LINCOLN, Neb. – They realize, of course, that fall camp isn’t what’s important right now.
You could tell they understood that when each of them brought up Sam Foltz’s name at Nebraska’s opening news conference Wednesday.
Coach Mike Riley took a second before he answered a question about Sam. Tommy Armstrong’s voice got quiet. So did Jordan Westerkamp’s. Kicker Drew Brown, maybe more than anyone, knows there are more to the X’s and O’s of fall camp kicking off Thursday.
“Having fall camp immediately like this,” Brown said on Wednesday, “it’s a good and a bad thing,”
It was only a 11 days ago when Brown found his friend – his hero – dead in that car crash in Merton, Wisc. Brown was working at the same Kohls Kicking Camp and went out looking for Foltz on that stormy night after Sam and former Michigan kicker Mike Sadler didn’t show up to the meeting point they planned on for their drive home.
Brown and a friend, who had left before Sadler and Foltz, found the car smashed against a tree just off Beaver Lake Road. And his life changed forever.
Four days ago, the Huskers laid their 22-year-old punter to rest. And now football is here. Fall camp starts Thursday, and they have no choice but to take the field.
Which is a good thing, Brown said, because finally there’s something else to think about. But it’s also bad thing, because he’ll be constantly reminded who isn’t there.
“It’s gonna be tough,” Brown said.
Decals with Foltz’s number 27 were placed on helmets Tuesday. His locker will remain as it is in the locker room, Riley said. The seniors are still figuring out details on how they want to honor him. Westerkamp mentioned maybe even bringing out a flag with his number on it during the first Tunnel Walk.
What’s clear is that the emotional cut of Foltz’s death runs deep, and won’t be going away anytime soon.
“He was every guy’s guy,” Riley said of Foltz.
Riley mentioned Wednesday that Foltz likely would have been a captain this year. And that when the team took polls on who would let a teammate take their girlfriend to a party or who would be the most likely to stop and help someone’s broken down car on the side of the road, Foltz’s name was always near the top of the list.
“(His death) will affect different people differently,” Riley said.
For Armstrong, this season has turned into a way to honor Foltz. Last week, he said, was a rough week for the team. But now, with practice starting, they have to play like Sam was here.
“He would want us to do that,” Armstrong said.
For Riley, he wants to bring the same enthusiasm to practice every day that Foltz did.
Do it like he did it, Riley said.
“Enjoy it like he did.”
For Drew Brown, he will go to practice at 3:30 p.m. Thursday and he will do it with a different holder for the first time in two years. Brown will be ready.
After all, he’s here at Nebraska to kick, he said. So that’s what he’s going to do.
“And it’s what he would want me to do,” Brown said.