■ Husker walk-on soaks up final high school football game
It was a moment Nate Boerkircher had planned in his back pocket, just in case he needed it.
The 2020 Aurora grad and Nebraska football walk-on provided one of the best highlight plays Saturday in the country’s return to football.
Boerkircher was a tight end for the South team in the 62nd annual Shrine Bowl game played Saturday at UNK’s Cope Stadium, where he offered a glimpse into what he could bring to the Husker program.
Early in the second quarter, Boerkircher lined up to the outside of the formation and made a beeline for the back corner of the end zone at the snap.
Former Adams Central signal caller Evan Johnson floated a jump ball to the pylon, where Boerkircher pulled the ball out of thin air and wrestled it away from North’s Tyler Stauss for a 26-yard touchdown.
“It was a great formation put in by the coaches. They put in a lot of time working on perfecting the offense,” Boerkircher said. “It was a great ball by Evan and all I had to do was catch it.”
What happened next would be a sign of things to come from the South team and was a big part of what made the Shrine Bowl game so enjoyable.
Boerkircher was flooded by his 44 other teammates in the end zone as the former Husky athlete raced across the end zone where he displayed his former days as a basketball player, dunking the ball through the goal post.
It was just one of several celebrations from the South team Saturday, which also included games of spin the bottle and rowing the boat.
Normally, a celebration like that in the high school game brings with it a penalty. However, they were approved by the coaches and the players did the rest.
Being one for a bit of flair, Boerkircher had a big smile come across his face when asked if he planned his celebration.
“Of course I did,” Boerkircher said with a grin. “The coaches said we could celebrate and our imaginations ran wild.”
The touchdown grab was just one of several highlights for Boerkircher. In all, the Husker walk-on led the game with five receptions for 62 yards and the one score.
While leading the game in receptions and yards, Boerkircher was also a key player in setting the edge for the potent offensive attack that had assistant coach Troy Huebert’s fingerprints all over it.
Something that stuck out over the course of the afternoon was Boerkircher’s ability to block downfield and knowing what Husker coach Scott Frost’s offense looks like. That ability could pay big dividends.
“Coach Troy Huebert almost right away said that outside blocking by the receivers is the most important thing,” Boerkircher said. “He said you can’t play if you can’t block. We focused on that and I feel like I got a lot better through him.”
The Nebraska Shrine Bowl game could be a sign of things to come, or more importantly, how to pull them off during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The football game Saturday in Kearney was the first of its kind since the shutdown back in March.
Boerkircher, who hopes to be playing football in the fall, pointed out that the lessons from the Shrine Bowl could be used to help the game continue through the fall.
“I hope we set the tone here that this can happen,” Boerkircher said. “If it doesn’t spike after this it could show that games are okay.”
Playing in the country’s first football game since the shutdown was a treat for Boerkircher in a number of ways.
Being invited to the Shrine Bowl game at all was an honor, he pointed out, and the chance to team up with several athletes he lined up across from in high school was fun.
“It was a great experience. It’s a lot of guys that you know of, but you don’t personally know them,” Boerkircher said. “It’s great to come together and learn to play together.
“Even if you talk trash to each other during the season, you come together in this atmosphere and become friends. It’s crazy how it works. We had a lot of fun.”
Saturday marked the final time Boerkircher would wear the classic white helmet with the red and black stripe signaling decades of Aurora football tradition.
That helmet has become a statewide signal of success, and Boerkircher was proud to be another in the long list of Husky athletes to participate in the Shrine Bowl game.
“There’s nothing like putting on the Aurora helmet and representing,” Boerkircher said. “It was a great group of guys, getting to know each other and working together. It was an amazing experience.”
Boerkircher played his first game on the hallowed grounds of Memorial Stadium as a junior, catching a pair of touchdowns in Aurora’s C-1 state championship victory.
Now, he’ll be wearing a different shade of red and white.
Boerkircher reported to his new home in Lincoln Sunday, just 24 hours removed from the Shrine Bowl game to begin a two-week quarantine before beginning workouts with the Husker football team.
“I’m very excited to get started,” he said.
‘There’s nothing like putting on the Aurora helmet and representing. It was a great group of guys, getting to know each other and working together. It was an amazing experience.’