A big day for Honas, Huskers

Nebraska’s hibernation period appears to have come to an end, and no, I’m not referring to the terrible, rotten weather we’ve all experienced since December.
Rather, Husker football hibernation, extending back nearly 20 years, coincidentally around the same time head coach Scott Frost led the Huskers to their last national championship back in 1997.
But those dark ages now may be over. The Huskers took their first step back to college football relevance by wrapping up spring drills this past week, including the spring game on Saturday that drew a record crowd of 86,818 mouth-watering fans anxious to soak in all of the positive energy inside Memorial Stadium.
Their deafening roar as Frost led his first team in the tunnel walk sounded exactly like a fan base that finally woke up.
Prior to that, during warm ups, Husker offensive players who were already on the field gathered to form a line to welcome the defensive players onto the field. And then the entire team lined up, two by two, when they exited the field just prior to kickoff.
At halftime, the Husker volleyball team received their national championship rings, and there was even a college student later on who caught a machine driven punt, winning $25,000.
All good stuff, but the big story line was our small town Nebraska kids trying to make it big in Lincoln. For sure Frost, who’s from Wood River, but also Aurora’s Todd Honas and Austin Allen. Both saw significant playing time and both made significant strides with this 2018 team.
Todd, a 5’11,’’ 195 lb. sophomore, in fact made his first catch in a “game” since high school, a first quarter reception from walk-on quarterback Andrew Bunch for seven yards. It was the first of a game-leading six receptions on the day for the former Husky, good for 48 yards.
It was an active day for the wide receiver, but he told me right after the game ended that he wasn’t one bit tired.
“No, I’m not tired. I’m not,” he said. “I could go another day.”
He said his first quarter catch was just a bubble play, a run-pass option by the quarterback.
“He just threw it out to me and it was a good play. I was just making a play. I’ve been working for it (a catch) since I’ve been here, so I’m trying to get to the point where it’s second nature. I just put it all together.”
Todd also was involved in a second quarter turnover when he took the handoff on a jet sweep to his right, eventually pulling up next to the west sideline to look for a receiver downfield, only to have it intercepted by cornerback Lamar Jackson.
“We actually put that play in last night,” he told me. “I was looking to throw it away and got hit from behind, and it came out like a duck. I said, ‘oh shoot.’”
His most explosive play came on a third quarter catch and run, good for 21 yards from UCF transfer Noah Vedral, down to the Red team’s 20-yard line.
“That’s just an option route,” Todd said about the play. “I was either going to break out or break in, and I broke in. I was trying to score. I saw green grass and I wanted to go to the house on that one but got tackled.”
He said he thinks he’s third team now on the slot receiver position behind fellow sophomores Tijon Lindsay and J.D. Spielman (who was hurt). He told me that overall, he’s had a good spring camp.
“I know I’ve moved up the depth chart, which is really encouraging for me, but I still have a long ways to go. I hope this fall I can be that guy to get out there on the field.”
He said the nearly 90,000 in attendance didn’t faze him much because he’s experienced the atmosphere on game days in the past. “But it’s always special.”
In this new offense, Todd said he switched from the outside receiver to the inside slot position.
“It puts me in the backfield, too. But I can play outside. I know the playbook well enough, so I can do both. Inside is just where I fit the best. This playbook is all about the speed.”
He also said that because the new offensive coaches are signaling in all the plays, that it makes it so much easier for him.
“Obviously I can’t hear that well so that just takes it to another level for me.”
He confirmed that winter conditioning was difficult, which has been well documented by the media. But he also said workouts were similar to what the program has done in the past.
“It’s maybe cranked up times 10 or so,” he pointed out. “Zach Duval is one of the best strength coaches in the country. He got us all ready. I lost seven pounds of fat but I put on about nine points of muscle, which is big. And that’s just one winter with him. We have this summer as well, so we’ll just keep going from there.”
As for special teams, Todd told me that he’s on all of them, looking for that vaunted playing time.
“I’m going to embrace special teams. Coaches say if you can’t play special teams, you can’t play in a game, so I’ll do that and hopefully see the field (on offense), too.”
As for the new coaches, Todd said the climate around the team has changed.
“The biggest thing is guys are excited to play football again. I think the energy’s back. All the fans bring energy, too, but inside the locker room, the energy’s back and that wasn’t there before.”
Husker fans shouldn’t fool themselves. What ended up being one huge pep rally of a day for Big Red Nation must first be tempered with the fact that this program was somewhat lucky just to win four games a year ago.
There’s still miles and miles to go in order to make it back to where we all want the football program to be. But for Nebraska’s new coach, Todd and Austin, Saturday’s performance was a huge step forward.

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