December 22, 2008

Ganz ends career as NU's undisputed leader

The only thing surprising about Joe Ganz being voted as a team captain by his teammates last week was how long it took for it to actually become official.

Head coach Bo Pelini decided to wait until the end-of-the-year team banquet to announce the Husker captains, rather than do it before the season. Though the players had an entire season's worth of performances to base their vote on, there was little doubt that Ganz would be a unanimous selection.

In just 15 career starts, the senior quarterback from Palos Heights, Ill., heads into his final game as a Husker holding 23 school records, including single-season records for passing yards and total offense. While leading NU to a 8-4 regular-season record and a berth in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, Ganz completed 266-of-384 passes for 3,332 yards and 23 touchdowns.

But even more so than his statistics, it's been Ganz's leadership that has earned him the unwavering respect of his teammates.

"Obviously being named team captain is a huge honor," Ganz said. "Just the players that have been captains here and just to have your name up on that wall as you walk past your locker, that's really special. I think the way Coach Pelini did it this year made it even more special, having to wait until the end of the year and have the team vote on it. After they see you play, they know what kind of player you are and what kind of person you are."

Another reason why the selection of Ganz as a team captain didn't come at all as a surprise was the way both his teammates and coaches embraced him as one of the leaders of the team from the final game of last season.

After taking over for Sam Keller as the starting quarterback last year with three games remaining, Nebraska essentially became Ganz's team. Along with his ability to make plays that Keller seemingly could not, Ganz provided a spark to an offense that had gone stagnant toward the latter part of the season.

During the offseason, Ganz emerged as the face of the offense. With a steady and confident demeanor, he almost epitomized the "never quit" attitude Pelini tried to instill in all of his players during his first season as head coach.

Needless to say, that definitely made quite the impression on his coaches.

"I love Joe Ganz," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said earlier this season. "He's a leader. He's everything we want in the quarterback position. I can't say enough about him. He's made plays for us from day one."

Ganz's emergence this season is even more impressive when considering many doubted he was even fit to be a starting quarterback a little more than a year ago. For many fans, it was Keller - the flashy, big-name transfer from Arizona State with Heisman Trophy potential - who was the obvious pick to be the starter heading into the 2007 season.

Despite former head coach Bill Callahan's insistence that Ganz was right up there with Keller in practice, most assumed the job was undoubtedly Keller's.

Still, Ganz kept working, and when things reached near rock bottom towards the end of last season, he was there to step in and breathe some life into the Huskers. To this day, Ganz said he uses those doubters from a year ago as motivation to prove he belongs among the list of storied NU starting quarterbacks.

"You hear whispers," Ganz said. "You hear things. You're not told everything that's going around, and as much as you try not to listen, you hear it. It helps motivate you as a player. It helps you on those days when you don't want to get up and go workout in the morning. But it can only help you to a certain point. The competitor inside of me is what motivates me. But it kind of helps you play with a chip on your shoulder."

With just one more game to go in his collegiate career, Ganz said he's doing his best to keep from reflecting on his career until after the bowl game. While his legacy may not truly be appreciated until after his career is long over, his impact appears to have already sunk in on NU's future quarterbacks.

If nothing else, Ganz's work ethic and relentless determination may be what his fans, coaches and teammates remember the most.

"I watch everything Joe does," redshirt freshman quarterback Patrick Witt said. "I think he's been a really good example for me, for the rest of the quarterbacks, not only with how he plays on Saturdays, but how to manage relationships on the team and also the media. I think he's been a great example. I really appreciate him being here, and I think he's done a great job this year."

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