Photo Showcase: Shrine Bowl Media Day
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CRETE, Neb. — All-Nebraska football player Trey Foster just graduated from Lincoln Southeast. He'll celebrate his last months of freedom before college by skipping them entirely.
Foster prepped for Saturday's Shrine Bowl with a week's worth of practice at Doane College. On Sunday, he'll move into a dorm. On Monday, he'll report as a Nebraska walk-on and attend his first college class. Anthropology.
Nervous. Calm. Anxious. Foster feels all of it.
“I can't really ignore it,” he said Thursday at the South team's on-field press conference.
Neither can several of the Shrine Bowl players who join NU's program Monday as part of a strong walk-on class. The one in-state Husker scholarship signee from the 2012 class — tight end Sam Cotton — isn't playing Saturday because of an injury. But 13 members of that walk-on class are.
“I wanted to get that head start, to where my body needs to be, in that Husker program,” Elkhorn running back Graham Nabity said.
Said Omaha Burke back-receiver Jordan Nelson: “I didn't want to get lazy.”
“It's going to be fun,” said Grand Island quarterback Ryker Fyfe. “To Improve. Get bigger and stronger in the weight room. Learn the plays.”
Nabity's right. It is a head start. But one that walk-ons have to pay for out of their own pockets. Unlike scholarship players, a walk-on foots the bill for classes, dorms, meals, books. With the campus empty, it's a grueling, pricey boarding school.
And most of the Husker walk-ons had partial or full scholarship offers to Football Championship Subdivision or Division II programs. Tuition whittled down or paid for entirely. More playing time.
Still, Nebraska hauled in 19 walk-ons — including 10 who made The World-Herald's All-Nebraska first or second teams — in 2012, its largest crop in years.
“Passing up a free education is a very difficult thing to do,” Foster said. “I had to have a long conversation with both of my parents. Ultimately, they let me make the decision for myself.”
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Foster had an offer to South Dakota State. Unlike Cambridge offensive lineman Mike Shoff, who will play at SDSU, Foster turned it down to join a pack of guys at tight end, where Nebraska may recruit three scholarship players for 2013. And where his Southeast teammate, Cotton, received a scholarship.
But Foster's been camping at Nebraska since the eighth grade. And he's been hearing since the second grade — when he moved to Lincoln from Alabama — that he'd playing for the Huskers. Those roots are hard to cut.
“Just thinking about all that — everyone I know — all the family atmosphere that Nebraska has to sell, it seems like great opportunities,” said Foster, who finished with 59 tackles and 312 sacks last year in Southeast's dominant defense. “Of course there's a chip on my shoulder that I didn't get a scholarship right away ... but there are a lot of guys who didn't get the opportunity I got. I'm just humbled to be offered walk-on eligibility.”
A few walk-ons may see the field earlier on special teams. Aurora lineman Garret Johns told World-Herald partner HuskersIllustrated.com that he'll work on becoming NU's next long-snapper when P.J. Mangieri exhausts his eligibility after next season. Grand Island's Sam Foltz may be an heir apparent to Brett Maher at punter.
Others, like Foster, will try to make an impression at crowded positions. Most will have to gain weight or at least redistribute their current weight into more muscle mass. The 6-5 Fyfe wants to gain 20 to 30 pounds. Nabity — 6-0, 205 — said coaches want him to gain 20 pounds, too. Might as well get started with Nebraska's lifting regimen.
That one day of summer vacation? Nabity's OK with that.
“It's just time to move on,” he said. “Be an adult.”
One walk-on who will wait until August before enrolling is Gretna fullback-linebacker Andy Janovich, one of the standouts this week in the South team's practices. Janovich said NU coach Bo Pelini told walk-ons that if they weren't ready to commit in June, they wouldn't be that far behind when fall camp opened.
“It'll be the last summer to hang out with my family,” Janovich said. “The next four, five years I'll be football, football, football.”
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