Published Saturday, July 27, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 1:12 am
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Media days: Sights and sounds of the Big Ten

Which Big Ten coach wanted to be a Secret Service agent? Which quarterback spent the summer working for Goldman Sachs? What comment from a Michigan player landed on Ohio State's bulletin board? What Big Ten policy does Bill O'Brien find absurd? Which stadium is the toughest place to play? Before you dive into depth charts and practice reports, check out our annual sights and sounds package from Big Ten media days.

* * *

Hey coach, it was a start

Combined, the 12 Big Ten coaches will earn almost $30 million this season. But life wasn't always so glamorous. Where did they start? The World-Herald asked three to reflect on their first coaching jobs.

Jerry Kill was living in a trailer in Winfield, Kan., working at an all-night grocery store when he landed his first coaching job. He was 21, his new wife was 19. Two months before the 1984 season, he got a call from Midwest City High School in Oklahoma.

He had a buddy whose dad was on the school board.

“He said, we've never hired anybody from the state of Kansas, but we'll help you out if you come down here and be a linebacker coach,” Kill said. “I went to that school and our quarterback just happened to be Mike Gundy. We won a lot of football games.”

The Kills had a nice apartment, too. Even had a pool. “Living the dream,” he said.

But the next year, Kill got another call. Pittsburg State coach Dennis Franchione needed a defensive coordinator.

The Kills moved back to Kansas — and back to a trailer.

“I'm still married to that gal,” the Minnesota coach said. “You need to meet her.”

Bill O'Brien's first coaching gig came at his alma mater, St. John's Prep in Danvers, Mass. The Penn State coach was fresh out of high school in 1988, taking a one-semester break before starting classes at Brown University.

“I'm not a rocket scientist, so I didn't get accepted to Brown 'til January. So my dad was like, go get a job.”

He worked until 2 p.m. at a lumberyard, where he built sheds for Sears. When he got off work, he volunteered to coach the linemen at St. John's Prep.

“So that was my first job,” O'Brien said. “I knew what I wanted to do.”

Brady Hoke wanted to do something else in 1981. The criminal justice major had just finished playing football at Ball State when President Ronald Reagan was shot. Hoke set a goal: He wanted to join the Secret Service.

“I felt it was my duty to protect the president of the United States.”

He got an internship with the Federal Probation and Parole Office in southern Indiana. He covered six counties and 44 people per caseload. But that fall of '81, football called him back.

When he wasn't in court, Hoke helped at Yorktown High School. He got a $700 stipend. He coached two years there, then moved to Grand Valley State, where he started his college path to Michigan.

“It's funny. We're in the process of moving and my wife went through all these boxes,” Hoke said. “Income tax and all that kind of stuff. She's kind of a hoarder in a good way. She pulled out what was the handwritten contract to coach at Yorktown.”

It's 32 years later. No president since Reagan has been shot. Hoke's annual contract is worth $3 million.

He made the right choice.

* * *

6 points with Pat Fitzgerald

1. With all the concussion concerns right now, would you let your son play football?

“I already do. I got one playing and two more on the way. It's the best team game to teach you about yourself. The discipline it takes to be a young football player is very challenging.

“My son, Jack, is 8 years old and played his first year of tackle football last year. He showed up on time and his coach made him run around the goal post. And he came home and told his mom he was late, that's why he ran. I was like, this is the greatest thing of all time.”

2. So you're not worried about the collisions?

“I watch 'em play soccer and they run into each other with no pads on and bang their heads. They're like bobbleheads at that age. Their helmets are bigger than their bodies. It's a riot.”

3. Growing up, what was your favorite poster on your wall?

“My mom bought me Sports Illustrated, so I was able to get all the Sports Illustrated posters. So I had 'em all, but my favorite one was Bo Jackson with the shoulder pads and the baseball bat. The 'Bo Knows' campaign.”

4. What game from childhood do you wish you could've attended?

“The '85 Super Bowl with the Bears, no doubt.”

5. What would be your advice to your 30-year-old self?

“Don't be so serious. As an assistant, you have tunnel vision, 'I gotta become a coordinator!' Settle down. Coach your team. Coach your guys. Have some fun.”

6. What's the career loss that sticks with you the most?

“Probably the (2010) Outback Bowl (a 38-35 overtime loss to Auburn). It was such a magical game. If that could've been the way we got over the bowl drought, the victories would've been really special.

“Kind of got a little greedy at the end. I called a play that I thought would've been really appropriate. We won the '49 Rose Bowl on a trick play. And I kind of wanted to honor Coach (Randy) Walker, and that was one of Coach Walk's favorite plays that we ran in overtime (a misdirection fumblerooskie on fourth-and-goal). And it didn't work. ...

“I think we were 9 for 9 running that play in previous years. We didn't do a good job coaching it.”

* * *

Good hands with Farmers ...

Farmers and wrestlers. Kirk Ferentz has coached enough football to know you can't go wrong recruiting those groups.

“We haven't had many guys who were good wrestlers that ended up being bad football players,” Ferentz said. “We've never had a kid who was a farm kid who was a bad football player, either.”

That's why he's excited about coaching Nathan Bazata, a true freshman defensive lineman from Howells, Neb.

“He doesn't say a lot, he just kinda smiles at ya,” Ferentz said. “He's not arrogant in any way, but he's very confident. He knows he's a worker.”

Ferentz has similar high hopes for Drew Ott, another D-lineman from Giltner, Neb., whom Iowa coaches pulled out of a redshirt season in 2012.

“He came to our camp his junior year,” Ferentz said. “He weighed 207 pounds. We lined him up as a defensive lineman and he got slaughtered. Didn't look very good. Well, no kidding. He didn't play that position in high school.”

Ferentz stuck with him. Now Ott reminds him of so many past Hawkeyes. Hard worker. Competitive. Just enough athleticism.

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“It's all out there for him,” Ferentz said. “It's gonna be fun to watch him over the next three years and see how far he can take it. ... He probably needs to shave. Outside of that, he's doing pretty good.”

* * *

Miller's time

Nobody in college football attracts a spotlight like Johnny Manziel. But Braxton Miller, fresh off a 12-0 season at Ohio State, understands the burden of football fame, especially as the Buckeyes come under fire for another round of off-the-field issues.

“You just have to take care of yourself, man,” Miller said. “Everybody's out there to get you. You have a big name on your shoulders at Ohio State. ... You have to be more aware of what's going to happen to you if you do something silly. It's going to affect yourself and your team.”

You won't find a picture of him drinking or smoking, Miller said. He doesn't do that. But it's more complicated than Friday night parties. It's accommodating strangers who want to talk to him. It's dealing with Saturday afternoon expectations.

How do you prepare yourself for all that?

“That guy over there,” Miller said, pointing at Urban Meyer.

The coach is constantly telling Miller about Alex Smith and Tim Tebow, quarterbacks who handled themselves the right way.

“I want to be like them one day, a guy who — when he's done coaching me — he can talk about me to anybody.”

For the record, the last Big Ten player to win the Heisman Trophy (Troy Smith) was an Ohio State quarterback. If Miller goes undefeated again, he might take Johnny Football's Heisman — and his place as college football's biggest star.

* * *

Speech can wait

Urban Meyer spent hours in the summer of 2012 planning what to say to his Buckeyes after they lost a game. Without a bowl game or an undefeated season, how would he keep them motivated?

Turned out, Meyer never had to give that speech. Ohio State went 12-0 and the coach marveled at the players' focus and competitiveness. A year later, the Buckeyes have everything to play for, including a national title.

Will his second Ohio State team be as driven? He hopes so.

“I'm a little bit more concerned about this one,” Meyer said. “Keeping our eye on the target, the next game instead of worrying about something bigger. It's hard to keep them locked in.”

* * *

Shoutout to fans

Pat Fitzgerald had never seen anything like it. Opposing fans congratulating his players? After Northwestern had just beaten their team?

Two years later, Fitzgerald still wears a look of shock thinking of Nebraska fans. Even at the airport, the guys handling Northwestern's bags were saying “great win.”

“I think that really gave us a great glimpse of the sportsmanship of the Nebraska fan base and those folks out there,” Fitzgerald said. “It was really something special.”

Doesn't mean he expects it again. Considering what happened last time, Fitzgerald said grinning, Husker hospitality may have been a one-time deal.

* * *

A fan of night games

Jim Delany met with Big Ten coaches last Wednesday morning and reminded them that starting next year, the conference extends from the East Coast to Colorado. Coaches need to take advantage. He suggested getting all 14 together next summer and traveling to New York to “make ourselves known.”

What else can the Big Ten do to increase its exposure? Bill O'Brien is a strong proponent of night games in November.

“When I got to Penn State, somebody told me about a rule that they didn't play night games in November in the Big Ten because of the weather. And I thought, wait a minute now, I've been in an AFC championship game when it was about 10 below zero in January in Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

“We have great atmospheres. Take Penn State, for example. How 'bout a white-out game at Penn State, 108,000 fans versus Nebraska in late November? To me, if we can play prime-time games in all three months, that'll be great for our conference.”

* * *

Now we're even

The most even rivalry in college football isn't Ohio State-Michigan or Auburn-Alabama or Notre Dame-USC.

It's Iowa-Wisconsin. After 86 meetings dating to 1894, the series is split 42-42-2. After a two-year hiatus, they're back on each other's schedules in 2013 — and should be indefinitely when the Big Ten aligns East and West in '14.

“Selfishly, I think it's something both states, both schools are excited about,” Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz said. “The good news is moving forward with our expansion, we'll all be in the same division.”

* * *

Investing in his future

Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter hopes to play in the NFL. But the senior psychology major began an internship last month with investment firm Goldman Sachs, specializing in property wealth management.

“Sitting at a desk most of the day is draining,” Colter said. “You think it wouldn't be because you're not doing anything (physical), but then you get home and all you want to do is sleep.''

Colter said watching a recent ESPN “30 for 30'' special called “Broke,'' which highlighted the number of professional athletes with serious money problems, caught his attention.

“A lot of these athletes come from backgrounds where they have no financial knowledge,'' he said. “Hearing some of those stories, I think it would be huge to have somebody who actually played be someone who players could trust with their money.''

Colter's day-to-day work at Goldman Sachs involves analyzing portfolios and prospecting for new clients. Managing money and networking are the two biggest things he has focused on.

“People are going to help the people they know and like,'' Colter said. “So the more people you can network with, it's going to be to your benefit.''

Colter once considered medical school. He hasn't dismissed it.

“But I don't want to go right after undergrad,'' he said. “I want to get some work experience first — hopefully in the NFL.''

* * *

Plenty to say between OSU, UM

Wouldn't be summer without a little trash talk between Michigan and Ohio State.

In June, a sports-talk host in Grand Rapids asked Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner if Michigan could beat Ohio State.

“We always have room for improvement, but this is definitely a championship-caliber football team that will win in the Big House against Ohio State,” Gardner said. “We don't feel we're inferior to anyone in the country, and we're going to give it our all.”

That comment got back to the Buckeyes.

“He has no idea what we have in store for him, and what we've been working on,” Ohio State safety Christian Bryant told reporters Thursday.

“I'm not blaming him for being confident. He's the quarterback of their team. If he's not showing confidence, they won't be confident. But they've got another think coming. Trust me.”

Divisional changes in 2014 mean this is the last chance for Ohio State and Michigan to meet in the conference championship game. Wouldn't playing back-to-back weeks be a little anticlimactic?

“How could it be?” Brady Hoke said.

It's the greatest rivalry in sports, the Wolverine coach said. It's a Big Ten championship.

“I think we can round 'em back up and get ready to go.”

* * *

Respect for Rex

Iowa senior linebacker Christian Kirksey still has mad respect for a former Nebraska running back.

When asked who the toughest Big Ten players have been to tackle in his career, Kirksey quickly offered two names: Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell and NU's Rex Burkhead.

“He was just a hard-nosed runner,” Kirksey said of Burkhead, now a Cincinnati Bengal. “He'd just keep his feet going. He's not the biggest guy, but he was so compact.”

* * *

Tough call? Rivals to friends

Not all Wolverines and Buckeyes loathe each other. Brian Griese and Joey Galloway, both ESPN analysts, spent most of last Wednesday side by side.

“I gotta keep at least a four-foot distance from him,” said Griese, the former Michigan quarterback who played with Galloway in Tampa Bay.

Galloway is attempting to become the latest ex-Buckeye to go big in broadcasting. His distinguished predecessors include Kirk Herbstreit, Chris Spielman, Robert Smith and Cris Carter (not to mention college basketball's Clark Kellogg). Does ESPN really need another Buckeye in the booth?

“We laugh about it ourselves,” Galloway said.

He routinely seeks advice from Herbstreit, but admits he's still a little unpolished, especially when it comes to shedding his allegiance.

Just as Galloway finished that sentence, a broadcasting peer greeted and embraced him. Who? Eddie George.

You know where he went to school.

* * *

A Boo-Boo and a beard

Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis showed up in Chicago with a purplish mark under his eye, near the bridge of his nose. He broke the nose last week during player-led, 7-on-7 drills.

“I caught a pass and the DB tried to knock it away, and instead he missed the ball and hit my nose,” Abbrederis said. “I don't want say who it was — because everybody would get mad at him — but I still caught the ball. I saw blood on my arm, threw the ball down and walked right off. That's football. No hard feelings.”

Abbrederis complemented the nose with a beard that he's started as a kind of homage to former Badger offensive lineman Travis Frederick, whose beard had grown so long in college that he drew comparisons to the notorious beard-wearing group on “Duck Dynasty.” Frederick, a draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys, shaved off the beard at the end of May.

So far, Abbrederis has grown an impressive strip on his face that seems capable of going as long as he does on fly routes.

“I never really grew a full beard before, but at the start of summer I said 'let's see what happens,'?” Abbrederis said. “I kinda like it. We'll see if it bothers my chinstrap or it gives me more cushion.”

* * *

Loving Lincoln

Nebraska's 2007 showdown against USC seems so long ago. But Nathan Scheelhaase remembers.

The dual-threat prospect from Kansas City, Mo., was on the sideline before the game and thought it was one of the most amazing things he'd ever seen.

Scheelhaase eventually chose Illinois over the Huskers and figured with NU in the Big 12, he'd never play in Memorial Stadium. Six years later, he'll finally get his shot Oct. 5.

It's as close as Scheelhaase will get to a homecoming. Friends and family will make the drive from Kansas City. Former high school teammate Michael Rose will be on the Husker sideline.

“There's a lot to get excited about.”

Scheelhaase battled knee, ankle and Achilles injuries in 2012. His struggles were one reason Illinois went 0-8 in Big Ten play.

To break that streak, he'll need to win in Lincoln.

* * *

Just like Jack

Jack Hoffman is famous around college football for his touchdown run at NU's spring game. But his influence doesn't stop with an ESPY Award.

Team Jack is affiliated with Uplifting Athletes, a national organization of college football players who raise awareness and funding for rare diseases. This year, Wisconsin started its own chapter, spearheaded by Chris Borland. They recently had their first event for Darien Moran, an eighth-grader who has suffered from Langerhans cell histiocytosis since 2011.

Borland is motivated by what's happened at Nebraska.

“Obviously, we understand everything they've done with Team Jack, what Burkhead has done. It was impressive. The organization in general is something really impactful that we wanted to be part of.”

* * *

A perfect game

Eight months later, the Big Ten championship game still feels a little surreal for Jared Abbrederis.

He's played 40 college football games. None have unfolded so perfectly. In most games, even when you have a good game plan, Abbrederis said, it's hard to get all 11 guys to do their job.

“But that game, it was just an insane amount of execution. I don't think you could have another game like that if you wanted.”

* * *

Hard luck vs. Huskers

Darqueze Dennard's luck against the Huskers wasn't so good.

The Michigan State cornerback, expected to be one of the nation's best this season, was flagged for pass interference against Kenny Bell in the end zone with 17 seconds left, leading to the game-winning touchdown two plays later.

“I don't know what else I could've done,” Dennard said last Wednesday.

Earlier in the fourth, Dennard returned an interception 95 yards for a touchdown. It was called back when officials flagged teammate Johnny Adams for unnecessary roughness against Bell.

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For months, Adams apologized, Dennard said.

“He always says, 'My bad, bro.' I think it was a clean play. It's football.”

* * *

Favorite unis? He's a little off the mark

Venric Mark's pick for best Big Ten uniform? A little outside the box.

“I love our girls lacrosse team, there's no question,” said Mark, Northwestern's speedy tailback.

“They just actually got a new design. It's kinda like the Oregon ones, but it's a little different. It has a purple outlay and silver inside, with the all-white look. They've won, I believe, six national state championships, and they look good while doing it.”

Teammate Kain Colter, listening to Mark, looked at a Northwestern spokesperson. “He just said six national state championships.”

Said the spokesperson: “What does that even mean?”

* * *

Big Ten player survey

What's the toughest place to play in the Big Ten?

“Penn State. That's probably the loudest I've ever heard a stadium, besides the Horseshoe, of course.” — Christian Bryant, Ohio State

“Michigan State. The fans are right on top of you.” — Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin

“Probably Penn State. They get real, real rowdy.” — Venric Mark, Northwestern

“I would definitely say Penn State. Being from Pennsylvania, it gets really loud there.” — Corey Lewis, Illinois

“I'd probably say Ohio State. It's just different. The fans are great there.” — Gabe Holmes, Purdue

“Nebraska fans are crazy. Some of them came to our walk-through outside our hotel and were honking their horns. I've never seen that before. They have nothing else to do out there except watch college football, so they're big fans.” — Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota

“Probably Penn State. They have a loud stadium. Hats off to their fans.” — Brett Van Sloten, Iowa

If you could take one guy off a Big Ten team and put him on your team, who would you pick?

Wisconsin wideout Jared Abbrederis. “He does everything right. He goes out and blocks every play. He makes it look like every play he's getting the ball.” — Ricardo Allen, Purdue

Wisconsin safety Dezmen Southward. “Great player, athletic. And he's my high school teammate.” — Gabe Holmes, Purdue

Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan. “He'd be a great piece to any offensive line.” — Corey Lewis, Illinois

Indiana receiver Shane Wynn (a high school teammate). “He's just a guy with special talent. People get on him about his height, but his play-making ability is incredible. You can't take that away from somebody.” — Christian Bryant, Ohio State

Aside from your own, what are our favorite Big Ten uniforms?

“Ohio State's Pro Combat jerseys are pretty nice.” — Gabe Holmes, Purdue

“I like the traditional Penn State uniforms.” — Corey Lewis, Illinois

Michigan State's dark green and black alternates. “I definitely like their swag.” — Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota

Nebraska's first alternate uniforms, which they wore against Wisconsin. — Donnell Kirkwood, Minnesota

Minnesota. “I like the maroon and gold look. My dad went to Minnesota.” — Taylor Lewan, Michigan

“Nebraska's, because they're close to ours.” — Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin

Aside from your own, which Big Ten coach would you choose to play for?

“Bo Pelini's pretty cool. He's a Youngstown guy. I'm from Ohio, so having that bond would be pretty cool.” — Tyler Scott, Northwestern

"Urban Meyer" — Gabe Holmes, Purdue

"Urban Meyer or Bill O'Brien" — Corey Lewis, Illinois

"Brady Hoke" — Brett Van Sloten, Iowa

“I've really grown to like Coach O'Brien. He's awesome. I've had the opportunity to talk to him a couple of times.” — Taylor Lewan, Michigan

"Urban Meyer" — Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota

“It's hard to go against an undefeated season, so I would go Urban Meyer.” — Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin

What would be your advice for Johnny Manziel?

“Ignore the outside noise.” — Brett Van Sloten, Iowa

“I just don't think he realizes the level he's at. He's gonna be scrutinized for everything he does, so my main advice would be go out there and have a good season. Because if not, everybody's gonna pinpoint everything that has gone on during the offseason.” — Corey Lewis, Illinois

“My advice would be for the media. Just relax on him a little bit. Chill out. He's gonna be his own man.” — Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois

“You're doing something you love, you're always gonna get attacked for little things. Keep playing ball. Everybody likes him. I don't see him doing anything wrong.” — Donnell Kirkwood, Minnesota

“Keep his social life away from .... ahh, I don't know. He's his own person. He's the Heisman Trophy winner. I should ask him for advice.” — Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota

Contact the writer: Dirk Chatelain

dirk.chatelain@owh.com    |   402-649-1461    |  

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments.

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht

lee.barfknecht@owh.com    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.

Contact the writer: Sam McKewon

sam.mckewon@owh.com    |   402-219-3790    |  

Sam McKewon covers Nebraska football for The World-Herald. Got a tip, question or rant? Good. Email him. Follow him on Twitter. Call him.

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