March 18, 2011

Husker Buzz: UNO kicker would be perfect fit at NU

With the loss of kickers Alex Henery and Adi Kunalic on Nebraska's roster this spring, the Huskers have quite a hole to fill.

Henery was a first team All-American and the most accurate field goal kicker in NCAA history, while Kunalic was arguably the best touchback man in all of college football.

When you look at NU's current kickers and punters on roster along with incoming freshman Mauro Bondi the Huskers obviously have a stable of bodies to work with, but there's another potential name that I think could really help them get by in 2011.

Nebraska -Omaha kicker Greg Zuerlein was an All-American place kicker in 2009 and he led all of Division II in touchbacks both in 2008 and 2009.

The 6-foot, 195 pound 2006 Lincoln Pius X graduate was forced to take a medical redshirt in 2010 and was granted a sixth year of eligibility in 2011. With the Mavericks recently dropping their football program Zuerlein's name has been a hot commodity with Division I coaches as he's already been contacted by Minnesota, Kansas and Oklahoma State.

A source also tells me Nebraska is giving Zuerlein a hard look, but the biggest question remains his eligibility status. Because of Division II rules, Zuerlein is currently enrolled part-time to retain his eligibility this semester, though his recovery from his December labrum surgery wouldn't have allowed him to work out this spring anyway.

The question now is what would his eligibility status be at the Division I level? The 10 full-time semester rule in Division II allows him to keep playing at that level. A source with knowledge of the rules told me in order to get a sixth year at the Division I level Zuerlein would either have to prove he was also injured during his original redshirt year in 2006 or be granted a special waver by the NCAA because of the circumstance at UNO.

When I talked to Zuerlein on Wednesday the news at UNO was still sinking in for him and he was in by no means in a hurry to make decision on his future plans. Zuerlein needs just six credit hours to graduate from Nebraska-Omaha, so more than likely he would play somewhere for just the fall semester of 2011 and graduate at UNO.

It's a pretty tough circumstance for Zuerlein and his family to deal with, because you are talking about somebody with NFL ability. Hopefully the NCAA will be lenient with is situation if he indeed tries to transfer to a Division I school. From our conversation on Wednesday he made it sound like it shouldn't be a problem.

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I'm hearing more and more good things about sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez and his off-season.

Martinez has become more vocal and has done his best to improve his leadership skills over the off-season. This obviously won't be an overnight transformation for Martinez, but it sounds like he's taking a step in the right direction.

The next step for him will actually be addressing reporters after a practice, which is something he's yet to do over his entire career. Hopefully we'll get a chance to talk with Martinez after the break.

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It was good to see quarterback Kody Spano got a year of eligibility back after suffering two different ACL knee injuries which have basically sidelined him for his first three years here at Nebraska.

In other roster news, how about the development of defensive tackle Thaddeus Randle. The 6-foot-1 Randle came to NU weighing 255 pounds in 2009 and he's now up to 300 pounds. Randle was listed at 280 pounds on the 2010 roster.

I also keep hearing more and more impressive things about wide receivers Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Kenny Bell. I can't wait to see what they bring to the table in the Red-White game.

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I was able to watch South Sioux City (Neb.) junior guard Mike Gesell play for the second time in person this year at the state basketball tournament.

Over 10,000 fans were in the Devaney Center to watch him square off against Lincoln Pius in last Friday's semifinal match-up. Every time I watch him I come away more and more impressed. Doc Sadler needs to get Gesell plain and simple. He hits mid range jump shots and makes plays that current guards on NU's roster can't.

Gesell already has seven Division I offers and it appears teams like Stanford and Marquette are close to coming in next. The scary thing this summer is playing for the prestigious Martin Brothers program in Iowa, Gesell is going to get more exposure. Some of his teammates include North Carolina recruit Marcus Paige and Sioux City (Iowa) East 7-footer Adam Woodbury.

The top three Division I basketball prospects in the state - Gesell, Central's Akoy Agau and Norfolk's Jalen Bradley all play for the Martin Brothers organization. You hate to see the best guys all play for an Iowa AAU program, but I completely understand why they do.

The current AAU pool in Nebraska is watered down with too many different teams taking the best players. Back when the Bison program had just one super team in the 1990's you saw more guys get attention vs. the current system now that feature several different traveling AAU teams around the state.

In my opinion the point of AAU summer basketball is to get Division I recruiting attention, but it seems like in our state it's turned into an extended summer league of all-star teams that can no longer compete against the top flight programs in the country like they once did in the 90's when the Bison program was similar to Martin Brothers in that all the state's best players played on one team.

A coach told me that there were too many hurt feelings from kids that didn't make the "super team," which led to several programs starting and ultimately divided up the talent pool and put AAU basketball in the current state it's in right now.

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Husker nation lost one of its greatest fans and supporters this past week. Bob Billings of Omaha is survived by his wife Colleen and passed away on Mar. 9 at the age of 75.

Billings was inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame in 1990 for his contributions to the Athletic Department over the years. Billings served as the treasurer of the Nebraska Hall of Fame, he was a board member for the Big Red Breakfast and belonged to the UNL Chancellor's, President's, Director's, Power Club and Rebounder's Club.

My friendship with Bob and his wife Colleen started at the Big Red Breakfast in Omaha. Every football Friday for over 30 years Bob and Colleen helped put on the breakfast. They typically would arrive at the Coco Key Hotel at 3:45 am to get things set up and ready for the event - even this past year Bob didn't miss a single breakfast.

Bob will be greatly missed by all. The Big Red Breakfast won't be the same not having him around each week.

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My Final Four picks are Ohio State, Duke, Kansas and Kansas State. I have Kansas beating Duke for the title.

It seems like I pick KU just about every year they get a No. 1 seed, hopefully I guess right this time.


Sean Callahan can be reached at sean@huskersillustrated.com and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha. He can also be seen on WOWT TV in Omaha four nights per week during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.



 

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