Randy Borg had a chance to play either football or basketball in college. On top of that, he was offered full-ride scholarships to do either. But the 1970 graduate from Alliance, Nebraska, opted to take a chance to walk on and follow his dream to play football at Nebraska.
“I was recruited by a number of schools,” Borg said. “I received scholarship offers from Nevada (football), Colorado (basketball) and Doane (football and basketball). It was debated whether I would play basketball or football in college, as I was all-state in both sports. I was the starting quarterback my sophomore and junior years and played wide receiver and linebacker my senior year. I was 6-0 tall, so I thought if I was going to play anything at the next level it would have to be football.”
Borg’s high school coach, Mike Kennedy, played football at Nebraska and told him he should go there if he had the opportunity. Cletus Fischer was in charge of recruiting western Nebraska, and didn’t have to recruit Borg very hard.
“I was sold on Nebraska, growing up and watching them,” Borg said. “Coach (Bob) Devaney put them on the map and my high school coach played there and was a team captain. I still remember Coach Kennedy and I telling my dad that I was going to turn down all scholarship offers and go walk on at Nebraska. My dad thought we were crazy, and thought that Coach Kennedy was giving me bad advice.”
But Borg took Kennedy’s advice and came to Lincoln to see if he had what it took to play for one of the premier football programs in the country.
“I showed up (at Nebraska) in great shape,” Borg remembers. “They had a 12-minute run where you had to run for 12 minutes to see how far you could go. I was one of the top two runners. It is all about being noticed early, and how you set yourself apart from a walk-on standpoint. I played on the freshman team and did not redshirt. As a freshman you played offense and defense. I was a wingback on offense and cornerback on defense.”
Borg hung in with the best team in college football in 1970 and ‘71, finally getting his chance to start as a junior in ‘72.
“Competition breeds success; the more good players you have on campus the higher it elevates everybody. We had starters who were as good or better than most players in the Big Eight conference, but our second- and third-teamers were much superior to anybody else’s, and that had to do with depth and the supplement we had from the walk-on program,” Borg said.
“I started at right cornerback my junior and senior seasons. In my sophomore season I started one game, Jim Anderson was the starter. But I started on special teams covering kickoff and punts. We lined up in an I-formation returning punts, so I was the up-man in front of Johnny Rodgers my sophomore and junior seasons.
“Coach (Bob) Devaney had rules; a punt was never allowed to hit the ground, so I had to fair-catch short punts in traffic. But I remember the Army game my junior year, they kept kicking it short so Rodgers told me to return it, instead of fair-catching it. So Rodgers acted [like] he was going to catch it, and I got it and returned it 60 yards back for a touchdown. When we went back to the sideline, Rodgers told me that he was the Heisman Trophy candidate and that I was fair-catching it from now on. We both had a nice little laugh about that.”
As a senior, with Rodgers having graduated, Borg was the primary punt-return man. He average almost nine yards per return, with one touchdown, which came in the first game of the season against UCLA.
“In that game against UCLA, I returned the second punt of the game 77 yards for a touchdown. After the game, Don Bryant grabbed me and said I had a call in the training room that I had to take. Johnny Rodgers called from Montreal to congratulate me. After that, I was leading the nation in punt return average for a couple of weeks.”
Borg was part of national championship teams in ‘70 and ‘71, but it was in the ‘72 season that Nebraska had a chance to make history and go for an unprecedented third straight title. It was Devaney’s final season as head coach at Nebraska, and the Huskers wanted to send him out in style with another undefeated season.
But it was not to be, as preseason #1 Nebraska lost to UCLA and Oklahoma and tied Iowa State. “We played in basically six inches of mud at Iowa State,” Borg said. “It had rained the entire week, and then they had the water sprinklers running the day before the game trying to make the field as muddy and slow as possible. Devaney was just incensed.
“Devaney would always tell us the team in the other locker is hoping to win, but the difference between us and them is we expect to win. We needed to establish our dominance in the first and third quarters and put them in their place, because the longer you let them hang in there, the more confident they will get. It is important to get out quick and early, both offensively and defensively.
“We used to have defensive goals of going through an entire half and not allowing the other team to get a first down. (Monte) Kiffin would send us out on the field and say ‘I better see you back here in three plays,’.” “Practices were as hard or harder than games. As a defensive back our receivers were many times much better than the ones we were covering in the games.”
The defense was dominant during Borg’s senior year. They broke an NCAA record for the least amount of passing yardage given up in a season, allowing an average of just 44.0 yards per game.
“Our defense was really dominant and carried the team in 1973,” Borg said. Tom Osborne was young in his first year as head coach and we didn’t have a lot of great offensive backs. The key to winning a national championship was to have the defense, offense and special teams all be at the top of their game. But unfortunately you go through cycles and at that time the dirty little secret was our offense was just not very good and [didn’t] score very many points.”
That was true in what Borg calls one of his best games of his career. He intercepted two passes, recovered a fumble and led the defensive backs in tackles against Missouri. But he dropped one punt, the only punt he ever dropped at Nebraska, late in the game and NU ended up getting beat in a low scoring affair, 13-12. He was Nebraska’s nominee for player of the week, but the thing that stuck out in his my mind was dropping the punt.
Borg was named second-team All-Big 8 that senior year, helping NU to a 9-2-1 record and a win over Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
“We went to three bowl games my sophomore, junior and senior seasons and we did not give up a touchdown in all three. We played against Alabama and Notre Dame in the Orange Bowls and Texas in the Cotton.”
After college, Borg’s NFL career never got on track. “I was a free agent for the Washington Redskins as a backup safety, and played special teams. I played just one year…I broke every bone in the back of my left hand covering a kickoff, and was let go after I got back from IR.”
So that meant going back to another sport he was good at.
“I did not run track after playing football and basketball in high school…I was so beat up mentally and physically…I played golf. We had a great golf course with a great golf pro and I was the first kid in the state of Nebraska to qualify for the state high school golf tournament four years in a row. Now I am a sales rep with Mizuno golf, and travel Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois.”
Borg enjoys life living on the Firethorn Golf Course in Lincoln. He is married to wife Carin, and they have two children, Zac and Jaime. Jamie played softball at Nebraska.
Borg looked back at his time at Nebraska, and what it meant to be a Husker walk-on coming from the state of Nebraska.
“I don’t think there was a kid to ever come from Alliance who started and played football for Nebraska prior to me or after me. I appreciated my scholarship a hell of a lot more my three years than most kids who had full-rides coming in,” he said.
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