LINCOLN — Never mind that Will Honas is listed behind Collin Miller at inside linebacker on the depth chart, next to senior co-captain Mo Barry. Miller and Honas, both juniors, are, after all, connected by “or.”
The truth is, “if I could start three of them at the same time, I would,” inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud said following practice on Tuesday. “All three of those guys have been really, really good, not only this (season) but in fall camp and in the off-season; they’ve done a great job.”
The last we saw of Honas on the field prior to this season was the Purdue game a year ago. He suffered a knee injury during the game, underwent surgery and wasn’t cleared until summer.
If there’s anything positive here, it’s that the Purdue game was the fourth last season. “You never want anybody to get hurt, but thank God he didn’t run down (and get hurt) on a kickoff week one,” said Ruud. “If you are going to get hurt, I’d rather have it be the fourth game than later.”
The reason? Honas could redshirt. So he got four games’ worth of experience and he still has two seasons of eligibility remaining—he transferred from Butler County Community College.
The knee injury was “obviously a setback as far as development in, like, strength; you have a huge setback trying to recover and get stronger and faster,” Honas said.
“But I think having an extra year is going to be big for me. I’m happy I was able to get that redshirt because having an extra year is definitely going to make up for missing that time.”
Whatever setback in development there might have been, you probably wouldn’t notice it now. Not only is Honas sharing No. 1 with Miller on the depth chart, he also has a Blackshirt.
And he was Nebraska’s leading tackler against Colorado, with nine.
Honas and Miller are “playing with heart. They’re playing with passion, and they’re playing with fire,” said Barry, the team’s leading tackler with 18 for the season, including six at Colorado, “a game that wasn’t my best game they stepped up, and I thank them for that.”
Last season’s experience, though brief, has been apparent in Honas’s play.
“I wouldn’t say he’s, at any point, let down since he’s been here. He’s done everything we’ve asked,” said Ruud. “I just think now his comfort level is so much higher, which, you know, I think it’s the same for most guys; year two is the biggest jump, whether it’s football, basketball, quarterback, receiver, usually guys year one to year two make the biggest jump.”
Again, with four games and then the redshirt, Honas has made the jump without sacrificing a season’s eligibility. The difference is “100 percent,” Ruud said. “I think it’s just a comfort level. He’s had so many more reps in a year in our system. He’s a guy that really tries to do everything perfectly, and sometimes if you don’t think you’re doing it perfectly, you play a little bit slower.”
Now if there’s uncertainty, Honas “just goes faster,” said Ruud.
“So I really, really like how he’s come out this entire year.”
Setting aside the Colorado loss was “definitely not easy,” Honas said. “You’re up late Saturday night, thinking about what you could’ve done better and how it could’ve went differently.
“But you’ve gotta have a short memory in football, because you can’t dwell on it. We can’t let our loss to Colorado become a loss next week or the week after that.”
At Monday’s news conference, some players, including sophomore tight end Austin Allen and senior offensive tackle and co-captain Matt Farniok, said Monday’s practice might’ve been the best Monday practice of the season. Scott Frost agreed. “I think that’s true,” he said.
However, “I think just about every practice this year we’ve come ready,” said Honas. “There hasn’t really been any setbacks . . . I mean, after a loss, you’ve always got to be (ready), take it up another notch. And everybody was pissed off about it and ready to go to work on Monday.”
That “made a difference,” he said.
Mike Babcock is a long-time Husker reporter and editor for Hail Varsity Magazine.