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O-line coach Donovan Raiola brings familiarity with Husker football and NFL experience

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Adam offers his thoughts on the two newest additions to the Nebraska coaching staff in offensive coordinator Mark Whipple and offensive line coach Donovan Raiola.

A former assistant in the NFL — and brother of a former Husker star — is officially joining Nebraska’s staff.

The team announced Donovan Raiola as its new offensive line coach Wednesday morning, exactly one month after parting ways with four-year position coach Greg Austin and much of the rest of its offensive staff. Raiola has spent the past four seasons as an assistant offensive line coach for the Chicago Bears.

He’s the younger brother of Husker All-American and 14-year NFL veteran Dominic Raiola.

“I am humbled to lead the offensive line at the University of Nebraska,” Raiola said in a statement. “I understand the responsibility of coaching the Pipeline and the history of offensive line excellence at Nebraska. We will work tirelessly to add to that tradition.”

Added coach Scott Frost: “Donovan is an outstanding offensive line coach who has a history of winning as both a player and coach.”

Donovan Raiola was an intern at Hawaii in 2014 and the O-line coach at Division III Aurora (Ill.) in 2017. Two years as a graduate assistant at Notre Dame (2015-16) helped him catch his big break when the Irish’s line coach, Harry Hiestand, joined coach Matt Nagy’s staff in Chicago and hired Raiola to work with him.

Hiestand — a respected expert in offensive-line play who has since retired — was known for a philosophy centered on technique and fundamentals. Other media accounts detail film reviews in which Hiestand would meticulously review plays, going over only a few per hour. Consistently hammering home details that others might gloss over — feet positioning, hand placement, head level, etc. — was his key to success.

Raiola, 38, has adopted a similar approach. Nagy told local reporters Wednesday he wished him well and was glad he’s getting an opportunity to lead his own position.

“It was pretty neat to be able to go through that process with Donny,” Nagy said. “He’s worked hard for this. We’re excited for him.”

Raiola has plenty of Big Ten seasoning. He started 39 games and served as team captain at Wisconsin in its final seasons with Barry Alvarez as coach. He received All-Big Ten honorable mention at center in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

He had contracts with six NFL teams over five years (2006-10) and played part of two seasons with the Omaha Nighthawks (2010-11).

After retiring, he returned to his high school alma mater in Honolulu to help coach for two years.

Raiola is also the uncle to Dominic’s son, Dylan Raiola, who is one of the highest-rated quarterbacks in the 2024 cycle out of Burleson, Texas. The younger Raiola has attended a Husker camp and game in the last year and holds offers from most top programs.

Donovan Raiola takes over an offensive line that regularly allowed pressure to Nebraska’s quarterbacks. NU used four lineups this year.

Only two linemen started every game — right guard Matt Sichterman and center Cam Jurgens, who both could move on this offseason. NU’s top two tackles — Bryce Benhart and Turner Corcoran — struggled throughout the year against the Big Ten’s best pass rushers.

Any returning linemen will likely learn new schemes under offensive coordinator Mark Whipple and potentially a new starting quarterback since Martinez has hit the transfer portal.

The relationship of scheme and QB to an offensive line is more nuanced than it was two decades ago, when Dominic Raiola anchored Husker lines that plowed over opponents with option and power football. Frost would like some diet of option in his system, but he blends it with a spread passing game.

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