LINCOLN — The impromptu dunk contest began after track practice one day, and Nebraska football recruit Nate Gerry needed a clincher jam.
That's when he noticed a practice hoop, angled like a pendulum about 20 feet above the floor so that the elevated backboard hung just above a corner of the floor, facing the main basket. Translation: the obvious prop.
He's not even sure how to describe what happened next, only insisting that it took him just one attempt. Without much contemplation, Gerry stood inside the 3-point line in the opposite corner and lobbed a basketball underhand over the main rim and off the glass of the basket in the gym's rafters. He timed his leap perfectly, snatched it with his right hand and flushed it home — drawing yelps of delight and admiration from his teammates.
Gerry's not quite sure how the dunk competition started, but that's how it ended. With him enjoying the satisfaction of victory while others marveled at the skill.
Get used to it.
“I don't like to train and work my butt off and not win,” Gerry said. “I'm not going to do something that I'm not going to be best at.”
Perhaps that's the best way to describe the soon-to-be Nebraska freshman from Sioux Falls, S.D., who caught the attention of Husker coaches at a football combine event last spring.
Gerry ended up leading Washington High School to a 12-0 season and a state championship last fall, the program's third title since 2009. He did that, by the way, with torn cartilage that probably should have sidelined him for at least one-third of the season.
Now Gerry's healthy and he's brought his competitiveness to the track, where he'd like to leave his legacy as one of the state's best sprinters.
He's already set South Dakota's 100-meter dash record — his time of 10.28 seconds unofficially ranks as the eighth-best nationally, according to MileSplit.com. He set that in the first outdoor meet of the season. (For comparison, the best time in Nebraska this year is 10.65.) South Dakota's state 200-meter mark of 21.1 is up next.
|VIDEO: GERRY'S ACROBATIC DUNK|
|Click to watch Husker recruit Nathan Gerry's acrobatic dunk.|
“It's definitely one of the things I want to do,” Gerry said.
Mother Nature hasn't really been on Gerry's side, though. Washington track coach Everett Gebhart said at the start of last week that the team had practiced outside maybe “seven or eight” times, limited mostly to a gymnasium to prep for competition — circuit drills, agility workouts, baton handoffs, starts off blocks.
Last Wednesday's city meet had been rescheduled twice. The second day of the Howard Wood Relays, when Gerry ran the 200 in a meet-record 21.52 seconds, took place in rain, wind and 40-degree temperatures that felt much colder.
“The worst spring I can ever remember,” Gebhart said.
But it hasn't really fazed Gerry. About a month ago, he was stuck at home with the power out as he waited for a half-foot of snow to be cleared from Sioux Falls' icy streets so he could go lift again.
He chose not to play baseball as a sophomore, instead committing to an acceleration and weight-training program that evidently fueled his desire to train even more.
Nate was the little brother who wanted to keep up with his older brother, Matthew, always playing hoops with guys bigger and better. His father, Brian, is the head athletic trainer at Augustana College. Nate understands what it takes.
“I just think he started reinforcing a behavior, to want to work hard and get better,” Brian said. “You want to get bigger and faster, so you work a little harder. It just kind of fed off itself.”
And now Nate's seeing the results.
But he knows there's more to do.
Soon he'll be on Nebraska's campus competing against other elite prospects, along with eager underclassmen and determined veterans. His April trip to Lincoln for the spring game only got him more enthused for that next chapter.
It's part of the reason he joined the track team in the first place. He figured that would make him a better football player. Turns out he's a pretty good sprinter, too.
“I just let him do his thing,” Gebhart said. “I don't have to try to motivate him. He's real focused on what he wants to do, motivated to do it himself.”
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