Editor's note: This is the second part in a series of stories following freshman Josh Gutzmer, a high school wide receiver from Hickman, Nebraska, as he tries to become the first Husker walk-on from his hometown in 10 years. Read part one here.
After his 8:30 a.m. calculus class Wednesday morning, freshman Josh Gutzmer braved the brisk Nebraska chill and headed home to grab a bite to eat. Just like on Friday afternoons before he suited up for Norris High School, he knew he had to eat just the right amount to satisfy his hunger but also avoid any chance of vomiting on the field.
Today was no different. Today, Josh would set foot on a football field for the first time in almost a year, with hopes of becoming a Nebraska football player -- and one of the first-ever walk-on from his hometown of Hickman, Nebraska.
And for those hopes to become a reality, Josh stuck to protocol: a light meal, stretching and mental focus.
He made it back to his dorm and knocked out his daily round of calculus and astronomy homework before a light meal at the dining hall of yogurt with strawberries and granola and a glass of water.
Josh walked to Hawks Championship Center at 11:30 a.m., about an hour before tryouts began.
In the lobby, he saw about 35 walk-on hopefuls waiting in line to get onto the field.
He found a spot and laid down in the lobby, turned on the music of Hans Zimmer, his favorite composer. As players shuffled around him, Josh shut his eyes and tried to get comfy in his sweatshirt and pants on the tile, blocking out the rest of the world.
A few more athletes funneled in, and eventually about 50 guys formed a line behind the closed door to enter the field. Josh hopped in line and one by one, each approached a table near the door and stepped onto a scale to be measured and weighed.
Josh clocked in at 6-foot-4, 197.8 pounds.
A few minutes after getting measured, the doors finally opened, and Josh and 49 other athletes were shepherded onto the field.
Mark Philipp, the head Nebraska football strength coach, stood at the 50-yard line, joined by a few assistants and Andy Vaughn, director of football & recruiting operations at Nebraska.
“Huddle up, fellas,” Philipp boomed as players jogged to to the mid-field and took a knee.
Josh noticed right away there were no position coaches. No Mike Riley.
They all circled around the red-and-white-clad coaches at the 50-yard line.
“We're happy you all came out and we’re excited to get going,” Philipp said. “We are going to run an NFL-style combine so you’re going to need to listen carefully and pay attention, which is key so we can keep this running smoothly.”
They broke the huddle and stretched as a group, and then Philipp explained they would be recorded on three tests to start off with: the 40-yard dash, a 5-10-5 shuttle and vertical jump.
After a few minutes of stretching, Josh made his way to the goal line, coaches with clipboards in hand stood around midfield.
“40-yard dash,” Philipp called out. “Listen for your name and go on the whistle.”
As Josh waited he checked over his gear: his black and white Nike cleats were tied, his grey Nike shorts were tied snug and his Adidas Dri Fit shirt hugged his body and wouldn’t slow him down like any other shirt would.
Finally, it was his turn.
Josh took off.
* * *
Josh stood at the goal line again, this time for raw conditioning. He'd finished his 40-yard-dash and his two other drills, and he thought he did OK. The coaches said if they wanted to know their 40 time they could email Phillip. But Josh didn’t want to know.
At the sound of the whistle, Josh sprinted to the 25-yard line and back six times.
Everyone did the drill one time through, took a quick water break and then lined up for a another.
“If you don’t feel well or if this is too much for you, it’s OK to sit out,” Josh heard Phillip yell.
A few guys backed off for the second shuttle. Josh’s lungs burned, but he lined up to run anyway.
“They’re saying it’s OK to sit out, but they're definitely looking for a player who was going to do it,” Josh thought. “Sitting out won’t get me on the team.”
After the second 300 shuttle Josh was out of breath, but his legs were fine, and that’s all that really mattered to him.
From the shuttles, the group went to agility. The first drill was a bag drill where each player had to weave in between each of the five pads as fast as he could.
After each rep, no one spoke. They just got in line and did it again, the coaches surely dissecting each and every move. The only sound was the rush of the fans above and the wind outside.
For Josh, it didn’t matter his throat was burning and he was dog-tired. He didn’t want to show it. He just needed to keep going. And he knew he could.
They finished agility and moved onto the last rotation -- where Josh found himself weaving through cones in a figure-8 and an M-shape.
Josh finished his last rep of agility and it was over. An hour and half come and gone, just like that.
He couldn’t do anything else. It was all up to the coaches now.
Josh grabbed his bag, got a drink of water from the fountain and walked out into the cold Nebraska winter again.
“Will they do like a call back sort of thing?” he thought as he walked back to his dorm. “Maybe they’ll base it off of times from the first three tests, or maybe they already know what they’re looking for and just base it off that.”
Josh thought he’d seen some coaches stop watching at one point, and he doesn’t remember any coach calling names out after the 40-yard-dash.
“That makes me wonder,” Josh said.“I’m not sure what they are going to do or if they even call anyone back at all.”
Josh left the tryout completely uncertain. And he knows if he doesn’t get a call, it’s all over. No suiting up on Saturdays next fall and tapping that horseshoe before the tunnel walk. Maybe he’ll get a call. Maybe get invited to camp. Not to give him a roster spot, per say, but maybe to give him a shot. Who knows.
Right now, all he can do is wait.
So he walked into his room, kicked off his shoes and mustered enough strength to climb into bed, and soon fell asleep.