March 31, 2009

Meyer takes long road to live Husker dream

Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne held a brief press conference Monday at the Hawks Championship Center to announce the contract extension of head football coach Bo Pelini.


There was a point only less than two years ago when Derek Meyer questioned if ever wanted to play football again.


After originally committing to Kansas State, the 6-foot-5, 300-pound offensive lineman from Silver Lake, Neb., was increasingly growing more discontent with the Wildcats' coaching staff and the direction the program was headed.


Meyer started five games for KSU in 2006, Meyer's eventually his unhappiness with the program led him to eventually transfer to a junior college the following year. For a full year, the kid who grew loving the game of football suddenly found himself at a crossroads.


He could keep his gridiron dreams alive and accept scholarship offers from San Diego State or Western Michigan - where his former offensive line at K-State, Bob Stanley, now holds the same title - or he could hang up his cleats for good and turn to the next page in life.


Had it not been from a last-minute phone call from Nebraska offensive line coach Barney Cotton, even Meyer doesn't know where he'd be today.


Apparently Stanley had contacted Cotton about looking into bringing Meyer to Nebraska. Cotton watched some film, and it didn't take him long to gauge Meyer's interest. The problem, though, was that Meyer had already completed one year in the Big 12 Conference, meaning if he were to join the Huskers he'd have to sit out a whole two seasons because of rules about transferring within the conference.


Not only that, just weeks before Cotton's call, Meyer had accepted a full-ride scholarship to San Diego State. If he went to NU, it would be as a walk-on.


"It was really something I had to think about," Meyer said. "I had the chance to go elsewhere and play for two years, but once things happened here with Coach (Bo Pelini) and his staff being hired, this just felt right. It was worth giving up that extra year of eligibility to come here and play for Nebraska."


Upon arriving in Lincoln and suiting up for the team he'd grown up cheering for the first time, it didn't matter that he had to give up a year of eligibility and pay his own way through school. He was finally living his dream, and that was all that mattered.


"Growing up in Nebraska, this is your home," Meyer said. "This is the team you want to play for. It's the one you watch every Saturday. To have the chance to come play here, it's just unreal. Like I told my parents, this is my last year of eligibility, and even if I don't play one snap, it's going to be worth having the N on the side of my helmet, regardless if I play or not."


Meyer spent all of last season on Nebraska's 105-man roster, but worked only with the scout team. Though he couldn't focus solely on learning the NU's offense and work with the first-team offense, Meyer made the most of his first year as a Husker by being named one of the offensive scout team players of the year.


While he obviously has the talent to play at the Big 12 level, it's been Meyer's work in the film room and in meetings that have caught the eye of his coaches.


"He's very hungry," Cotton said. "You can see it right on his chest, 'I've got one year, and I'm going to make the most of it.' I'll tell you what, I'm going to have to get him another notebook probably, because we meet and we expect our guys to take notes, and I've never seen a guy take more detailed notes than him. He's sitting right in that front row and he's writing down everything on that board.


"He's very hungry. He's got a one-year window and he knows it. He's giving it his best shot."


Meyer said one of the biggest reasons he sacrificed so much to come to Nebraska was his respect for Pelini. Meyer said he first watched Pelini work in person when he and his family traveled to go watch the Huskers take on Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl in 2003, when Pelini made his debut as NU's interim head coach.


Pelini's enthusiasm and ability to get the most out of his players struck a chord with Meyer immediately. As it turns out, that respect goes both ways now that Pelini has gotten a chance to see Meyer's work ethic on the practice field.


"He's a great kid and he has a tremendous want to," Pelini said. "He has high character. He's a very versatile guy. He's playing the tackle, he can play inside at guard, he can play any of the spots along the line. He has the intelligence and the want to be able to learn them. I think he's going to be a guy that's going to be able to help us. He's a good football player and a good guy."


It was certainly an unorthodox way of doing it, but Meyer finally made it to the place where he always wanted to be from the very beginning. The only problem is that because of the path he took to get to Nebraska, Meyer is now left with one season to make his way into the starting lineup, or even get in a position on the depth chart to see some playing time.


It definitely won't be easy, but then again, nothing really has been in Meyer's journey as a college football player. Like he's done every time he's ever stepped onto a football field, the only thing Meyer plans on doing is giving his very best the rest of the way and just see where it takes him.


"I don't feel like a long shot, because I'm just looking at it as one day at a time," Meyer said. "Last year being on scout team, every practice was my game day. I couldn't hold anything back because I was working for a spot this year. It's still the same way this year. I'm fighting for a job. Even if it is one year, I could have three years left and I'd still look at it the same way."

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