WAHOO – It was a small, but enthusiastic crowd at the Hilltop Country Club on the southern edge of Wahoo Tuesday morning, where Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander and secondary coach Travis Fisher addressed fans on the Husker Nation tour.
Wahoo was the first of several stops for Chinander and Fisher, who also had scheduled stops in Fremont, David City, and Beatrice.
Both coaches began by introducing themselves and speaking on their football backgrounds.
“I played college football in the Midwest,” Chinander said. “I’m not going to say where, because I don’t want to get drug out of here and beat up. It doesn’t matter, though. I’m over here in the Good Life now.”
Chinander played offensive line at Iowa from 1998-2002.
In Iowa, and in ‘The Good Life,’ in-state recruiting is a constant need for fans – a need that must be satisfied to maintain relationships with fans and the local coaches.
Chinander, a native of Allison, Iowa, sees qualities in Midwestern athletes that may be overlooked by others.
“These Midwest kids, their ceiling is so high,” Chinander said, walking around the room in black cowboy boots. “These kids, they’re just like me. It’s like looking in the mirror. When July came around, when (the corn) got knee-high by the 4th of July, I was going to be out there detasseling like crazy and throwing bales. That’s what these kids did. They’re not out there with a personal trainer. They’re out working.
“Once they come to our program, we’re going to be able to develop those kids. Even if they come as a walk-on, they might end up being better than scholarship players or better than scholarship players. Or, a valuable contributor to our team.”
Chinander, Fisher and the entire UCF staff followed Frost to Lincoln in December after spending two seasons in Orlando.
This staff has been on the job at Nebraska for over six months, are now just 81 days away from the Huskers’ first game against Akron at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 1 at 7 p.m.
“I’m excited to be here,” Chinander said. “I know we’re going to do great things here. We’ve got some work to do. There’s no sugarcoating that one, but if we didn’t, we probably wouldn’t be here. It’s probably time to grab the lunch pail and the hard hat and we get going.”
While Chinander has an eye for the Midwest, Fisher has an eye for technique. He, along with tight ends coach Sean Beckton, were the only two assistants retained from UCF’s 2015 coaching staff after George O’Leary was dismissed.
Teaching technique has been the driving force behind Fisher’s coaching career.
“(Fisher is) the best technique defensive backs coach I’ve ever been around,” Chinander said. “I’ve been around a lot of good ones. To me at that position, technique, toughness, the ability to tackle is the position. That’s the name of the game.”
A native of Tallahassee, Fisher played cornerback at UCF from 1999-2001 before spending nine seasons with four different franchises in the NFL.
Since coming to Nebraska, depth has been Fisher’s biggest concern. The Huskers only had eight defensive backs on scholarship when spring practice began in March.
Only three of those eight were fully healthy once spring drills ended in late April.
“The spring was very tough for me,” Fisher said. “But, we made it through. One thing I did notice is that guys were kind of sleeping away from football. Their love of the game maybe wasn’t the same maybe as when they left high school for whatever reason. I’ve seen some progress, a lot of progress, from those same guys who sat in those same seats last year.
“I saw those guys starting to love football again, starting to smile again. I’m starting to see those guys fly around. Even though it’s a small group, it don’t take a big group to win. It just takes a group that’s willing to go out and do it.”
Nebraska’s latest freshmen class has all arrived on campus within the last month or so. Braxton Clark, Corbin Frederick, Cam’ron Jones, C.J. Smith, Isaiah Stalbird and Cam Taylor are the newest additions to the defensive back group. Monday was the first time Fisher saw them all together as a group.
“Those guys are here not to be anyone’s back-up,” Fisher said. “Those guys are here to take over right now as freshmen. I don’t mind playing freshmen. Those guys are here to push the room. They came to my office with notepads, ready to learn.”
Strength and conditioning was also brought a couple of times Tuesday. Frost has been very open about his team’s need to get into better, more physical shape before the 2018 season begins.
Head strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval was the key in turning an 0-12 UCF team in 2015 into a 13-0 team in 2017, according to Fisher.
“That (2015) team was very weak,” Fisher said. “It wasn’t fast. Coach Duval came in and took those same players who lost every game, put them in his strength and conditioning program, got this coaching staff, and woke these kids up. They’re the same kids that went 13-0 in two years.
“When he took this job, it was kind of the same. Maybe a little bit better in my opinion. The kids here a little better in my opinion. I don’t think the fix is that bad, to be honest with you. You can look forward to it being very competitive – probably what you’re used to at Nebraska, especially up front.”
Fans and media heard time and again during the spring that players are lifting more weight than they ever have, and players’ bodies are changing for the better.
Chinander knows that’s all part of the process, but to him, there’s a key cog that sometimes gets set aside in conversation.
“The piece that doesn’t get talked about enough in strength and conditioning is the confidence level,” Chinander said. “When you have a poor strength and conditioning staff and or program, the confidence level in your players is very low. Coach Frost talks about no fear of failure and the desire to excel. You can’t do that when you have no confidence.
“Running fast and playing fast are two totally different things. If you believe in yourself, if you believe in technique, if you have confidence, you can play fast. You don’t play fast until you get that confidence in your strength and conditioning.”
Confidence, buy-in and holding each other accountable. These principles are part of what many Nebraska fans say helped make the Huskers great under Tom Osborne.
While confidence is what Chinander is watching for, Fisher says accountability is another switch that needs to be flipped in order for Nebraska to taste success.
“You’re starting to have guys correcting guys,” Fisher said. “That’s one thing we’ve experienced this summer so far. That’s when the deal starts to change, and a lot of times, it changes in the locker room, and you don’t ever know it until you go out on the field. When the kids fix it, then you’re really good. That’s what we got last year (at UCF). We barely had to coach mistakes – the kids fixed it. I’m starting to see that here.”
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