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In midst of a whirlwind year, Held family’s ‘miracle’ worth the wait

December 25, 2018

So often, we think about sports in terms of the principals involved.

The players, the coaches, the darned referees.

When Nebraska football hits a lull like the one it’s in now, maybe we think, ‘Wow, it’s been a long time since those guys — in this case meaning the coaching staff that just wrapped its first full year in Lincoln and signed 24 players for 2019 last week during the early signing period — had anything resembling a break.’

Then there’s Ryan Held and his wife, Katie.

Held is the Huskers’ running backs coach, recruiting dynamo, road warrior and human energizer bunny. Katie, he says, is “the best coach’s wife.”

Everybody in the Nebraska football program’s had something of a wild year. The Helds, well, they might just take the cake.

The chaos

It’s a well-told story at this point.

Held, Scott Frost and this coaching staff spent all of December 2017 with two jobs — recruiting for Nebraska and preparing Central Florida for a Peach Bowl appearance.

After that, a January of recruiting up until National Signing Day in early February. Spring ball started in mid-March, ended in late April, then more recruiting in May, camps in June, a little downtime at the outset of July and then off to the races with preseason camp.

“I’ll be honest, people don’t realize, but when you leave a job and then take another job over, just the chaos from this time last year until the end of this year, you had little pockets of breaks, you really didn’t because either you were moving or doing this and that,” Held said last week in the NU offices about National Signing Day.

He and Katie are no strangers to the chaos, either.

Since 2011, Held has been the offensive coordinator at Butler (Kansas) Community College, head coach at Highlands (Kansas) Community College and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and then the running backs coach at UCF and NU.

“My wife is the best coach’s wife,” Held said. “If you looked at us, we’re probably total polar opposites in terms of, here I was, sports sports, sports, sports, sports and I meet her and the only thing she liked was hockey. She didn’t know anything about football and then she went on these rides of football and small towns and all this.”

‘There was no planning’

Jacob Held was born Oct. 29, two days after Nebraska beat Bethune-Cookman for its second straight win and just as the Husker staff began its Ohio State game prep in earnest.

The Helds aren’t the first football family to have a baby in the middle of football season — Scott and his wife Ashley welcomed R.J. into the world last year in early November, and the run-up caused the then-UCF staff to put a plan into action for if Frost had to leave a scheduled road trip to Southern Methodist in order to be there for the birth — but it’s not the way most football families plan their lives.

But planning, particularly family planning, doesn’t always work the way you want it to.

“My wife and I, it was a struggle to get pregnant. It took us seven years,” Held said. “Normally, you try to plan these things. There was no planning. It was, ‘If God gives us a chance, boom.’”

In the midst of trying to build programs and move up the college football food chain, progressing from junior college to Division II to the Group of Five to the Power Five, the Helds also had doctors visits and consultations and prayers and doubt and worry.

Then, of course, in the midst of perhaps the most whirlwind year in Held’s two decades in a whirlwind profession, it happened.

“You don’t want to have a kid in the middle of football season, but it was such a blessing,” Held said. “My wife’s been such a trooper in this because really, tonight (Dec. 19) is the first night that I’m going to be on duty. With recruiting and I’ve been gone for three weeks, I come back and it’s hard to burn both ends of the candle during this time, but now that I’ll get some time off, I’m looking forward to letting her regroup and feel normal again. Jacob is awesome and we’re very blessed to have him.”

Joining the family

Once Ryan and Katie knew that Jacob was on the way, they could actually begin planning.

Much of the work revolved around how Jacob would get along with the Helds’ two golden retrievers, Sully and Boe.

“I’m very passionate about dogs,” Held said. “I’m telling you this right now, our dogs are like our kids. We lost a dog when we first moved here, Copper, and I’m telling you, I don’t go a day when I don’t think about that dog.

“My wife and I are all about our dogs.”

Boe is 7 and Sully just a pup, “like a wild horse, a mustang” on walks, Held said.

Not surprisingly, both have taken to their new little brother. The Helds played YouTube videos of babies crying to prepare the pups for the new addition. Ryan brought home a shirt from the hospital so Sully and Boe could get used to Jacob’s scent.

“We’ll do tummy time now and put (Jacob) down and Boe will go and put his head right there and Jacob will lift his head up and Boe will lick him,” Held said. “They’re the best dogs for kids and so they’ve really taken him in. Sully is kind of Jacob’s guard dog.”

‘Man, it’s a miracle’

A year ago, Held and UCF flew to Atlanta on Christmas Day to begin their weeklong stay before beating Auburn to cap a 13-0 season.

Now, he’ll spend Christmas Day fresh off a 4-8 season and off the road after a long grind, but with no complaints. Not this year. It’s been a special one all the way around, from returning to his alma mater, to Jacob, to now a holiday season at home.

“What’s fun about it is when you can have it all with your family and then these (players) are like your family,” Held said. “Even though a lot of them we didn’t recruit, you really grow close to them. Especially these seniors. This thing could have gone south and it didn’t and they might not ever get the credit they deserve when we win a championship, but they did a heckuva job of keeping this thing going and putting us in position to have the type of day we had (Dec. 19) in recruiting and that we’re going to continue to have.”

The family grew in 2018. With the Huskers, with Sully, with Jacob. Just the way the Helds hoped someday it would.

“When you go through that process and he’s born, man, it’s a miracle,” Held said. “All babies are a miracle. Just for us, especially because it was not easy, a lot of people prayed for us and it worked out.”

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