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Small-college programs may reap benefits

OMAHA, Neb. -- Small-college football programs are prepared
to capitalize on new Nebraska coach Bill Callahan's plan to cut the
size of the Cornhuskers' roster.

But while Callahan will benefit from coaching what he calls a
more "manageable" number of players, and smaller programs might
benefit from an influx of players who otherwise would have gone to
NU, some high school coaches are concerned about lost opportunities
for their players.

Callahan hasn't said how many spots would he would eliminate
from the 170-man roster, but he indicated the number of walk-ons
would be scaled back.

There have been numerous success stories associated with the
nationally acclaimed walk-on program that started in earnest under
Bob Devaney in the 1960s. Six players have achieved All-America
status after initially paying their way to school, and many have
been key contributors.

A great many walk-ons see little or no playing time, however.
Though they can come from anywhere, the majority are homegrown kids
who grew up dreaming of playing for the Big Red and are willing to
serve as practice meat in exchange for the chance to run through
the Memorial Stadium tunnel.

Callahan, however, said he wants his staff to work only with
players who have a realistic chance of being listed among the top
three at their positions.

North Platte High coach Bob Zohner, who has coached in the state
for 37 years, laments the likely passing of the walk-on tradition.

"It was advantageous for finding a sleeper now and then,"
Zohner said. "Lord knows there are a lot of kids who could have
gone to play college football somewhere else and gotten their
educations paid for, but instead they decided to pay their own way
so they could go play for Nebraska."

Borderline Division I players are welcome with open arms at the
state's smaller schools, Chadron State coach Brad Smith said.

He said as many as 15 of his prospective recruits each year are
torn between choosing a partial scholarship from Chadron and
walking on at Nebraska.

University of Nebraska at Kearney coach Darrell Morris and Wayne
State College coach Scott Hoffman said the numbers are similar at
their schools.

"We would offer half a scholarship to some young men and they
would still walk-on at University of Nebraska and pay full toll,"
Smith said. "Some would make it, some of them wouldn't. The ones
who would not make it seldom matriculated back to Chadron State.
They stayed there (in Lincoln) and went to school."

Pat Behrns, the University of Nebraska at Omaha's coach, said he
isn't sure how the reduction of would-be Nebraska walk-ons would
affect the state's lower-division schools.

Behrns pointed out that there has been an insurgence of several
Division I-AA recruiting in the state that traditionally have not
tried to woo players in Nebraska. Among them are Northern Iowa,
South Dakota State and North Dakota State.

With those schools entering the recruiting picture, Behrns said,
the number of prospects available to Division II and NAIA schools
might not change much.

Wayne State's Hoffman said the Huskers' leftovers will find
places to play.

"There are some awful good players who are at Nebraska right
now that would be excellent players at the Division II level,"
Hoffman said. "My guess is that if some of those kids get cut
loose, UNO, Wayne, Kearney, Chadron and Northwest Missouri stand to
benefit."

Zohner and other high school coaches said the walk-on program
gives lots of players hope.

That hope, Zohner said, enhances the quality of football in the
state. Previous Nebraska coaching staffs under Tom Osborne and
Frank Solich touted the opportunities available through the walk-on
program.

"They talked about it so much that the kids believed it,"
Zohner said.

There were four former walk-ons in the 2003 starting lineup. As
recently as 2002, seven starters came to Nebraska as walk-ons.

That statistic is hard to ignore, Rushville coach Brent Ehlers
said.

"If a kid has a legitimate chance of going down there and
contributing on a D-I level, then the cutbacks are a bad thing,"
Ehlers said.

But Ehlers said he understands Callahan's logic for purging
players.

"If Nebraska has 50 kids at one position standing around and
they're all getting repetitions, then we're holding back from the
ones who have the chance to contribute," Ehlers said.

Lyons-Decatur coach Kevin Anderson said he also can see both
sides.

"It's a public institution and it's a chance for people to go
out and be part of the team and have that experience," Anderson
said. "The other side, when you're upward of 170 and 200, that's a
big number, and the question becomes: Are you doing the whole team
justice?"