From a Scrub's Standpoint: Huskerland's Mr. 3000
Actually, it was my wife’s idea.
We had been publishing Huskerland Prep Report for a couple of years and as I have said on many occasions, just having fun and not following any sort of any grand plan. In fact, we had no plan. None.
Something else we had none of was player feature stories gracing the pages of our state’s newly established high school football publication. “Established” might be going out on a limb, as in 1993 we were a serious underground sensation, more of a curiosity than a staple of the Nebraska high school football scene, which after 32 years in business I believe we have become.
For the first three years in print we had been getting along with our mix of statewide statistical leader boards, our region reports (always one of my favorite parts of Huskerland), game photos and some additional commentary. People seemed to like it, those who had found us, and we were just cruising down that big ol’ Nebraska high school football highway, the top down and some Billy Joel on the tape deck. You know, cassette tapes?
One day in our Central City newspaper office - that was my day job, publisher of The Central City Republican-Nonpareil - my wife, now christened Huskerland Penni, said to me for no particular reason (thank you, Forrest Gump), “if you wrote stories about football players people would read them. I would read them.”
Really, you would, honey? They would? Gee, what a neat idea, let’s write stories about football players...
At that time I was assisted by our R-N sports editor Tim Nicholas and another reporter for our paper, Kalani Simpson. Those guys had written a column for Huskerland but having determined that player feature stories were a must we put Simpson on it. Like Niedermeier in Animal House, he’s a sneaky little guy, he’ll be perfect.
* At that time there was no hotter ticket in Nebraska high school football than the Cambridge Trojans, who were tearing it up, on their way to winning their first of what would be five Class C-2 state titles in six years. And their quarterback, that Ed Thompson, the all-stater, he was something else. Simpson, he’s your guy, sick ‘em.
(Did it help to make the decision to go with Ed as No. 1 on our player feature list that his head coach was former Arnold Cardinal, and future hall of famer, Dan Keyser was his head coach? Didn’t hurt.)
So Simpson went about lining up the phone interview with Ed, they had a great conversation, Kalani got it mostly right in the story - always a goal here at Huskerland - and were off and running in the wide, wide world of player feature stories. As I always told our daughter, Huskerland Jessie, when we were shooting hoops, you can’t make two in a row until you make one in a row. Huskerland had now made one in a row.
The fun was jus starting.
* When I look back at how player features stories became part of the mix here at Huskerland, I sorta chuckle warmly to myself. We really didn’t have a clue, we just printed every week, had a blast doing it. I mean, Kalani’s masterpiece on Ed Thompson didn’t even appear in our first issue of 1993; it appeared in Week 3. Oh boy, we were something else back then...
One thing that has always been true about Huskerland Prep Report, going all the way back to its founding in 1990, was that I did and do believe in the word “Huskerland.” From the start I wanted what we did in our little football start-up was to include all four corners of our great state and the communities and football programs that populate them. Like I always say, every Nebraska town is a football town.
So, in the name of being everything to everybody even in that first season of feature stories we certainly got around. Here is the list of feature story subjects from our first year publishing them...
Issue 3. Ed Thompson, Cambridge.
Issue 4 - (No. 2 on our list) Nathan Knott, Arthur.
Issue 5- (3) Darren Rangeloff, North Bend.
Issue 6 - (4) Odell Santos and Ben Wegner, Rushville.
Issue 7 - (5) Andy Hoien, Norfolk Catholic.
Issue 8 - (6) Steve Cook, Blair.
Issue 9 - (7) Adam Anderson, Oakland-Craig and B.J. Smith, Sutton.
How about that. No real rhyme or reason, a heavy dose of the real west or near west, and no Metro stories. Had to start somewhere, and that is where we started.
* I have told many people, maybe you were one of them, I have two professional documents in my computer which I treasure above all others. One is a list of all the schools, and how many times, they have been featured in Huskerland’s preseason football magazine. Nice list, like it a lot. Not The Big One, though.
The Big One is my master list, in numerical order, of all the player feature stories Huskerland has published since that warm September day in 1993. I won’t say I have always been the best archivist, sad admission but true, but this one I got right. Eventually. I waited a couple of years before going back and creating the list and bringing it up to date, a happy chore I cherish getting to do each March once winter sports is over.
Winter sports? Yep. As many of you know Huskerland covers winter sports, mostly basketball, and published in print for 26 years before ceasing operations two years ago - basketball coaches just won’t send in their stats.
So on our list are many basketball players, some wrestlers, even some volleyball players from when we took a swing at covering that sport in the late 1990s. Love all those sports but nothing has stuck like Huskerland football in print.
Over the years the numbers started to mount - in the first regular season issue of the 2003-04 basketball season Omaha Skutt’s Katie Smith was our 1,000th feature story subject, and in the 2012 Huskerland football preview magazine Central City’s Zach Reeves (weird coincidence) was No. 2,000. Seemed like a lot, sure, but there was so much left to do you just keep on truckin’ baby. (Thank you, Eddie Kendricks.)
* Then we sold the paper. Late last year Penni and I sold the Central City newspaper and moved to Gretna. What would come of us? What would come of Huskerland?
Well, we’re doing fine, Penni is living her best life with her best lifetime friends within 15 minutes of our new home. And as for Huskerland, we got through the winter working on our website but in the back of my mind was the thought...what about the football paper.
What about Mr. 3000?
See, I’d done the math and in our seventh publication of the season - that’s this week - we would publish our 3,000th feature story. I didn’t start this hobby of mine with goals in mind but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to make sure we got to 3,000. And keep in mind, that number represents the number of player feature stories that have appeared in our printed edition of Huskerland, and the number of athletes is a touch higher than that due to the fact we have interviewed multiple players on many occasions.
It’s a big number and it represents so many of our high school athletes over the years, including Eric Crouch, Barrett Ruud and Ahman Green, as well as Jeff Kinney, Ken Geddes, Dean Steinkuhler and Larry Wachholtz, former Huskers all, and Ed Thompson who was an all-American at UNO. When they had football.
But the guts of the operation, the bulk of our player profiles have been on everyday, good high school athletes like Clete Samson of Valley, Tyler Tingelhoff of Lexington, Charles Wilson of Madison, John Kraay of Bridgeport, and Robert Jefferson of Omaha Central. It is, as I like to say, quite a list.
* Which (while leaving out a ton of great stuff) brings us today, the day we reveal Huskerland’s Mr. 3,000. I didn’t want to go in strictly numerical order, didn’t seem fair, so we had a drawing, names in a hat pulled out one by one, captured on tape by Huskerland Penni. And the winner, Huskerland’s Mr. 3,000, the one and only in Huskerland history, is...Ashton Schafer, Boone Central senior tight end and linebacker.
Congratulations to Ashton and thanks to the hundreds (thousands, actually) who have given us your time over the years and allowed us the chance to tell your story. And great stories they all are, I just hope we told them well.