June 2, 2011

NU walk-ons get early introduction at Shrine Bowl

For seven players on the Shrine Bowl North team, the past week has been a nice introduction of sorts to some of the faces they'll be seeing at their first Nebraska practice in Lincoln this fall.

North team running backs Richard Wynne Jr. of Omaha Creighton Prep and Greg Milliken of Wahoo, defensive end Jack Gangwish of Wood River, offensive tackles Will Sailors of Lincoln Northeast and Chris Long of Blair and defensive linemen Aaron Hayes of Elkhorn and Eddie Ridder of Mount Michael Benedictine will all walk-on at Nebraska this season.

For all the walk-ons, especially those who had never played with or against the rest of the group before in high school, having a chance to bond with their future teammates while also getting a taste of what to expect at NU has been an invaluable experience.

"I feel like it's a great opportunity to get to know these guys a little bit before I get down there," said Gangwish, a two-time all-state honorable mention selection. "Prior to this, I had no idea who I was going to be playing with, what these guys were like, that type of thing. So I look at it as a great opportunity to get to know these guys and see what they're all about."

Playing a small school like Wood River, Gangwish was one of the walk-ons who has gained the most from the past few days of Shrine Bowl practices just in the sense of for once not being the most athletic player on the field.

"It's just been a fantastic experience for me," Gangwish said. "I've met a lot of new guys and a lot of really good athletes. The biggest thing for me was I've gotten to play against some really high level of competition in practice here.

"That's something I'm not used to, in games or on my own practice field at home. It's been a really, really cool experience. I've been getting a lot better from these guys."

Even for those players a little more familiar with their Shrine Bowl teammates, the chance to get to know their future fellow Huskers outside of opposing high school rivalries as been a welcomed and somewhat surprisingly enjoyable experience.

"You go from enemies and rivals who you fought against, and then you get to meet them and you're like, 'Oh, he's a pretty cool guy,'" said Wynne Jr., who was the state's second leading rusher last season with 1,655 yards and 18 touchdowns. "You definitely introduce yourself and try and get to know each other more every day. It's hard to figure out all about a person in 10 days, but we've been trying and putting forth the effort. Everybody wants to know each other, and I've already know a few of the walk-ons pretty well."

Because the Shrine Bowl was moved up several weeks from years past, far more Nebraska walk-ons were able to participate in the game without having any schedule conflicts with their college obligations.

It will be an extremely busy week for the walk-ons by playing in the Shrine Bowl on Saturday and then having to move into the University of Nebraska-Lincoln dorms on Sunday to start summer classes and begin working out at NU, but they say they'd gladly do that and play in the Shrine Bowl than have to miss it.

"It actually turned out more convenient this way," Wynne Jr. said. "Now I get to do the Shrine Bowl and the Bridge Program, so it's convenient that way. I think it will be better for a smooth transition, whereas if it were in August and I had to pick one or the other, for me to pick the Shrine Bowl would be pretty tough."

Wynne Jr. also said he's using the week with the Shrine Bowl to get himself as ready as possible to enter a ridiculously competitive Husker backfield this fall.

"The most I can prepare myself right now is just mentally," Wynne Jr. said. "Just going in there and not being afraid and being ready and prepared mentally. I think that's the most important part of being a walk-on.

"Just not harping on the fact that I'm a walk-on and that the competition is going to be tough. I mean, obviously the competition is going to be tough, but just go in their positive minded and optimistic and just go in there and work."

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