LINCOLN, Neb. — Last fall, lifelong Nebraska football fan Roger Newman bought a racehorse. It wasn’t his first. The Omaha native has been been racing horses for about 10 years in the San Diego area.
But this new horse, this 3-year-old colt who hasn’t won a race yet, is already his most famous.
Because the horse, Calibraska, is named after Nebraska football’s recruiting push in California, made famous on Twitter by recruits like Tristan Gebbia and Keyshawn Johnson Jr.
The social media trend has now manifested itself as the name of a racehorse 1,500 miles from Memorial Stadium.
“We just kind of went for it,” Newman said.
The naming of the horse isn’t a major development for Nebraska football, but it does show at least a small part of the growing connections between the Huskers football team and the state of California. With the connections of Nebraska coach Mike Riley and his staff on the West Coast, the Calibraska movement is gaining traction in recruiting.
Several of Nebraska’s top-tier recruits in the past two classes have come from the state, and the excitement of Big Red football is popping up in more pockets of California. Gebbia and Johnson Jr., who played high school football in Calabasas, Calif., both committed to Nebraska in the 2017 class and then promoted the hashtag #Calibraska on Twitter.
Kent Wiedel, the president of the California chapter of the Nebraska Alumni Association, said there are records of Nebraska alumni in California dating back to the 1960s. But he sees a growing fan base in the state.
“It think recently it’s definitely gotten bigger,” Wiedel said.
The association tracks membership by homes. Wiedel said there are currently between 750 and 1,000 households in the Los Angeles area alone who are members or participate in activities put on by the association, like watch parties in the fall. And it’s growing.
Wiedel attributes the growth of membership recently to the coaching connections on the West Coast.
In other words, Calibraska the movement.
Which is why the horse named Calibraska isn’t really surprising to Wiedel.
“In some ways it is, in some ways it isn’t,” he said. “I guess when you come from Nebraska you’ve always got some strings back to it.”
Calibraska the horse started to grow in popularity last weekend thanks to this tweet.
— Husk Guys (@HuskGuys) February 11, 2017
Nebraska Twitter began to spread the word. Nebraska running backs coach Reggie Davis tweeted out the photo, as did wide receivers coach Keith Williams. Gebbia and Johnson Jr. retweeted it.
“That was all pretty crazy and pretty cool,” said Newman’s son, Trey. “Horse racing isn’t so mainstream nowadays and it was kind of cool to see that a little in the limelight. That was cool to see.”
Trey was born into the Huskers tradition. Some of his earliest memories are watching the 1990s championship teams with his dad and brothers. The family usually tries to make it to Lincoln for a game every season, which is partly why naming the horse after the Calibraska movement isn’t so silly to the family, he said.
The name didn’t come out of thin air, either. They had a small nudge from the horse’s history.
The general rule, Roger Newman explained, is to name your horse after either its mother or father. In this case, Calibraska’s father was named Calimonco.
When Newman told his family, they figured why not go with Calibraska.
“It was suggested and no one complained,” Newman said.
There is a small catch to this too-good-to-be-true story of Nebraska fandom transforming into a name that honors a new era of Big Red football.
Newman, as well as being a die-hard Nebraska football fan, is also a Creighton Bluejays basketball fan.
“And he’s not afraid to admit it,” Trey said of his dad rooting for a Nebraska rival during basketball season. “His thing is, he roots for Nebraska basketball, but he’s like, ‘I went to games my whole life and they’ve never been good to me.'”
“It’s true,” Newman admitted.
Newman’s undergrad experience was even split between the two schools. His first two years in Lincoln, his final two at Creighton. He then got his doctorate in law from Creighton in 1980.
But he’s also named two of his horses after the Huskers — the other is Scarlet and Cream — and none after the Bluejays.
Calibraska is young, Newman said, and he’s still developing. The 3-year-old, who races in Nebraska colors, has finished near the back of the pack in his three races at Santa Anita Park.
“It’s improved each time, though,” he said. “With young horses they need to get a little experience. And it’s gotten better each time. So we’re hopeful his next race he’ll have a good chance to compete.”
Getting a little better each year? A little like Nebraska football?
“Honestly, yeah,” Newman joked. “We’re just trying to get the (Bill) Callahan out of him.”