Lincoln, NE - Nebraska junior linebacker Alonzo Whaley is likely to remember November 22nd, 2011 for the rest of his life. It was the day, after nearly four seasons in a Husker uniorm, Whaley received his Blackshirt. The linebacker would play a major role against the Iowa Hawkeys in the Husker's last regular season game.
But what if I told you Whaley's dream almost never came true?
Heading into 2011, the Nebraska coaching was still waiting for things to click with the Texas product. Sure he had shown talent and flashes of brilliance in practice, but his inconsistency on and off the field was creeping up quite too often.
So Whaley decided to do something about it. He decided to buckle down and "take care of his business." He knew it was time to "either do right or move on."
"They knew I could play football," Whaley said. "It's not surprising that once I took care of my business, doors opened left and right for me. The coaches were just waiting for me to do right."
Whaley reached out to former Husker linebacker T.J. Hollowell and talked about the Nebraska graduate assistants' experiences being patient and dealing with adversity in the NFL. It was a conversation Whaley has taken with him going forward.
For Nebraska linebackers coach Ross Els, it's been an enjoyable experience to see Whaley's progression over the last nine months.
"He got the wake up call and he responded beautifully," said Els. "He just wasn't buying in and doing everything that was asked of him - in and out of the classroom.
"It's great to see a guy mature and realize that is how we do things around here. He's having a ball right now."
Els might have been the best thing possible for Whaley's career in Lincoln. The first year coach had no preset notion of Whaley's attitude, practices habits, and academic outlook. It was a fresh start for the junior.
"Working with him in the spring – he was just okay. To how he is now in the fall, he matured over the summer," said Els. "He decided 'I'm going to have fun playing this game, I'm not going to be a complainer or a whiner. I'm just going to go out and play ball.'"
Now not only will Whaley likely play a big role against South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl, but even a bigger role next season.
"We are going to need as many linebackers as we can, we know we are sort of thin, so it's the few returners and some newcomers," said Els.