Jack Stoll has been working several months growing a rather imposing mullet. The flowing locks were impressive enough that reporters at Thursday’s Nebraska preseason football news conference asked Stoll, a junior tight end, about his popular 1980’s business-in-the-front, party-in-the back hairstyle.
Specifically, when did Stoll plan to cut it?
On the eve of Nebraska’s first practice for the 2019 season, Stoll said he’d maintain his mullet until the Huskers lost a football game.
“So let’s hope I can keep this bad boy until January.”
Imagine the hysteria – and Stoll’s mane – should that happen.
Even if Stoll has to pull out the scissors some time during the season, he’ll settle on a trimmer look if it means Nebraska at least makes that significant jump so many people are anticipating in Year Two of the Scott Frost regime.
“I didn’t come here to go 4-8,” Stoll said. “I came here to put a ring on my finger.”
As far as Stoll is concerned, that could come in the form of a Big Ten Conference championship, or even a division title. Nebraska hasn’t won the latter since 2012, and is still aiming for its first conference title in 20 years.
Many prognosticators believe either is possible this season, and Frost, for one, isn’t sure that’s entirely just.
“We haven’t done anything yet, so I kind of feel like some of the expectations are a little premature,” Frost sad. “We’re going to shut out the outside noise as soon as we get started Friday.”
To wit: Frost, who has a vote in the USA Today/Amway Coaches Poll, didn’t vote Nebraska in the preseason rankings, released Thursday. Nebraska landed just outside the Top 25, the first among those teams receiving votes.
Then again, the regional and national attention Nebraska is receiving does help players from a confidence standpoint. It’s good, Frost said, that others are paying attention and seeing progress.
“But any progress we’ve made,” Frost said, “is just progress.”
Regardless, Frost feels a great sense of pride from his team. He said players are better conditioned, in shape, and are primed, rested and eager to work, knowing there’s much to accomplish before the Aug. 31 season opener.
“I like this team a lot better going into this year,” Frost said. “Just seeing the looks on guys’ faces when you walk past them in the hallway, seeing them hanging out together, addressing each other, being in the building. There’s a whole different feel this year, more of a winning feel, and feeling I’m used to.”
Junior defensive lineman Ben Stille agreed with that sentiment, saying such an aura stems from players feeling better about themselves.
“I think there’s definitely an added confidence,” Stille said. “I think there was a lot of uncertainty last year. Obviously, everybody wanted to win but there was a lot of uncertainty. We’d never had done it.
“Until you do it, especially with that scheme, with that staff, there’s a lot of uncertainty. There’s definitely a lot more guys playing with a lot more confidence out there.”
Players are taking ownership, too, something Frost has reiterated as a sign of a winning culture. Throughout the summer workouts, Stoll said, players showed up each day, ready to grind, without pleading or prodding from coaches.
“This summer has been player-led, versus a lot of coaches telling people to do things,” Stoll said. “As soon as some leaders step up and start saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got to start doing this,’ then we’re going to start buying in.
“I think that’s when you get a great team. That’s definitely something we’ve seen this summer.”
Because of that, Frost believes players have put themselves in a position to accomplish “a lot of things” this season. He’s pleased with their attitude and togetherness, and said the overall talent and athleticism is better than last season. The Huskers are, at certain positions, deeper than last season.
Also, because this is the second season of a new system, Frost expects better execution and attention to detail, with players having a better overall understanding.
The next step, Frost said, is for this team to prove it can be tough.
“To win in this league you have to be tough and you have to be physical,” Frost said. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t go and hit somebody in the face on the field. We need to block and tackle with that mentality.”
Before he began his second fall camp at UCF, Frost invited former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne to speak to his team. One thing Osborne mentioned was when he coached, he had his team practice live, full-speed, one-on-one on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the season.
While that format presents an injury risk, it also refines toughness and grit that Osborne felt was more valuable. Frost practiced in that manner with that 2017 team at UCF, the one that went undefeated and defeated Auburn in the Peach Bowl.
“That’s a tough decision to make as a head coach,” Frost said, “but one that paid off.”
What about this year’s team?
Frost said it’s getting closer to being able to do that live, in-season format more often, thanks to better-conditioned players with more endurance, and improved depth.
“I think we’ll ramp it up this year,” Frost said.
While, of course, that doesn’t mean to expect another perfect year-two record – and one very large mullet – it does mean Frost is pleased with the overall improvement throughout the program.
As for the high expectations, offensive tackle Matt Farniok isn’t concerned. He said any team should embrace them.
“At the end of the day,” Farniok said, “you always think you’re going to be a winner.”
– Brian Rosenthal