Conner Kranda knew one of two things would happen when he stepped onto the field at Memorial Stadium during the spring game.
He’d either catch a punt and win $25,000 or muff it and embarrass himself in front of his buddies and, oh, 87,000 other people.
Kranda, a former high school football player and University of Nebraska-Lincoln sophomore, nailed it.
He caught the punt Saturday as part of a Husker athletic department contest for students.
Kranda said he didn’t feel too nervous as he walked onto the field between the third and fourth quarters for his attempt.
That’s partly because it wasn’t the first time he’d been on the field to catch a ball. He played football at Aquinas Catholic High School in David City, Nebraska, and the team competed in state championship games at Memorial Stadium during his time there.
But his stomach tightened when a guy named Scott Frost walked over.
Frost wished him luck and smiled as he told Kranda he liked the message on the 20-year-old’s T-shirt: “Frost — Make Nebraska Great Again.”
Kranda said he’d always admired the new Husker head coach and didn’t want to bumble the punt in front of the former Nebraska quarterback.
So Kranda took a deep breath and set up on the 30-yard line as a machine launched a ball skyward.
Kranda never caught punts in high school, but he had experience catching the ball as kick returner. And his time wrestling and running track in high school state tournaments taught him how to perform under pressure.
He said the ball seemed to hang in the air forever.
He made a couple adjustments with his feet as the wind bumped the ball, and pulled it in for a clean catch.
Husker players swarmed him, patting him on the head as the crowd roared.
Frost even commented about the contest and Kranda’s catch following the game: “I think they picked the wrong guy; (Husker player) Noah Vedral told me he ran track against him, and he was a good athlete from David City Aquinas. He looked like the type of guy who could catch it and came through, so everybody was jacked for him.”
Alex Harris, a member of the Husker athletics marketing staff, said the contest was something new for football, at least in recent years. But he said the spring game contest was successful enough that the department will discuss running a similar one in the future.
Kranda said the money he won for the catch will come in handy. He’s a nursing major and plans to use the money for tuition. Even though he caught the punt, his buddies are still giving him a hard time for the attention he’s received and keep asking if they can borrow a couple thousand.
His studies keep him busy, but he said if Frost is looking for another special teams player, he’d be proud to suit up in red.