Kevin Maurice wore a black shirt to Nebraska’s Monday news conference. Not his Blackshirt but rather a black T-shirt with “nWo” in large white letters on the front.
The senior defensive tackle zipped up an outer pullover before talking to reporters.
The letters were for “New World Order,” a professional wrestling “team” first appearing in the WCW promotion on Ted Turner’s TBS television network.
The original “team” included Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall.
“Yeah, I’m a fan, a little old-school shirt,” Maurice said.
Old-school for sure; Maurice wasn’t quite 2-years-old when nWo made its debut.
In any case, an old-school T-shirt, whatever the subject is probably appropriate for Maurice, who, is something of a last man standing in the defensive line. You could add defensive ends Ross Dzuris, a senior, and A.J. Natter, a junior, to that last-man-standing group up front.
Maurice and Natter were in the 2013 recruiting class, along with Maliek Collins – Maurice and Collins, also a defensive tackle, played without redshirting. Dzuris was coming off a redshirt that fall, as were Greg McMullen, a defensive end, and Vincent Valentine, a defensive tackle.
In addition, Kevin Williams, a redshirt-sophomore defensive tackle, was sidelined by injury. And Joe Keels, a defensive end, transferred in from a junior college in the fall of 2014.
Collins, Valentine, Williams and McMullen all could have been playing for the Huskers this fall.
“It’s definitely different, but (I’m) getting used to it,” said Maurice, who maintains contact with all four, as well as with Keels, through social media. “It is what it is.”
If McMullen were still playing, he’d probably be Maurice’s roommate for the Huskers’ trip to Northwestern. That’s how it was the last couple of seasons. Now Maurice’s pre-game roommate is junior cornerback Joshua Kalu. “So that’s been interesting,” Maurice said with a laugh.
As a senior, Maurice knows something of the scuffles Nebraska has had with Northwestern. Since the Huskers joined the Big Ten, they’re 3-2 against Northwestern, their only comfortable victory coming two years ago at Evanston, 38-17, when Ameer Abdullah rushed for 146 yards and four touchdowns.
Otherwise, the largest margin of victory for either team has been three points.
Last season, the Huskers lost at home 30-28, missing a two-point conversion with 4:23 remaining, despite finishing with a 19-minute advantage in time of possession.
“You throw the records out (of) the way,” said Maurice.
Never mind that the Wildcats are 1-2, with losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State, managing only seven points against the Redbirds, and a win over Duke, also 1-2. “You’re going to get the best from Northwestern every time you play them,” Maurice said. “They’re going to play us tough.
“I think everybody understands that Northwestern’s going to come out no matter if they were 0-3 or 1-2, like their record shows. Everybody is expecting a fight from them.”
The same is true for every Big Ten opponent for that matter. During Maurice’s time at Nebraska, the Huskers are 13-11 in conference games, with two of the victories in overtime.
Playing Oregon might have been good preparation for Big Ten play. The Ducks’ starting offensive line averaged just over 6-foot-5 and 303 pounds. Northwestern’s line is only slightly smaller.
Getting double-teamed by linemen that size “hurts,” said Maurice, who’s listed at 6-3, 300. “There’s different ways to play that, but that’s just how it’s going to be for the next couple of weeks.”
Maurice is playing in what might be described as a “New World Order” at tackle, with sophomore Mick Stoltenberg and redshirt-freshman twins Carlos and Khalil Davis rounding out the two-deep. Sophomore Peyton Newell and senior Logan Rath are also on the depth chart.
The same could be said of Dzuris and Natter at defensive end. Freedom Akinmoladun, the other starter with Dzuris, is a sophomore, and the back-ups listed on the depth chart include sophomore Sedrick King and redshirt freshmen Alex Davis and DaiShon Neal.
“We probably need to rotate more guys in the defensive line,” coach Mike Riley said, mentioning Alex Davis in particular. “We got tired and not as effective as we might be (against Oregon).”
The Ducks rushed for 336 yards, with their best running back Royce Freeman sidelined most of the game. “Being able to rotate in the interior a little bit will help us,” said Riley.
With each game, the young players become more comfortable, as Maurice did his first season. It wasn’t all that long ago, really. Nevertheless, “I do feel like an old guy, having these young guns,” he said, “full of excitement all the time. But it’s been fun.”
As for wrestling’s “nWo,” who was his favorite?
“Probably Hulk Hogan; everybody would say that,” Maurice said.
Did he know the names of the others?
“Naw,” he said, “just found the shirt.”
Mike Babcock is a freelance writer who covers the Huskers.