Preseason — particularly the very beginning of camp — is always a time on the football calendar for discussion about goals. Big goals, small goals and lofty goals. Personal goals and team goals.
Fourth-year head coach Scott Frost, 12-20 in his first three seasons at his alma mater, on the eve of Nebraska’s first camp practice, turned to an old program axiom when he was asked to define what success looks like in 2021.
“I’ve been asked that question 100 times,” Frost said. “Day by day we get better and better. We keep getting better inside the house, the results are going to come.”
Almost to a man, the players had blunter answers on Thursday.
“I want to win. That’s what I want to do,” junior tight end Travis Vokolek said. “I think that’s what everyone wants to do on the team. Last season didn’t go as well as we wanted it to go, so we’ve been busting our rear ends all offseason.
“We want to go out and play at a high level and win some games.”
Junior cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt said he didn’t feel any pressure as camp begins, but his drive comes from a simple place.
“I just want to go out there and win with my teammates. I love to win. Me and my teammates love to win,” he said. “The mindset has switched over. I don’t know where the mindset was before, we’ve had a lot of different sayings before in interviews, but I will say that our mindset has changed. We’re on to better things right now, we’re sticking together, we’re working hard every day and just trying to get it.”
Senior wide receiver Samori Toure said when he joined the team in January that, based on what he saw, he was surprised the Huskers had struggled so much in recent years. On Thursday, he sounded like a guy who had quickly identified where he thinks this group is entering the 2021 season.
“It’s just a lot of positivity and a lot of it is our team being accountable for the past,” he said. “Everyone knows that we haven’t been as successful as we have wanted to be in the past, but everyone knows that we’re on the right track. It’s just a feeling this year, like we just have a different mindset. We know that we have to be a lot better when it comes to game day.
“We feel like throughout the offseason we’ve put in the work to be where we want to be. Now it’s just time to show all the work we’ve put in.”
The mile markers between today and the first opportunity for a win on Aug. 28 against Illinois are going to zoom by quickly now, with 20 camp-style practices on deck before game week arrives.
It will also seem long at some point, as camp always does, particularly because there are not that many starting jobs up for grabs, no quarterback battle and not really much left to do other than show whether this is the season the tide turns in Lincoln.
The challenge, then, is to hone the work put in over the past six months in a manner that best translates on the field this fall.
Frost and the Husker staff will do that by trying to sort out the remaining position battles earlier in camp than other years, with the idea being that the top groups need more time getting reps and building continuity in practice.
“The thing we’ve been preaching to the team all year and what we’re going to continue to preach to them is that self-inflicted wounds and a little bit of lack of detail and lack of discipline here and there have hurt us. Penalties have hurt us. Turnovers have hurt us. Not getting turnovers back on the other side, special teams. Those are going to be the primary emphasis of our camp. The kids know that.
“I think experience helps you with those details and we’re going to be more experienced than we have been, but also continuity helps and making sure that the main guys are working with the main guys a little more often and earlier on is probably going to help us with that.”
NU is also planning to rekindle a hallmark of the Tom Osborne era that Frost intimated on Friday Nebraska had got away from some in the past couple of years.
“Without saying too much, we’re going to split up practice a lot more and have multiple groups running at once, a lot like we did when Coach Osborne was coaching here,” Frost said. “I think that’s going to give young guys reps and a chance to show us what they can do, while giving old guys reps. Also have to do some balance with some of the super seniors and veterans to make sure we’re giving them what they need to be ready to play without running them into the ground.
“I think we have a good plan for that.”