By Brian Brashaw
Though some members of the UNO football team thought this season was a disappointment because the Mavs did not make the playoffs, the seniors leave the program with a strong resume attached to their time at UNO.
The departing seniors played through four of seven consecutive winning seasons for the Mavericks, compiling a record of 32-14 over four years. This included a conference championship and two runs through the Division II playoffs.
Some of the players reflected on their careers after the game. Johnnie Nolen went through a tough senior season with the Mavericks. Nolen started out as the starting running back for UNO, but after he sustained a minor injury, James E. Johnson got the call. Though he did see action in most games and rushed for 585 yards and five touchdowns over the season, he never got the starting job back.
“It’s been up and down all year,” Nolen said. “Coming in the starter and then being second string was tough. But being a football player, you’ve got to keep your mind into it and stay focused.”
Johnson recognized the team could have done better but felt going out on top would give the next groups something to build on.
“I think by winning our last game, it’s really going to give the incoming players something to work on,” Johnson said. “They are going to look at this and realize they have to put in a little more.”
Johnson rushed for 1,043 yards this season, though he wasn’t given a starting role until about midway through the year.
Head Coach Pat Behrns said of Johnson: “That’s going to be a young man we are going to miss. He’s never been credited for being one of our great tailbacks. He rushed for over 1,000 yards and, in my estimation, he’s been one of the better backs we’ve had.”
Buck Rasmussen also played his last game against Augustana. Rasmussen came back this year after sitting out last season with a knee injury.
He played through pain and even a knee dislocation against Northern Colorado to lead the defense on the field and off.
“It’s a hard thing to lose a big guy like that,” Behrns said. “He’s shown great leadership, he’s been the guy that’s pulled people together and talked about the program and talked about the legacy you need to leave.”
Rasmussen is an education major. If he doesn’t get drafted to the NFL, he is scheduled to start student teaching next year.
Behrns said, “Can you imagine him one day teaching one of your kids, because that’s what he is going to do. And thank goodness we’ve got guys like that going out into teaching.”
Other seniors departing from the Maverick program include Conor Riley, who was twice named the North Central Conference most valuable offensive lineman, and kicker Troy Severson, who leaves UNO as the school’s all-time leading scorer.
Behrns will also miss the likes of Adrian Hernandez, a solid pass coverage man, Lucas Brigman, another beef-eating offensive lineman and punter Kevin Ruch, who often pinned the opposing offense so far back the end zone was a road trip.
Whether UNO has an eighth consecutive winning season may rest on the shoulders of quarterback Brian Masek and whoever Behrns names the starting running back next season, which is just eight months away.