At the end of the first practice, Jammal Lord headed toward midfield to confer with fellow coaches when an Omaha Concordia senior yelled his way.
It was Brandon Bonsell, who had recently checked out some of Lord's old highlight clips. He saw how the former Nebraska quarterback darted around, running between and through defenders.
“Hey, coach!” Bonsell yelled, as Lord turned to him. “Could anybody ever tackle you?”
It was a serious question from Bonsell, a lineman who likely will play offense and defense this fall for the Mustangs. “Oh my goodness,” Bonsell continued, “you broke like 20 tackles. I want to be like you!”
Lord laughed, jogged up to one of the team's veterans and whispered his secret. “I wanted to score every play,” he said.
A decade removed from Husker stardom, Lord spent Monday afternoon telling jokes, firing passes and offering words of coaching advice to Bonsell and his teammates as Concordia, a private Class C-1 school in west Omaha, opened preseason football drills under first-year coach Steve Warren and his star-studded group of assistants.
It's no wonder Bonsell has been so fired up this week. Same goes for senior Ben Fletcher, who emphatically informed the team after Wednesday's practice that he's raising the expectations. Every senior — Pearce Davis, Ben Potter, Daniel Combs, Micah Schwanke, Tyler Raabe and Connor Raabe — could be heard this week chiming in with encouraging or motivational words at practice.
“We're extremely privileged,” Bonsell said. “We feel something different.”
Credit their new coaches.
There's Lord, the starter at quarterback for the Huskers in 2002 and 2003. Former NU players Tony Veland and DeAntae Grixby were on hand for Monday's practice. Omaha Beef quarterback James McNear is the offensive coordinator. Mike Horacek, a former Iowa State receiver and Arena Football League player, is on staff.
There are plenty of others, too. Warren, the ex-Husker lineman and former Green Bay Packer, is in charge of Concordia football now, but he's already invited anyone helping with his athlete training and development organization (Warren Academy) to stop by his new gig. Representatives of Warren's mentoring program (D.R.E.A.M. Omaha) are welcome, as well.
“A lot of guys that played can't coach,” Warren said. “I want guys that I know can coach.”
His players, eager for a turnaround, are open to any instruction they can get. They've found support coming from all corners.
Two months ago, Warren called on colleague Khari Reynolds, Warren Academy director of athletic performance and a 1997 Husker letterman, to design a strength and conditioning program for his guys, who previously were working out on their own.
A summer-long fundraising effort by parents, totaling about $20,000, has made it possible for Warren to make his hires. The donations will also help pay for rented lights at Concordia's field, so the Mustangs will no longer play their games at a nearby elementary school.
Concordia also has a new gymnasium, a project that included the addition of a weight room. The complex opened this summer.
“I was asked to come over and help change the culture,” Warren said. “But that's a lot, doing that. We were going to need support from parents and the administration. Everyone's bought in.”
Warren is the Mustangs' third coach in four years. Concordia, which opened to seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders in 2001, sponsored an eight-man football team until 2012.
The Mustangs didn't win a game in eight tries last year. They lost by single digits once. They've lost 15 straight games dating to a double-overtime win against Cedar Bluffs in the 2011 opener.
But no one's talking about the past at Concordia.
Not with guys like Lord, now 32, who still possesses an athlete's frame and combines the experience of a player and coach.
Lord is back in Nebraska because he called Warren this summer, randomly asking if his old college buddy needed help with any of his endeavors.
It just so happened that Warren had accepted the Concordia job a few days after Memorial Day and was still scrambling to put everything together. Lord had been coaching at his alma mater, Bayonne (N.J.) High School, the past four years.
“I love kids, working with them, helping them out,” said Lord, who plans to go apartment shopping next week. “This was perfect timing.”
Lord looked like a natural on the practice field this week. In his interactions with the players, the former Houston Texans defensive back mixed serious teaching points — how a safety properly turns and runs — with fun side tips to lighten the mood — how to bounce a football straight up off the grass.
But his most-repeated lesson seemed to fit his old nature as a player.
“Score!” Lord said to anyone who touched the football.