a Nebraska team experiencing significant turnover: “This is the absolute norm for my staff. It seems like every year in the opener, it’s a new head coach or multiple new coordinators. We’re kind of used to this. You don’t start in August, right? This starts way back when in January and you do your offseason studies. You kind of put together your preliminary game plans, you go through spring ball, see what the new pieces look like. And then kind of tweak that plan over the summer. And then you go through training camp and see if there’s any rookies, you know any freshmen that can get into the mix. But it’s a lot. You pop on LSU tape, and you see Trey Palmer and you’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, there he is. This dude’s a freak.’ You pop on the Texas tape and there’s Casey [Thompson] right away, jumping out to you. And then, when you pop on the success that Coach Whipple had the last few years at Pitt. Then they’re going to match that with Coach Frost’s offense and the things that he believes in and how they do things at Nebraska. We’re gonna have our hands full, especially in the first quarter. We’re going to have to plan to adjust with poise. More importantly, as always, in the opener it’s about how you execute the turnover ratio, making sure you can make big plays in the kicking game and minimize those against you. Conditioning will be a factor even though we’re playing at 5:30 and it looks like it might be in the low 60s and feel a little bit more like a fall day. I’m not sure any of the offensive or defensive linemen on either team will be overly upset about that.”

On transfers coming in and making an impact: “First of all, the guys came in with a great attitude and hungry to earn their teammates' trust. Our returning players have always embraced newcomers, and that whole group had a great, great offseason and that’s carried over into a really great camp. It’s a new time, it’s a new era — your roster is a year-to-year roster. You’ve got to be really nimble and ready to adjust. And what’s most important to us is that we bring in the guys that fit who we are as a program. We go back and look at their transcripts out of high school, we go back and talk to their high school coaches, we talked to position coaches at the institution that they’re coming to us from, the head coach, anybody else I mean, we really vet this group because the culture of our locker rooms is the most important thing. We feel like we’ve hit some grand slams here with this year’s class.”

On the refurbished special teams unit: “Will [Halkyard] has been with us for a number of years as a snapper and was ready to go in a moment’s notice last year. We’ve done a lot of wet ball drills with not only our specialists but also our quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends. It looks like the weather is going to be absolutely perfect, but you gotta always anticipate rain. We got to know Luke [Akers] and Jack [Olsen] out of high school. And you know, Jack being here for a couple of years, some familiarity with what we do and how we do things. And then Luke being here for the whole offseason has helped. So those three guys are ready to go, and they’ve all three had really good camps. We also added Adam Stage to the kicking group and he’s been really solid too.”

On the running back room: “It’s great to have Cam [Porter] back, he’s been great in training camp. And now as we’ve rolled into game week, he’s been the Cam that we all know. Evan, like I said, having been elected captain, I think speaks volumes to the respect level and the effort that he’s put in. And then with Andrew Clair and Anthony Tyus, we feel really good about the competitive depth in that room. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep those guys healthy, and we’ll see how things play out as the season goes along.”

On the O-line outside of Peter Skoronski: “I feel great about the O-line. Ethan [Wiederkehr] coming back for a sixth year adds a ton of experience. Charlie Schmidt, again, a lot of experience there and Josh Priebe, those guys have played a lot of ball and we’re gonna really lean on them. I don’t think that group is really too worried about Peter getting hype in the preseason. I feel really great about that group. Vincent Picozzi coming in adds competitive depth, Conrad Rowley, he’s played a ton ball, and Dom D’Antonio. Ben Wrather’s had a great camp, Caleb Tiernan has been really solid. I can keep going. We’ve got a deep group there and Kurt Anderson’s done a really good job add depth through recruiting.”

On whether he thinks Northwestern can have a bounce-back year: “Coming into spring ball, we looked like a different squad. I was here all but a couple of days this summer and the way that we went through the workouts, I felt like we had our squad back. I feel like we got our edge back and our identity back. But, we’re going to face adversity for the first time here in Dublin, and that’ll be a great challenge for our leadership that I feel is in a great place now. That leadership really is going to step up when you face adversity, and I expect and fully anticipate that it will. But that’ll be what I’ll learn about this squad kind of finishing up this first phase of the season as far as training camp, and we’d zero with how we handle that end-game adversity. This is gonna be a huge challenge for us, but I know our guys are excited for the opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime game.”

RB Evan Hull

On how continuity and experience will benefit the offense: “I mean, we got the guys for it. And we got the talent now which is all about putting it together. And I think we’ve done that this offseason. We’ve all put in the work and now it’s just time to go and execute. I feel confident in all the guys we have from the wide receivers to the O-line to the quarterbacks, so we’re just excited to go and play at this point.

On training with Colin Kaepernick and Footwork King in the offseason: “It was just a blessing to be able to go out there and play ball and learn from from guys who have been through the process for all kinds of walks of football, some guys in college, some guys in the NFL. And so really I was just a sponge out there. Just taking it all in. And using that experience to kind of help me build up to this season.”

On what the rest of the running back room brings to the table: “It’s an exciting group we have for sure, and we all push each other in practice in the offseason and everything. I think that’s just kind of the attitude of the group, we’re all striving to get better every single day. And so we use that to compete with each other in all types of different scenarios from watching film to what we do out on the field to footwork. I wouldn’t want a different group to go out there to battle with because we all push each other. At the end of the day, we’re brothers so while we compete when it comes to game time, we’re all wearing the same color and we want to each other succeed.”

“We all got our different strengths for sure. I think that’s what makes our group so dangerous. Like [Andrew Clair], for example, he’s got great feet. And he runs with an attitude to him, he can bring the boom. I feel like he’s really a complete back. You got Cam who’s really working on his playmaking this ability this offseason. He always runs with some thump to him, too. [Anthony Tyus] puts that foot in the ground. He’s already in the second level, and he runs with a physicality that’s just unique to him. And then myself, I feel like I got the speed for it and I can catch out the backfield. So we really all complement each other.”

On being named team captain: “It’s an honor. Leading a team is definitely a privilege and not a right. I’m honored that my teammates have faith in me as a leader and as a player to represent the program. Now I just got to go and do what I do, and it’s just nice to know that my teammates have my back in that they chose me for that role.”

On the team’s mental approach to the season: “I think just starting from the offseason, a big thing we’ve kind of nipped the bud on is our discipline and our accountability, starting from the leadership down. That has been a huge step up for this program. We’re getting more leaders from our team, and it’s not just coming from the coaches. We really took a hold of our team from the players out, and that’s made all the difference.”

LB Bryce Gallagher

On being named captain: “It’s a privilege to be named captain alongside all the other captains. It’s truly something special for me to know that my teammates see me as the leader of this team. And I’m going to give them everything I have in that role. I think everyone’s come a long way since last year, and I think we’ve had a lot of leaders step up all throughout the defense and on the team. And just kind of like Evan was saying, where we’re leading from the inside out. Everyone’s taken huge strides from last year, and I feel like we have a really good core leadership group on this team.”

On players stepping up in the LB group: “We have great depth in the linebacker room. We’re all pushing each other and making each other better day-in-day-out getting through the film together, bouncing stuff off each other. Everyone has that great football IQ and then is able to go out on the field and execute — that’s the biggest thing. The execution aspect is such a big thing, and I’ve been really happy with everyone in the room. I’m really excited to watch whoever goes out there play and execute and fly around and just be confident themselves and have fun.”

On improving communication in the backfield: “I think that starts with me. There were definitely times last year when my communication failed, but I’m learning from that this year and making sure that I’m being loud and confident with my communication out there. I think it’s definitely an area where I’ve grown throughout the offseason. So that definitely falls on my shoulders and I take great pride in that.”

On preparing to face a very new Nebraska offense: “I think it’s a tremendous challenge. But when it comes to us, we just got to trust our coaching. Listen to them. Just trust what they’re telling us. They brought in great players and we know they’re going to be a great offense this year. They got playmakers all over the field. They got speed, they’re physical, and they got a great run game. They do a lot of different things. The quarterback, he’s got a great arm, he’s athletic. So we know they’re going to be a great offense like I said, and we get to just show up and do our job and execute at the end of the day.”

RB Andrew Clair

On two RBs being named captains and the leadership of the room: “It speaks a lot to a lot of different things. You can see the type of leadership that comes out of our room, the type of energy that comes from the impact that comes from the room. And it’s just really great to see how much the team has actually felt from the energy and the impact that has come from that room. It’s huge. I guess it speaks measures that really you can’t put words to.”

On being named captain after just one year with the program: “I feel like it’s more so respect coming from the team than it is confidence. I’ve been playing this game for a while, and I kind of build the confidence. Just having respect from the team and being able to give that respect back, being seen as a leader, being seen as a person that people will come to just to want to talk to, being a part of people’s lives, being a light in people’s lives, being motivated is really big. Just being able to have an impact after being here only for a year is really crazy. I love my team. I hope my teammates love me.”

On mentality heading into Nebraska and executing in critical situations like third down: “I feel like one major thing that became different than it was last year is we’re going to overcome those situations. We’re going to embrace those situations. I feel like that’s one of the biggest differences that we have from now and last year. They really don’t have to look to me, because they all have it within themselves. We all have within ourselves now. And I feel like that’s a huge difference. The confidence of this team, the sky’s the limit. We get into those uncomfortable situations and we became comfortable now.”

On his comfort levels heading into his second year under OC Mike Bajakian: “First off, I really feel like we’ve all gotten more comfortable as an offense. Instead of being able to speak to assignments, we now speak to details. We can now take it to the next level, a level that will help us win those games in those situations that we were just talking about. It gives us confidence and gives us belief in the offense, belief in the plays that we’re calling, the plays that we’re running and running them to perfection each and every day.”