As distractions mount, Mike Riley encouraged by his team’s attitude
LINCOLN, Neb. – The next 17 days will not fix the fall out of the impending consequences from wide receiver coach Keith Williams’s DUI arrest on Sunday, or fix the hole left in the hearts of players that were close to Sam Foltz, who died less than a month ago.
But these next 17 days before Nebraska kicks off its season against Fresno State, whatever happens and however the team the responds, will set the tone for the rest of the season.
After the arrest of Williams and death of Foltz, coach Mike Riley said he worries about his team’s focus. Absolutely, he thinks about it, he said after practice on Wednesday
“With some of these things, you don’t know how some of these individuals are going to react and you can’t assume anything,” Riley said.
Williams, who is a key recruiter for the Huskers in his second year as the wide receivers coach, pled not guilty to his third DUI charge in Lancaster County Court on Monday. On Wednesday, he missed his fourth straight practice. He has been with the team since last Saturday.
“This is a most, most, most, serious situation,” Riley said Wednesday.
Riley also added that both he and the administration are exploring how to handle the arrest.
With the arrest, and Foltz’s death, Riley understands these two situations happening so closely to each other might be tough to process for the players.
“There have to be things that are on their mind almost continually,” Riley said.
Players have talked all fall camp about how difficult it is not having Foltz around. Backup quarterback Ryker Fyfe, who played high school football with Foltz in Grand Island, Neb., said last week the first day was pretty weird for him.
Senior WR Jordan Westerkamp said after practice Wednesday that it’s been a little tough not having Williams around, too.
“Your position coach, specifically for the wideouts, it’s tough because it’s someone that’s out there every single day with you,” Westerkamp said. “But we’re all praying for coach Williams and just waiting for him to come back.”
In Williams’ absence, graduate assistant Hardie Buck has been coaching receivers. On Wednesday, Westerkamp said the group has remained focused during practices – a difficult task considering the unusual circumstances.
“I think we need to keep a continual eye on it,” Riley said. “Talk. Watch. Pay Attention. I think it will be an ongoing thing.”
So far, the team has impressed Riley with the way they’ve approached everything. He said he loves this team. Loves their personality, their drive, their focus.
The main thing that’s impressed him is how they go out and perform with a good attitude.
“One of the most important ingredients to me is this has to look like they’re enjoying it,” Riley said. “It’s just like anyone going to work. The attitude you bring and how you present yourself and how you like doing what you’re doing means a lot to me about how it’s going to go. And so, whatever reason, however they’ve done it, with all the stuff that’s gone on with these young men, I think they’ve done really well that way.”
So far, Riley is happy with the attitude. Going forward, he said the key may be to look to Foltz.
“If I went to work like Sam, I’d be way better for it,” Riley said. “Maybe some of these guys are thinking that way too. Because it looks like that.”
Chris Heady is a staff writer for Landof10 and covers Nebraska football and recruiting. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @heady_chris.