LINCOLN — Nebraska offensive line coach John Garrison has a crowded plate these days just trying to piece together a starting five for the Huskers’ tilt at Michigan Saturday.
But a national story with ties to Nebraska football had Garrison on Wednesday recalling his own playing days at NU and one of his former teammates — Richie Incognito.
Incognito, the Miami Dolphins guard who spent three seasons — playing two — in Lincoln, is currently suspended and soon to be at the center of an NFL investigation that he allegedly bullied a teammate, tackle Jonathan Martin, with threatening text messages, a voicemail and other forms of hazing.
Garrison, caught up in an NU season marred by knee injuries to his starting guards, Spencer Long and Jake Cotton, said he didn’t know much about Incognito’s situation in Miami and didn’t want to comment on it. But he did reflect briefly on his time playing alongside Incognito in 2002, when Garrison was a second-team All-Big 12 center and Incognito was a Sporting News freshman All-American at tackle.
“He was a fiery, tough, ultra competitor,” Garrison recalled. “I prided myself on playing hard and to the whistle — and sometimes past the whistle — and he pushed the limit on that. I admired that; I loved the way he played the game. Obviously, he made some mistakes here. He was young. He did some goofy things. He said some goofy things. But I think, at his core, Richie is a good person.”
Incognito did make his mark on the field — he started as a redshirt freshman in 2002 and was first-team All-Big 12 in 2003 as a sophomore. According to his Husker biography, which can still be found online, he led NU in pancake blocks in 2002 and likely would have duplicated the feat in 2003 if then-offensive line coach Barney Cotton had tracked them in his first season on the staff.
But Incognito made mistakes on and off the field. He was suspended for half a game in 2002 after getting into a fight with a Penn State player. He was accused of spitting on Troy State players that same season. He sat out part of 2003 spring practice for team violations. That April, he visited the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kan., for anger management. It’s the same psychiatric hospital where former Husker I-back Lawrence Phillips was evaluated in 1995.
In the 2003 Alamo Bowl, Incognito was again accused by Michigan State players of spitting. Incognito said after that game he’d been the recipient of numerous cheap shots.
“That’s just part of football,” Incognito said at the time. “You’ve got to take them, and you’ve got to give them.”
In February 2004, Incognito was ticketed with three counts of misdemeanor assault. In May 2004, he was found guilty on one of the three counts, for which he was fined $500. In September 2004, then-coach Bill Callahan announced he had suspended Incognito for “repeated” violations of team rules. Although Callahan never specified those violations, one was believed to be a locker-room fight with former Husker wide receiver Grant Mulkey.
Incognito left the program two weeks after Callahan’s announcement. An attempted transfer to Oregon in October 2004 was thwarted by the Ducks’ coaching staff one week after Incognito had enrolled in school there. Incognito simply missed the 2004 season and declared for the NFL draft, and he was selected by the St. Louis Rams in the third round.
“It was extremely tough not playing, sitting around and watching my buddies play,” Incognito told the Associated Press in April 2005, after he’d been drafted by the Rams. “It was the hardest thing I’d ever been through.”