When Eric Crouch says the Nebraska football program is on the right track, that carries a bit more weight than if it came from the guy next door.
Crouch has credibility that comes from his career with the Huskers, which included winning the Heisman Trophy in 2001.
Crouch, who was in Grand Island Saturday to sign autographs at 40 North Tap & Grill, said second-year head coach Scott Frost will turn it around.
“I truly believe that,” Crouch said. “I’m a Frost supporter in many ways. I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid per se, I just know the type of people they are and the foundation that they’re laying right now.
“Sometimes when you lay a thick foundation, it takes a little bit longer to pour that thick of concrete as opposed to a thin layer. I’d rather have thick concrete so my walls aren’t going to come crumbling down in a few years. I want to see this program back to national dominance.”
That’s what Crouch said the Huskers are doing right now. Frost and his coaching staff are putting together a program that will be sustainable for years to come.
A blowout loss to Ohio State, followed two weeks later by a lopsided loss at Minnesota, were a part of the process. The Huskers are 4-3 with five games left in the regular season and need to win two of them to qualify for a bowl game.
“We’ll get better,” Crouch said. “We got punched in the mouth a couple times and I get it. Those things should ruffle your feathers, they should rattle the cage, they should irritate you. They should make you work harder in practice because now you know the level you have to play to in order to win in this league.”
Crouch was going through a redshirt season as a player in 1997 when Frost led the Huskers to the national title in Tom Osborne’s final season as head coach. From that viewpoint, he got to study Frost and see what kind of a young man he was.
Crouch didn’t see him as a head coach at the time, but was impressed with how he handled himself.
“I do remember that he was a tremendous leader,” Crouch said. “He always gave me the opportunity to succeed, even as a redshirt freshman. He wanted to see me succeed, and I think that’s important for people to understand that in competition, when you raise the level of play of everyone around you, you raise the level of play for yourself as well. Scott was one of those guys.”
Crouch saw the way Frost went about his business. He said Frost was focused, determined and dedicated to the game.
“That’s why he’s such a successful coach,” Crouch said. “He’s got my support 100 percent.”
So does quarterback Adrian Martinez. The sophomore has gone through some adversity this season, but Crouch said there’s no one better than Frost to help him through it.
Frost, a standout prep player at Wood River, went to Stanford to play for legendary coach Bill Walsh for two seasons before transferring back to Nebraska. Some fans didn’t like him because he left the state to start with. Some of his teammates didn’t like him either.
“Nebraska didn’t like him coming back. He had to earn respect from each and every one of these fans and teammates,” Crouch said. “Coming into a program that you’d said no to, and then you come back and you expect those guys to right away like you, they probably didn’t.
“But take the hat off to Scott Frost because he was able to show them that he was a leader and he did care about them and he was going to take them to the promised land and win a national title and he did exactly that.”
Crouch isn’t necessarily predicting Martinez will lead the Huskers to a national title, but he said he is a talented player who can fight through it and produce for the Huskers.
“Just because he’s struggling in his sophomore year doesn’t mean he can’t come back and have a tremendous end to this season,” Crouch said. “I think he’s the right guy for the job. I really do. I think he has the talent both throwing and running the football.
“I’d really like to see him be more determined when he runs the football. I’d like to see him get rid of the football a little bit quicker and throw more throws on time, where he trusts his line and his receivers a little bit more.”
Crouch said if he gave Martinez any advice, he’d just tell him to keep his head up, continue to work hard, take one play at a time, make great choices and decisions and things will fall into place.
“I’m not behind center right now. I don’t know what he’s feeling, but I can tell you this,” Crouch said. “When you pump your O-line up, when you tell them that you believe in them and you know that they can do it, and you work with them every single day in practice, those guys will start doing their jobs better. And then you’ll start seeing things like completed passes, passes on time, touchdowns, victories, championships, things of that nature.
“Good things are coming. We just got to take it day by day.”