It’s been nearly 25 years since Matt Hoskinson displaced a defensive lineman. But the Hoss can still bring it.
Nebraska offensive line coach Greg Austin is asking former Husker offensive linemen to speak to his group each Friday. Last week was Hoss’ turn.
He started thinking about his career. He thought about his mentor, the late, great Milt Tenopir. And as he spoke, he could feel his throat tighten, his voice waver.
“When you’re an old fart like me, you’re going to start thinking about legacy, personal legacy,” Hoskinson told the linemen.
“Our legacy at Nebraska is one of championships. I’m very, very proud of that.
“But you guys have a chance to leave a more important and more lasting legacy than we left. Let me say that again.
“You get to be the guys who bring Husker football back. When you come back one day, you’ll say, ‘We are the ones who brought it back. We are the reason it is like this.’
“But it has to be now.
“Bryce (Benhart), Turner (Corcoran), Teddy (Prochazka), just because it’s your first year ... you don’t have time to grow. And if you don’t know why you don’t have time, you’re not very smart.
“This has to happen now. It has to happen this year. And it has to start with the offensive line.”
As he recalled his talk the other day, Hoskinson’s voice cracked again.
“I got emotional,” Hoskinson said. “I care about this team. I care about Scott. I think they’re good enough.”
To say Hoskinson is invested in the team would be putting it mildly. He’s a former member of Tenopir’s Pipeline and the 1995-97 Huskers. His son, Sam, is a walk-on lineman at NU.
And the head coach is one of his best friends.
That made talking about the current situation like walking a tightrope. But Hoss comes from an era of tough love. And so he was often blunt.
Of course, these are things he’s told Scott Frost. It’s been that way since they were kids from Battle Creek and Wood River.
“Met Scott in the summer after our freshman year (high school) at football camp,” Hoskinson said. “Couple small-town Nebraska kids.
“They had a pool at Abel Hall and I did a gainer off the board, and he was impressed. I said, ‘What, you don’t think big guys can be athletes?’”
They stayed friends even though Hoskinson went to NU and Frost went to Stanford. Then one day Frost called Hoskinson and roommate Tim Carpenter to say he wanted to come home.
“He says, ‘Can you talk to Coach Osborne for me?’” Hoskinson said. “I was a redshirt freshman. I didn’t even know where his office was.
“The next day, I found it. I told Coach Osborne, ‘Scott wants to come back, he wants you to call him.’ Coach said he couldn’t do that, it was against the rules, that Scott had to call him.
“I brokered the time and the place.”
Hoskinson, a sales manager who lives in west Omaha, was like a lot of people when Frost signed on as head coach three years ago. Excited. Hopeful. On board.
Hoskinson attends practice regularly. He and Frost talk frequently. And he continues to try to preach building a great offensive line.
That it hasn’t happened yet is a point of contention with Hoss. We talked about that and more:
Q: What else did you focus on in your talk with the linemen?
A: “I wanted them to play with a different kind of energy. Offensive lines are the cerebral guys. We’re the sweethearts.
“When the helmet comes on, all that has to go away. You have to have a different level of pissed off. I wanted to let them know it was OK to be a (expletive).
“I asked them how many were little brothers? A bunch raised their hands. I said you know what it’s like when you’re so mad you’re on the verge of tears? You have to be able to conjure that emotion up every single play.”
Hoskinson said he thought the linemen were dealing with a lot more each play than he ever did. For one thing, he said their playbook might be too big.
“I think it’s more difficult now because of the multiplicity of the offense,” Hoskinson said. “You have a play and then you have multiple plays after it, and you change the blocking scheme from run to pass, front side to back side.
“I tell this to my sixth-grade team: Unless you know where you’re going, you can’t go 100%. My contention is, there have been multiple times over the last couple years where that has been the case.
“They aren’t 100% sure where they are going and they haven’t been able to go 100% because of that.”
Hoskinson says the answer is a two-way street. The players need to study and watch more film. And the coaches need to cut back.
“They are still very young,” Hoskinson said. “Players this young didn’t play back in the day. Unless you’re Will Shields, it didn’t happen.
“These are young, young guys. They have to stick their nose in the playbook and learn. And then from a coaching standpoint, we have to tweak things so they can go 100%.”
Q: Are you surprised at this? Frost should know what worked at Nebraska before.
A: “He played in the Big 12. He coached in the Pac-12. He had very little knowledge of the Big Ten. As a coach, he’s figured out this is different.
“In the Pac-12, the thought process is that the line doesn’t have to be great. It can be serviceable. If you have a nice, average line and elite skill position guys, you can win a lot of games in the Pac-12.
“You do that in the Big Ten, you’re going 4-8. It’s a lesson learned. That’s not something you flip overnight.”
I reminded Hoskinson of something Frost said when he was hired, that he wanted to combine Oregon’s scheme with Nebraska physicality.
“That’s hard to do,” Hoskinson said. “Right now, we don’t do either one well. But he has seen that he had to change. I think they’re finding who they are.”
Q: Your Nebraska teams were fueled by great leaders on the field. Is that part missing?
A: “I’ve seen glimpses of it. I love that Jason Peter and Jay Foreman are down there. I talk to them. They’re working hard on the mental part, the nasty.
“Jason said, ‘I’m teaching them how to be (expletives).’ If anybody can teach them, he can.”
Last Saturday, Hoskinson attended his son’s JV game and then made it to Memorial Stadium at halftime. Just in time to see Nebraska “find something they can build on.”
Hoskinson isn’t giving up hope. He and Frost talk and exchange texts. He tries to listen, to pump him up, to offer tough love.
“He would consider what’s happened so far unsuccessful,” Hoskinson said. “The dude has won everywhere he’s been. He’s never felt what it’s like to lose.
“I have sympathy to an extent. I don’t want to hear any whining. And that’s what he’s doing. He’s putting his head down. He’s very frustrated.
“There’s progress. But we’re still losing games doing some remedial fifth-grade mistakes. At our lowest time, we’re still right there with a lot of teams. So we’re doing something right.
“But at the end of the day, you have to win games.”
Once upon a time, Hoskinson could have been a coach. Frost told him he would call when he got his first head coaching job.
But Hoskinson was too far along in his career. He’s teaching players things he learned from Tenopir. But it’s to his sixth-grade “Junior Storm” team. Lucky kids.
“It’s always been in the back of my head,” Hoskinson said. “That’s the impression Milt left on me.”
As Hoss spoke from the heart to the Husker line last week, the words might as well have come from Tenopir. That’s how you pass down legacy.