This year seems bleak, but upperclassmen know future is bright

October 8, 2018

MADISON, Wis. — Stanley Morgan sat at the podium, his eyes glistening in the camera lights.

His voice was nasally. The white of his eyes pink: 0-5 isn’t what he turned the NFL down for.

Chalk up another loss on the senior wide receiver’s résumé. He has suffered through 24 since stepping onto campus. By the end of Morgan’s career, he’ll be atop most of Nebraska’s receiving records, and the bottom in career winning percentage.

With Nebraska’s season spiraling, and bowl eligibility a near impossibility, the conversation around the program is turning toward any possible silver lining. On Saturday, it was the young offensive weapons, like true freshmen Adrian Martinez and Maurice Washington. Martinez threw for 384 yards and ran for 57. Washington had 115 all-purpose yards.

For a senior, the losses hurt. As does the reality that the future, which he won’t be part of, is one of the few bright spots this season.

“At the beginning of this season, we talked as a senior class and the one really big thing we wanted out of this was to change the foundation of his program,” senior Luke Gifford said. “Sometimes that hurts, you know?”

If you’ll recall, this wasn’t the message to fans and media before the season. Senior offensive lineman Tanner Farmer stood in front of the podium in fall camp and proclaimed he wanted a national title.

“A lot of people say winning the national championship isn’t a realistic goal. Well, I’m not about realistic. I want it all,” Farmer said. “Go big or go home.”

Farmer wasn’t alone. At Big Ten media days in July, seniors Jerald Foster and Mick Stoltenberg both said this season wouldn’t just be a rebuilding year. There was more confidence on the team. They trusted each other more. This didn’t seem to be another 2017, they said.

But national titles and bowl games washed away with the season-opening loss to Colorado and upset by Troy at home. Now, Nebraska is tied for the worst start in school history and the seniors are forced to swallow some pride, and talk about a future they won’t be a part of.

“I tell these guys all the time, ‘The future is bright for these guys,’” Morgan said. “I mean, just today I found out Adrian was 18. I didn’t even know that. I mean, these guys are young and these guys just keep coming to practice every day and working. And I like that.”

After the loss Saturday, coach Scott Frost took a different tone than a week ago. Instead of saying some of the team “looked like they liked losing,” he praised the fight of his guys. He said twice, unprompted, that Martinez was going to be a special player. And he brought up running back Washington, twice.

“Man, is he gonna be a good player,” Frost said.

Frost thought freshman Cam Taylor took a step forward, as did sophomore tight end Jack Stoll and the sophomore offensive tackles. And sophomore JD Spielman, who set the school record with 209 receiving yards, he’s a “warrior.” Youth was the stump speech after the school’s ninth straight loss.

“We’ve got a lot of good players on this team that I’m proud to coach that we’re going to keep working with and keep improving,” Frost said. “I think we’re on the road to getting this to a better place.”

Junior Mohamed Barry has one year left in Lincoln. And he likes the idea of the future, yes, but wants to keep the team grounded. With talk about what will happen down the road, it can be easy to take days off now.

“You have to handle your business week by week,” Barry said. “Just, let’s take on what we got right now and get better each week, so the future will be good.”

The team bus sat idle just outside Camp Randall Saturday night while the team loaded postgame. The stadium lights lit up the green turf and red seats, making the black bus hard to see in the bowels underneath the bleachers.

In the dark. That’s where Nebraska will work for the remainder of this season, while the bright lights of college football shine on. Gifford hopes, by the time he leaves, it won’t be dreary.

“At the end of the day, we know we’re setting the foundation for Coach Frost and the things that this program is going to do in the future,” Gifford said. “We’re going to be able to look back on it and say that we were the first team that got to start that.”

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