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Husker players and coaches get their work in before sun up

April 18, 2018

LINCOLN — Mario Verduzco’s alarm goes off at 4 a.m.

He is usually dressed and out the door by 4:10. The quarterbacks coach can finally manage his way to the stadium without using a GPS, he says, so he can make it to Memorial Stadium by 4:20 or so.

Verduzco’s first move is to the players lounge for a cup of coffee. If there’s Italian cream, he’ll pour some in. If not, black coffee isn’t the end of the world. There’s a latte machine in there, but he can’t fathom who would drink a latte.

Armed with his coffee, and a bag overflowing with notes on a quarterback battle, Verduzco will walk around the complex before sunrise to his office. He takes in the Heisman trophies, conference title plaques, photos of Tom Osborne and Bob Devaney hung around the stadium, all painted in a soft red glow of exit signs.

“I feel like the whole world is a tuxedo and I’m a pair of brown shoes,” Verduzco said the other day. “It’s a bit humbling.”

Nebraska is 10 practices deep in the Scott Frost era and less than a week away from a spring game. It’s been four months since the new coaching staff was hired. It’s been three months since they were pulling double duty with Nebraska and Central Florida, boarding red-eye flights to Orlando for Peach Bowl practices and FaceTiming family from hotel rooms in Lincoln.

But now that April is upon them, some normalcy is setting in.

Offensive line coach Greg Austin’s family is finally moved up to Lincoln so his three little girls can climb all over him after work while they watch Disney Junior.

Running backs coach Ryan Held has a new golden retriever puppy, Sully, whom he walks at night around Lincoln.

Tight ends coach Sean Beckton has his cable set up — finally — so he can wind down the night with a bottle of water and a Houston Rockets game.

As a college football coach, there’s no real moment of “settling in” to a new job, outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt said. But there’s no mistaking that there’s a certain level of comfort being felt now that the spring game is so close.

“It’s been pretty seamless,” defensive line coach Mike Dawson said. “We moved about halfway across the country, but other than that, everyone knows their roles, everyone knows what to do so we can kinda hit the ground running.”

What might be most telling about the coaching staff’s new familiarity with Nebraska is their morning routine.

Though the team is still getting used to morning practices, before sunrise is when this coaching staff thrives. They’re all usually in the office by 5 a.m., prepping for meetings or watching film.

“The alarm hits at 4:15, 4:20, so that’s early,” Held said. “You wanna throw it through the window when it rings, but you know, it’s a matter of, ‘All right, let’s wake up, make your bed, and let’s win the rest of your day.’”

Austin’s alarm barks at 4:30 and he can be out the door with a coffee — black, definitely no sugar — in minutes. Held doesn’t need coffee like Frost and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander. Held’s a water guy in the morning. Usually a light weight workout right before practice to get his heart pumping.

Beckton sometimes needs a Red Bull. A workout on the elliptical gets his juices flowing.

“Trying to get back in shape,” he says. “The young generation, they want to sleep in and stay up late. I’m totally opposite now. I’ll be 50 in September, so I’ve progressed to getting up early and going to bed a little early.”

That’s the irony. It’s the team that’s become less comfortable as spring has gone on, while the coaching staff settles in.

Frost said on Tuesday the team is making strides, but as the week progressed, other coaches mentioned some dragging. Beckton said in meetings he could tell some guys still aren’t getting enough sleep. Chinander said they needed to be tougher with the cold. The last few practices, coaches have been pretty honest about the team’s lack of energy near the end of drills.

“I think they’re adjusting to (the mornings),” Beckton said. “They don’t understand this a benefit for them because they’re getting up and we’re getting them at their maximum rest period for the day, and getting the most max-out of their bodies right now. As soon as they get up, they shouldn’t be fatigued.”

Verduzco said he thinks they’ll appreciate mornings in the fall. They’ll be more used to him barreling into the quarterbacks room on fire at 7 a.m.

“I get in the room — because I’ve been here already — and I come in the room and they see me and they go, ‘God, what is wrong with this guy?’” Verduzco said.

If anything, it’s proof the coaching staff is fully ingrained into the job, no longer with one foot in Florida and one in Lincoln.

“I don’t know if you can ever really fully feel like you’re settled in Year 1 of a new place,” Dewitt said. “There’s always going to be that panic feeling or that hectic feeling.”

But coaches at least know where they’re going to bed at night — which usually comes around 8:30 or 9 for most. And there’s some comfort in going to bed, knowing where that next cup of coffee is coming from.