LINCOLN — The itch comes about the same time every day.
Dan Pensick will be sitting in his home office and feel it.
Time to go see his boy. Time to go see his boys.
“It'll be about that 4 o'clock range, and I can't take it no more,” Pensick says. “I'm ready to go. I try telling myself, 'OK, I won't go today.' Then all of a sudden … 4 o'clock and, well, I've got to go.”
Pensick is talking about Nebraska football practice. He's talking about going to watch his son — NU offensive lineman Cole Pensick — but also all of the other Huskers who he's slowly built friendships with over the past few years.
And among those from outside the program, nobody is there on a more regular basis than Dan Pensick, a former Husker defensive tackle who lettered for Tom Osborne from 1977 through '79.
“It's just one of those things that kind of started in high school (when Cole was at Lincoln Northeast),” Pensick said. “I just like watching practice. Watching your son play is pretty special.”
And the few minutes afterward are sometimes priceless.
“At first it was kind of, 'Oh, man, there's Dad,' ” Cole Pensick said. “But as I've grown up, it's become more of like a friendship — not so much a father-son but more of a brother friendship. We kind of clown around sometimes and what not, and he lets me know what's up.”
Cole is OK with sharing his dad as well.
After a practice this week, Dan Pensick was first meeting with Cole, Brent Qvale, Jeremiah Sirles and some of the other linemen on the Hawks Center field. Then rehashing some of the Nebraska-Michigan State game with tight ends Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed in the hallway. Then telling defensive end Cameron Meredith as he passed to say hello to his folks.
“Dan's been like a second dad to me here,” said Qvale, who's from Williston, N.D.
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They talk hunting and fishing. Life in general. Sometimes anything but football, of which Cole Pensick and his friends already get their fill.
Then Dan Pensick is often the pipeline to Phil Sirles or Sanford Qvale or some of the other dads, either by phone or when they get together on Saturdays to tailgate before and after Nebraska games.
“I kind of report back to all the parents,” Pensick said, laughing. “They'll call me and ask, 'What'd ya see today?'
“You get to know those kids on a personal level, and you come out here and sometimes I'm just watching them to see how they're all doing. You get to watching them and you get to rooting for them.”
Pensick has the luxury the other parents do not, both with proximity and job flexibility. He works from his Lincoln home selling polyethylene tanks for Norwesco, and travels the southeast part of the U.S. for the Minnesota-based company.
But he also has the urge to be there, start to finish. In recent weeks, it's been every Monday and Tuesday — because the Huskers are on a three-game win streak and he's somewhat superstitious — but he popped in again Thursday.
“I just kind of got a little spot over there,” Pensick said. “It's one of those deals you just kind of mind your own business and watch the practice.”
Pensick has his other connections, too.
He was college roommates with Husker assistant coach Barney Cotton. NU head athletic trainer Jerry Weber started in the mid-1970s and is still with the program. Osborne and other former players are around from time to time.
As Dan Pensick makes friends with current NU players, Cole already has known his share of former Huskers. He grew up around guys like Henry Waechter, Bill Barnett, Dan Steiner and John Havekost, hanging out or even going along to fish or hunt.
“He's got like five dads,” Dan Pensick said.
Cole knows a little about Dan's playing days, too, and has watched the DVD of the Nebraska-Oklahoma game from 1978 when the Columbus native recovered a fumble and forced another in the 17-14 upset of the Sooners.
“They all make fun of us,” Dan Pensick said. “Most of the guys claim all of our bunch wore leather helmets. They think we're ancient.
“But he knows that when any of the guys are talking to him and making a point about something that they understand the game, although it's changed a lot since we played. But he's had plenty of arm-chair coaching.”
Dan Pensick gets into the current NU games as much as when he played and said the crazy finish at Michigan State took a toll on him and his wife, Bev. Cole also played more snaps at left guard last Saturday than he has all season and sprung quarterback Taylor Martinez on a 59-yard run in the first quarter.
They talked briefly outside the locker room in East Lansing, but Cole said dad finally made a little more sense Sunday “after he had calmed down.”
Dan Pensick was OK by Monday and back out watching, of course. He tries to do the same with some volleyball practices for his daughter, Abby, a junior at Lincoln Northeast. He just likes to be there.
Pensick knows to stay out of the way with the coaches, or “I'm sure I'd be asked to just sit outside the door and keep my opinions to myself.” He knows to watch his step with Cole, too, and be there more for support than anything else.
Cotton said that hasn't changed with Dan Pensick as Cole has gone from No. 1 center in preseason practice to backup to playing as much as he did last week.
“I appreciate Dan,” Cotton said. “I've even talked to Dan and said, 'Hey, this is what's going on.' And he goes, 'Hey, (Cole) just wants to play and he's going to keep on working.' I appreciate that from a father who encourages his son to keep working hard through ups and downs.”
Dan will be there through both, savoring the time around the team but the minutes with his son the most.
“Usually after a game he's kind of critiquing me on some things, but he's like, 'I'm proud of you, and I hope you know that,' ” Cole Pensick said. “And then we usually end with, 'I love ya.' ”
Contact the writer:
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